So since I live in Europe, sometimes I am totally lost when it comes to American culture.
For example, I thought Nikki Minaj was a joke for the longest time. Props to her doing her thang, and I wish her much success, but I literally sat here for two years thinking she was not a serious celebrity. When I came home over Christmas break, my little brother sat me down, put his hand on my shoulder and said with a solemn face, “D, she’s had the number one hit for the last 8 weeks straight.”
I hope I’ve illustrated my ignorance.
I just spent some time in Spain, and upon arrival I stayed with some American girls who were friends of friends of friends. Now, this wasn’t my usual circle of people, but I was in no way prepared for the level of celebrity-interest they shared. I’m teetering on calling it obsession. (That’s another story… that I need to share very soon).
Point is, while in Spain, these girls taught me just how influential the Kardashian family actually is for some Americans. Although it still baffles me, I’ve decided to understand, accept, and deal with this rather than stick my nose up at what seems totally superficial and sad (is that me sticking my nose up?).
All of this to say now I pay more attention to the headlines when they make it, and as all of us know, Bruce Jenner, has captured the spotlight for the last week or so. The first headline I saw was about him in a dress, and after clicking on it, I was utterly disgusted. Not with him, of course. The photos were clearly the work of a powerful megazoom capturing a transgender person in the privacy of their own home. I could feel the invasion of privacy all the way over in Germany. All I could think is, “This is what’s gossip worthy?? Going to a person’s house and photographing them as though they’re some sort of freak, then publishing it for the sensationalism?” It’s disgusting.
The photos have since been removed, as they were apparently illegal. No duh.
Still, upon further investigation (a quick google search) I realized just how many articles there were on Bruce Jenner just like the dress-scandal. “And on Friday NIGHT,” many articles wrote, “HE will COME OUT and TELL-ALL(!) with Diane Sawyer!”
Facepalm. This is transmisogyny.
Immediately, I thought about the trans* community that I follow on my social media networks. I don’t know any trans* people personally. Most of my friends are cisgender and heterosexual. I only know one queer person, a friend of a friend, and we’ve never actually had the opportunity to talk about these subjects together. This means that most of my “education” on these issues DID come from “exposes” like 20/20 “Boy in the wrong body!” sensationalist transition stories. I was ignorant. So, so ignorant. Growing up, and using social media to educate myself instead of mass media which just wants to create the biggest buzz (usually through an exaggerated oppressive narrative), has shown me that beyond the right to transition, there are other very important issues in the trans* community that need to be addressed immediately.
It’s great that Bruce Jenner went on national television and “came out”. Many people from the queer community and beyond have praised Jenner’s bravery and courage. Jenner’s story was a necessary social confrontation to mass America. However, it would be tragic if this became another “freak-transition” story, and it seems like that is what the mass media is doing with it. For one layer of this issue, Bruce Jenner should help the trans* community by normalizing transgender peoples. As Signe Pierce so shockingly uncovered, transphobia is a real and destructive behavior that many cisgender people harbor within themselves.
It is our job, as cisgender/hetero feminists, to hear all corners of the communities that we stand with to make sure their cries are heard.
There are layers to social issues, and the intersectionality of gender with race and class skews the volume and importance of a group’s cries, and from what I’m seeing from many trans people of color is that this has created a firestorm of misguided publicity on trans issues.
I’m not saying that Bruce Jenner caused any harm. I’m saying the direction in which the public conversation continues is vital.
Alexa Vasquez, who works to empower trans Latina women in California, perfectly summed up what I have seen many trans* people say in the aftermath of the Jenner expose: “Many will tune in to watch and begin to believe they understand, accept, and value our community based on Jenner’s experience.” And they won’t, because, as Katrina Goodlett of the Trans Women of Color Collective told Fusion, “Mainstream media wants to prop up this narrative of ‘transition’ when for many trans folk that is not the goal!”
Darkmatter, the queer South Asian performance art duo, has been saying it over and over and over:
“There is a difference between being insecure and being incarcerated
Between being lonely and being placed in solitary confinement
You call it a ‘rainbow;’ we call it a ‘racial wealth divide’”
As Ash Beckam said, “There’s no such thing as harder, there’s just hard.” For Bruce Jenner and many other rich white people who are struggling with their gender identity, coming out may be one of the hardest things imaginable. For a black woman who is beaten to death by the police for living outside of the cisgender construct, it’s another story. There is no such thing as harder when issues are viewed personally, but systemically, we live in a world where people are facing dangers of vastly different proportions. Transwomen are held in male-prisons and immigration detention centers. When one issue is elevated beyond the others and in the context of the movement is relatively exclusive, I shed a cisgender tear.
I am “lucky” enough to identify as cisgender. I understand this privilege. For those who identify outside of the gender binary, I can only imagine the fear that comes with coming out to friends and family. I stand with you. But what do I want to fight for? I want to fight for a world where people aren’t legally murdered for their gender identity. I want to fight for a world where the average age of transpeople is longer than 35 years old. I want to fight for a world where marginalized groups within marginalized groups have their voices heard.
There are ways in which we can do this. It’s not that Trans* people of color are not speaking, it’s that mass media is not listening. That’s not an excuse anymore. With social media we can EASILY bypass the propoganda. The Trans Women of Color Collective does a lot of great work that you can learn about below and on their website.
As cis people we need to educate ourselves on trans issues BEYOND the “transition” story. Here are some links:
Transgender people behind bars
Trans Panic Defense: A legal defense for murdering a trans* person
I also linked three videos of trans*/queer people discussing/highlighting trans*/queer issues as well as the Fusion interview of two trans* activists just in this one blog post!
It is important that those within the gender binary reject this construct as the only “normal”, reject society’s dehumanization of those who stand outside of the binary, accept people for who they are with tolerance and the willingness to understand, and fight the social violence, discrimination, and oppression still imposed on this group.
I’m not saying anything new, I’m just echoing what I’m hearing within the queer community. There are other voices than the rich white ones who sit across from Diane Sawyer. Don’t swallow the main narrative, challenge it!