Transgender Day of Remembrance 2016

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I will be giving this speech tonight (11/20/2016) at 6pm at Club Cabaret in Hickory NC for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I hope to see you there. 

When I sat down to write this speech I had no idea where to start. So many feelings…how could I possibly put them into words? A friend of mine reminded me that you should always start a talk with either a joke or a story. This it not a day for jokes, so I’d like to share a story with you. It’s a story of one of the happiest and most terrifying days of my life. I was in the office at work, my boss to my left and the director of human resources in front of me. There I sat; body shaking, fingers like ice, tears forming on the surface of my eyes. I had to force out the words, make myself say what I was terrified to say.

“I’m transgender.”

I was terrified because it was all a gamble. I had a great job that paid enough to keep my family secure, and I was putting it on the line. There were no legal protections for me, no statutes to keep me safe. He could have fired me then and there and I’d have been powerless to stop him. Our income, our insurance, our peace of mind, I was putting it all on the table, and I was terrified. I was lucky, because my gender identity was respected, and two weeks later I showed up to work in the women’s uniform with my new name proudly displayed on my shirt. No longer would I have to wake up and decide who I had to be that day. No more hiding, no more pretending. It was liberating, but also even more terrifying, because now I’d be facing the world as an out transgender woman.

People ask what it’s like to be transgender. It’s an impossible question to really answer. There’s no other experience like it. It’s a journey of personal discovery filled with confusion, doubt, depression, and fear. People say it’s a choice, but I would never have chosen to be in that room, gambling with my family’s future, if there were any other way. When I finally came to terms with my gender identity, I spent the next decade trying to un-choose it. I spiraled into a deep, severe depression, and not a day went by that I didn’t think about ending my life. When you see a transgender person reveal themself to the world, when you see them living openly as they are despite the dangers, remind yourself how much worse it must have been for them otherwise. Transgender people lose a great deal to live authentically. Family, friends, jobs, homes, and yes, even lives. When someone takes on such hardships over staying in the closet, how can it possibly have been a choice to begin with?

As the years have gone by, gay and lesbian acceptance has grown tremendously. Transgender understanding, let alone acceptance, has not been able to keep up. Transgender people are still one of the most misunderstood demographics in the world, and like any other thing not understood, we are feared and hated. Politicians call us a threat to public safety. Pastors proclaim us to be deviants bringing about the downfall of society. We’re the target of crude jokes, the catalysts for fear-based legislation, and the mascots of a seemingly immoral society. All of this swirls into a storm of anger, fear, and hatred. And many of us do not survive that storm.

By the start of November there had already been 26 reported transgender murders in the US. I don’t like throwing around numbers when talking about this subject because the truth is never really captured in them. 26 doesn’t account for the ones that went unreported, or the ones who were misgendered in the reporting. Violence against transgender people is an epidemic. Murders of transgender people are often horrifically violent. Many are shot, more are beaten. These are crimes of passion, fueled by hate and fear. Skye Mockabee was found lying next to a tow truck with blood pouring from her mouth. Keyonna Blakeney was beaten and left to die in a motel room. Brandi Bledsoe was found stripped to her underwear with a plastic bag over her head. Each of these women, and many more, met violent, terrifying ends, just for being true to themselves.

What makes the threat of violence more horrifying is the lack of defense available to us. Transgender people are painted as deviants, bringing the violence on themselves by choosing to live in such seemingly unwholesome ways. A transgender friend of mine has recounted a story where she was jumped by a group of men on a Charlotte street. Her clothes were pulled off, she was beaten, and urinated on. When the paramedics arrived, she was told she brought it on herself for wearing a skirt and heels. Victims of violence are never to blame for their attacks, no matter what they’re wearing or doing. But rather than combat the hate and ignorance that drives violence, we police the victims and make the situation worse. The “trans panic defense”, where someone accused of murdering a transgender person can claim they acted in a state of temporary insanity after discovering the victim’s gender identity, is still a legal defense in every state but California.

What’s it like to be transgender? It’s being afraid, at least a little bit, all the time. It’s trying to read thoughts and intentions in the eyes of those you meet. It’s looking over your shoulder before you go into the bathroom. No one understands this better than transgender women of color, who are likely the most at-risk demographic of any sort in the entire country. A vast number of the transgender murders we mourn tonight were women of color. These were women caught in the perfect storm where racism, sexism, and homophobia combine. Theirs is a bravery I cannot even fathom. I’m at least a little fearful each time I leave my home and face the world as my true self, but I know my white skin offers me far more protection than I’ll ever truly grasp. Even when I am a target, I am privileged, and I try to always remember that.

A moment ago I mentioned 26 transgender murders as of November 1st and how that number isn’t truly representative. There’s another reason. In that 26 we don’t see the largest portion of transgender murders: suicides.

Yes, every time a transgender person takes their own life, they are murdered. The gun, the knife, or the pills may have been in their own hands, but they were forced there by the relentless hatred of an ignorant and uncaring public. Suicide is the last path left to a person who can find no hope on the horizon. When all you see before you is fear, anxiety, and loneliness, death becomes your only friend. The suicide attempt/success rate among transgender people is 41%, and nearly all of us have spent time contemplating it.

When I came out as trans I put everything on the line, and that’s true for so many of us. Talk to any transgender person and you’ll hear stories of family members who turned them away, friends who shunned them, and jobs that let them go. Fear of losing these things keeps many transgender people in the closet. Some keep their secrets for years, living seemingly ordinary lives. But it’s always an act, pretend, and keeping up the act for so long is crushing to both mind and spirit. When you can’t live as yourself and you can’t live as the person you’re expected to be, not living at all can seem like the only option left.
What’s it like to be transgender? It’s to think about death. Either by your own hand or the hand of another, you often contemplate your own mortality. It can be a lonely experience, especially if you have no ally to confide in. This is why allies are so important. Being a shoulder to cry on, a friend to confide in, or even a buddy in the bathroom, can mean saving a life.

When you look at what our world is spiraling into, it can seem like helping the transgender community is impossible. Who could take on such a daunting task all on their own? Trust me when I say you’re more powerful than you think. Just being that person who’s willing to call someone by their real name, to refer to them by their real pronouns, makes you powerful. Telling a transgender woman she’s beautiful when she can’t stand to look in the mirror makes you powerful. Having coffee with a trans person who feels all alone in the world makes you powerful. Having the courage to say something when you hear jokes that make fun of transgender people makes you powerful. Each of these actions seem small, but they save lives. They can make you the reason someone doesn’t load the gun, or open the pill bottle. The reason someone’s heart is opened before they let their ignorance turn to violence. They can make you the reason someone finally found hope.

I can tell you that I would not be here if it weren’t for my allies. I’m alive today because I know I am loved. I know that, even on my darkest days, when a world full of hate and fear weighs down on me, there are people in my life that cherish and accept me. There are people in the world that have kept me from ending my own life, and they did it simply by saying, “I love you for who you are and I will stand by you.”

What’s it like to be transgender? It’s to hold onto love like some never will. It’s to understand the power of community, of friendship, of family. We gather tonight to remember those we lost to hate. Either by the hands of those driven by it or who were finally crushed under the weight of it. Tonight we cry, we hold to each other, we say names and light candles. But mostly we ask what we can do to make it better. What can we do in the face of growing hate and fear?

We can take action. Get involved with the organizations fighting to protect transgender people from discrimination and violence. Donate time or money. Volunteer. Inaction can be as bad as aggression. Don’t light your candle tonight and think you’ve done your part. You haven’t even started. Support organizations like PFLAG that work to help the parents of LGBT youth understand their child’s struggle. Support the HRC, who are on the front lines of the fight for equality and put Sarah McBride, a transgender woman, on the stage at the DNC this year. Here in the Hickory community, I urge you to support OUTright Youth, and show our young people that they are loved and supported.

We can educate. Hate is the byproduct of ignorance which is allowed to grow by apathy and inaction. Take action. Stand up for the transgender community. Don’t be afraid to proclaim you love someone who is trans. Don’t be afraid to walk down the street with us. If someone you know misgenders a trans person, or calls them by a name they don’t associate with, have the courage to correct them. Your voice is needed even when we’re not around, because it’s when our ears are away that the ignorant reveal themselves. Don’t only be an ally when it’s convenient for you, or when it won’t make you uncomfortable. Be better than hate speech, and be willing to combat it with knowledge and compassion.

Most importantly, we can love. We can love bigger and stronger than we ever have. We can see the power in even the smallest actions. We can reach out to those who are afraid and offer them the peace that only comes from knowing you are not alone. Tonight, I urge you to hold to one another. So many transgender people have been lost to hate, lost to ignorance. Even in death, some were not given the recognition they so desperately wanted. So tonight, we offer it to them. To the souls of those taken from us, we say we’re sorry we couldn’t save you, we love you, and we validate you as the beautiful people you were. You are forever in our hearts, and we carry you with us as we fight to save the next victim of hate.

What’s it like to be transgender? It’s to be human, just like you.

-Faith

 

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Finding Hope for LGBT in Trump’s America

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Yes, we’re actually here…

Like the rest of you, I feel numb, sick, terrified, and angry. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t supposed to be possible. But, we’re here. Donald Trump is going to be president for the next 4 years. What’s more, he gets a Republican majority in Congress and now a vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill. All of this is frightening, and in this moment it’s hard to find anything but darkness ahead.

I’ve spent all day searching for hope. It hasn’t been easy, but I knew there had to be some somewhere. There must be a glimmer of light in all of this that, no matter how small, we can all hold to. As I meditated on it, I was able to find a perspective on all of this that’s, while not ideal, at least not an absolute Armageddon for our LGBT community. What I propose here won’t be easy. It’s going to take a great deal of struggle. But when faced with only one way forward, the only thing to do is suck it up and walk the path.

This is not the first time in my life the Republicans have held all the power. In the 2004 election, George W. Bush won re-election and was given the keys to a shiny new Republican majority in Congress. It was a very similar situation to today, but we’re not in the same America that existed in 2005. There is still racism, still homophobia and transphobia, but public opinion of homosexuality has come a long way. In the wake of such a vile, hateful man being elected to the White House, it’s easy to think that the country has regressed back to the days when homosexuality was majorly despised.

But it hasn’t.

To understand why Trump won, we have to get inside the head of the average Trump voter. Again, it can be very easy to think they all voted for him out of hate for minorities and the queer community, and it’s true that there are pockets of his base that did have such motivations. But they don’t represent most of them. Most of the people who voted for Trump didn’t do it because they hate gay people, or black people, or Hispanics, or Muslims. They did it because they hate Obamacare (which, sorry, will definitely be gone by the end of January; just go ahead and be ready for that because there’s no stopping it). They hated seeing jobs going overseas, they hated seeing small-town America get worse and worse.

Remember, Trump’s largest demographic by far was uneducated voters. These are people who may not fully understand economics, or foreign policy, or anything else that’s more “big picture”. Their concern was that the factory in their town has been closed for years and main street went with it. All Trump had to do was say “I’m going to get your job back from China,” and they were hooked. Can he actually do it? Of course not. But most of them don’t understand that and it’s going to be a sobering wake-up call later down the road. Trump’s supporters didn’t vote against our interests, but rather for their own. And while the end result of apathy is no different that that of hatred, they are not the same motivation and it’s important to keep that in perspective.

I work in a very rural part of North Carolina. Nearly all of my coworkers voted for Trump. The town was littered with Trump signs. People came into my store every day wearing Trump shirts. But here’s the thing about my store: all of my coworkers know I’m a transgender woman married to another woman and none of them have a problem with that. They treat me no differently. We work together, laugh together, and genuinely have a great relationship with each other. We have been in neighboring stalls in the same bathroom without a single problem. If they went into the voting booth to vote for Trump because they hated LGBT people, I wouldn’t be able to work there.

There are dark times ahead. Anti-LGBT legislation is likely on the horizon. An overturning of marriage equality is possible. Laws like HB2 here in North Carolina will likely keep popping up. We are currently powerless to stop the legislative machine ready to destroy us, but even those in Washington are still (at least in part) beholden to public opinion.  They want to keep their jobs, and that means keeping their base happy. This is where we find our way forward. The only way we combat LGBT hate laws is by having public opinion on our side, and that means being visible in the community like never before. Trump’s base needs to know that we’re their neighbors, their coworkers, their teammates, their friends, and even their family. They didn’t vote for our interests because our interests don’t touch them. I know for a fact my coworkers wouldn’t support an overturning of gay marriage, and I still believe that this holds true for most of the country–even those on the right.

So what does this mean we do? What’s the next step? Well, this is where it gets tough. Step one is to forgive the people in your life who voted for Donald Trump. Yes, I know it’s hard. In my panic-fueled anger last night I lashed out at the Trump supporters in my life online and I shouldn’t have done that. Ever since Michelle Obama uttered the phrase, “when they go low, we go high,” I’ve tried to make that my motto to live by. Last night I didn’t do that, and I sent apologies to those I wronged.

I know what I’m asking for here seems incomprehensible. You feel betrayed, ignored, sacrificed, and all of those feelings are valid. But keeping public opinion of the LGBT community on an upward trend is the only hope we have right now. Burning bridges is not the answer. By all means demonstrate. We will hold rallies and protests, but we will not riot in the streets. We explain our fears to those who don’t understand and who voted against us, but we will not last out and cut people from our lives. We cannot lose those bonds, we cannot lose the community we’ve built nationwide.

There is still a lot of hatred out there for gay people and double that for transgender people, but trust me when I say it is far and above better than it was the last time Republicans controlled Washington. If we can keep that upward momentum, if we can manage not to lose the public favor we worked so hard to build, we might just be able to stem the tide of rights erosion before it starts.

So the first thing we need is forgiveness. After that we need visibility. This is true for the gay community but much more for the transgender community. Hate for LGBT comes from misinformation. It comes from pastors preaching about a God who isn’t about love. It comes from legislators looking for bogymen to make us afraid of so they can “save” us from them and keep their jobs. Opinions are formed by exposure to selective information, but they can be altered through personal experience.

Gay people, trans people, you’re going to have to let the world see you. They need to see you at the bank, at the grocery store, at the post office, at the school function. They need to know that they work with you, share your interests, and live next door.They need to see that we’re not freaks, not monsters, not pedophiles. LGBT is about community. It’s about celebrating diversity. We will stand together with our arms linked. We will not back down and we will not go away, but we will also not wall ourselves off. Our hands will remain reached out, even to those who either hate us or don’t understand us.

The depressing notion being shared by many today is that hate has won. That’s not true. Hate didn’t win. Divisiveness won. Misunderstanding won. LGBT activism will be needed now more than ever to make sure we build new bridges while keeping old ones from crumbling. It’s a hard road forward, but it’s the only road left.

“When they go low, we go high.” We have to live that, now more than ever, or everything will truly be lost.

-Faith

Gay Geek Girls Gossip Episode 8: Mad Max is a Sexy Lamp

Tig and Faith reflect on the #BlackLivesMatter protests going on in Charlotte. They discuss Modern Family casting a transgender child character and Mad Max getting a prequel. Finally, the girls talk about ways to identify and confront a fake ally.

Listen or download here.

Hosts: Faith Naff and Tig Pollum

Like what you hear? Please contribute to our Patreon!

Music: “Every Time You Look Around” by Gavin Dunne: used with permission.

Getting Transgender Characters Right

Between the show and the blog, we’ve had quite a bit of content lately discussing proper representation of LGBT characters and transgender characters especially. From Transparent to Anything to The Danish Girl, we’ve had plenty of instances where we’ve picked apart the representation and portrayal of transgender characters. And I’ve noticed that it’s mostly been focusing on the negative. Now, there’s a depressing reason for that, in that the vast…vast…VAST majority of transgender representation in media only falls on a spectrum between harmful at worst and problematic at best.

But there are some examples that not only cross the barrier separating okay but flawed from good but push on to actually outstanding. I’ve listed them a few times as comparisons here and there but I’ve not gotten any time to focus on them and really explain exactly what sets them apart as shining examples of transgender representation. Well, it’s time for them to get their moment to shine (plus I’ve always wanted to do my own BuzzFeed style top list) so here are my top three (sort of) examples of transgender characters done right and why.

Honerable Mention: Cremisius Aclassi – Dragon Age Inquisition

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This one is a honerable mention because I really wrestled with myself over whether or not to include it. As a person who shouts till she’s blue in the face that transgender characters need to be played by actual transgender people, including Cremisius (Crem)-who is voiced by a cisgender woman-seemed like sacrilege. In the end I decided to give it a partial pass since Crem still represents a lot of positive aspects of transgender character portrayal as well as being the absolute best example of trans in games that I can think of. Also, while I recognize as much as anyone that this is a cop-out excuse, voice acting is not the same as camera or stage acting and there are a ton of examples of voice actors playing characters of different races, genders, or ages than what they physically represent.

So yea, let’s at least discuss Crem. As video games have grown to be constructs of deep and complex narratives they’ve given us a way to interact with and understand stories that’s never been possible in any other medium. Remember the old choose your own adventure books where you’d come to a point where you could make a choice of where to go and flip to a different page depending on what storyline you chose? Well, video games have become an amazing realization of what those books were trying to achieve. Two people can play the exact same game and get almost completely different experiences. What you see, who you interact with, hell; even who your character falls in love with are all different depending on the choices you make in the game.

There is only one point in all of Dragon Age Inquisition where all players must see Crem. He’s standing outside the Temple in Haven wanting to talk to you as you pass him by. If you do pass him, if you do just ignore him and go about your game, that’s all there is to it. Crem (and subsequently his boss, Iron Bull) do not become a part of your adventure. If you do talk to him, you have the option of letting his band of mercenaries join your team. Beyond that you can interact with both he and Iron Bull through layers upon layers of optional dialogue. And it’s only when you venture deep into these conversations that you find out Crem is a transgender man.

And this gets to why I simply had to put Crem on this list. He’s a perfect tool for teaching the player what it’s like to meet a transgender person. If you just pass him by without talking to him, you’re absolutely none the wiser. If you talk to him, you’ll notice he has a few slightly feminine traits but pay it no mind. Even after you go kill monsters with him you’re still not privy to the secrets of his gender identity. It’s only through forming a deep relationship with him that you find out he’s transgender. So many people think all transgender people are obvious. To go back to the insufferable bathroom topic, people who are afraid of transgender people in the bathroom think they’re going to instantly recognize any they come across, or that they will somehow telegraph their transness to them. The truth is a lot of transgender people just blend in, and it’s none of your business unless they choose to let you know about it. Crem helps deliver this message in an interactive experience.

Plus, he’s badass.

Number 3: Sophia Burset – Orange is the New Black

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You all knew this would be on here but I bet you thought it would be number one. Sophia is a great character and I have a lot of good things to say about her, but she’s not my favorite. Still, this is her moment to shine so let’s put a spotlight on her and what the portrayal of her character does right. Firstly, she’s a transgender woman of color, and you will not find a more maligned demographic of people in America. Seriously, on a scale for people who have it rough in America simply because of who they are, I can’t think of any that have it worse. It’s vital that we get TWOC into the media because they are simply so invisible to the collective conscience.

Sophia actually isn’t a main character on OITNB. Cox only has a guest starring role each season so she doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time. Still, the writers have done a great job making sure we get to know her just as well as we get to know all the other women and guards at Lichfield Prison. One of the fun things about OITNB is how many of the episodes each highlight one character and weave in scenes from their past that help us to understand how they wound up behind bars. Sophia got her back story told in the first season and it was beautifully executed.

(Spoilers for OITNB ahead!)

Laverne Cox has a twin brother in real life and that twin was called in to play pre-transition Sophia. This struck me as especially moving because, with how much entertainment media wants to cast cis people in trans rolls, the producers of OITNB basically had the perfect excuse to continue that trend but still chose to represent their trans character with a trans actress. If they had cast a cis male, the argument that the story called for the character to be seen both pre and post transition would have been viable…still upsetting, but viable. OITNB took the harder path in order to properly represent their transgender character and it paid off. Both of the twins gave wonderful performances and Cox’s brother’s portrayal of pre-transition Sophia was so spectacular it could have only come from someone who literally watched a loved one go through it in real life.

Now, each of the inmates’ back stories also lets us know how they came to be prisoners. When telling us the story of Sophia’s crime, the writers one again bypassed the easy road. If you’re trying to put a transgender prisoner in your story, especialla TWOC, and you need a crime for her to have committed, prostitute is the go-to. While it’s unfortunately true that a lot of transgender women, especially TWOC do end up selling their bodies in order to survive, as a narrative tool it’s old and boring. Still, it would have been effortless to just go that route. Again, the show is about criminals and they have a transgender character. The narrative is practically moving them towards it. But again, OITNB didn’t go the easy route. Instead, Sophia was busted committing credit card fraud in an attempt to bankroll her gender affirmation surgery. It’s creative, it works for her character, and it makes her more than a cliché. So bravo to the OITNB crew for giving us a well presented transgender woman at Litchfield Prison.

Number 2: Violet and Paige – Her Story

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Why the fuck did this not win an Emmy?

My love of Her Story should be pretty obvious at this point. This six-part mini series on YouTube is just beautiful. It has a great cast, it’s well-directed, and the story is quite compelling when you consider how many characters it follows for such a short amount of time. Her Story seems like one of those “will obviously be on this list” entries; it’s build from the ground up to let trans actors tell the story of trans characters. Well, you might be surprised to hear that I almost left it off this list for that very reason!

Let me explain. While I have nothing but love for this show, when I talk about proper representation of trans characters I’m often talking about integrating them into narratives we already have. Like I said in my criticisms of Strut, it just always leaves a bad taste in my mouth when proper representation of trans characters can only be found in media that exists largely just to have them in it. Doing so makes the fact that they’re trans have to be a major chunk of the story by default, thus making it feel like some extraordinary circumstance rather than just another way of being.

But I didn’t bring you here to talk about what’s wrong. In fact, it’s how Her Story triumphs over this problem that earned it a spot on this list. It’s a story that kinda has to put a lot of focus on the fact that the characters are trans, but the narrative allows more interesting things to be the real focus of each episode. Paige gets some great focus as a woman trying to make it as a lawyer, but it’s Jen Richard’s Violet that really gets to stand out. Her transgender status, instead of being the focus of her arch, is actually just an additional complication thrown into her quest to find love, get out of her abusive relationship with her boyfriend, and ultimately come to understand her own sexual orientation.

And that’s the part of Her Story that really grabs me. Highlighting that even a trans woman can find herself in an abusive relationship is good, but it’s the sexual orientation topic that sets this show apart. The T has long been a part of the LGBT movement, but that brings with it its own unfortunate misunderstandings. People tend to think of gender identity as a part of one’s sexual identity, and it’s a confusion that even crops up in the LGBT community itself. A transgender woman who is attracted to men is a heterosexual woman: not a gay man. Likewise, a cisgender lesbian who finds herself attracted to a transgender woman isn’t suddenly straight or bisexual. These are the issues Her Story tackles and it does so beautifully. As Violet explores her relationship with Allie (a cisgender lesbian), Allie’s friends call her sexual orientation into question. It’s these outside forces pushing against their relationship that take up the bulk of the story, not the fact that Violet or Paige are trans.

Number 1: Nomi Marks – Sense8

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I consider Sense8 to be one of the most underrated things ever on television. It’s a sci-fi series that comes to us courtesy of Lilly Wachowski, a transgender woman herself. Nomi isn’t necessarily the main character of the story, but the beauty of Sense8 is that no one is. All of the eight characters that share a psychic connection also share about equal screen time and story focus.

I did put these characters in a specific order and I consider Nomi to be the best representation of a transgender character I’ve ever seen. She exhibits many of the traits we’ve already touched on in other examples. She has a rich and compelling back story that isn’t saturated in her gender identity. She also lends more to the narrative than being a token character; she’s a bad-ass hacker. But there are two things about Nomi that really help her stand out to me.

The first one revolves around the story of Sense8 itself and thus I must put up another SPOILER WARNING. The story is about eight people who share a psychic connection. They are able to communicate with each other, mentally transfer themselves into the same place as each other, and even take over each other’s bodies in order to lend them their specific skills (seriously, why have you not watched this show?!) Each of the eight has their own unique talents which are helpful for the group to achieve their goals. There’s the fighter, the actor, the criminal mastermind, and in Nomi’s case, the hacker.

Notice I mentioned an actor. See, someone who doesn’t understand what it means to be transgender may be under the impression that being so is an act, that they’re pretending to be something they’re not. But when any of the eight need to call upon acting skills, they don’t call Nomi. It may seem like a small thing, but it helps to confirm to the audience that Nomi is Nomi and no one else.

The second thing I love about Nomi is a trait I’ve not seen well executed in any other trans character: she’s allowed to be sexy. Notice I didn’t say sexualized. We see that shit all the time. Trans women walking the streets in dark alleys are an often used as visual shorthand to add to the motif of a derelict urban environment. They convey sex, but are not meant to be something the audience actually finds attractive.

Sense8 introduces us to Nomi during a sex scene with her girlfriend Amanita. They’re both fully nude and the cinematography is utilized to highlight how sexy the bodies of both women are. Nomi’s breasts, hips, legs, etc. are all given the same care and framing any cis woman would be in a scene intended to get a reaction of erotic enjoyment from the audience. And this is nothing compared to her sex scene halfway through the series which is hands down the hottest sex scene I’ve ever witnessed in anything that wasn’t actual pornography.

I know there’s a lot of ire around the notion of portraying women, even cis women, as sexual objects, but when sex is tied to an already well-rounded character it’s actually a very positive thing. Nomi owns her sexuality. She consents to all sexual contacts in the story and they’re always with partners she feels safe with. She’s not being exploited, but rather allowed to own and be proud of her sexuality in a way we still don’t see with a lot of cis women on TV.

So see, entertainment media, it can be done. There are plenty of ways to properly portray transgender characters. They can be just as diverse, just as deep, and just as engaging as anyone else you write. So can we please try harder–if for no other reason than it’s more fun for me to write pieces like this than to drudge up another thousand words or so on how you fucked it up again.

-Faith

Faith Reviews “Strut”…Sort Of…

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There are reasons I usually don’t review stuff, or at least don’t write lengthy reviews like professional critics do. Firstly is that I just don’t have time to consume a lot of media. Between my full-time job, writing, podcasting, con tours, and my family, I don’t get a lot of time to go to the movies or watch much TV. Secondly, I never know how to say much about a particular piece of media without getting into broader subjects that surround it but don’t actually have weight on whether or not the entity in question is good.

I originally set out for this to be just a review of the first episode of Strut, the new reality fashion drama on Oxygen that has an all transgender cast and that I’ve already given my early thoughts on here. It was going to be matter-of-fact; talking about the good stuff, the bad stuff, and closing with my overall opinion. You know…a review. But my mind just doesn’t work that way. The objectionable stuff I could come up with would barely fill a couple of paragraphs and other, deeper thoughts stayed glued to my brain the more I thought about the show. I’m simply not good at thinking of a piece of media on its own (and yes, I know no review is actually 100% objective because that would be boring, but the best critics at least tie the non-objective stuff into judging the merit of the work)

With that in mind, this post is going to be split into two sections. First I’ll look at what I can objectively say about Strut and then I’ll let that lead into a discussion of something that hangs over Strut but doesn’t have any weight as to whether it’s good or bad. And now that I’ve wasted over 300 words rambling, let’s move on.

Strut is good. I genuinely enjoyed the first episode. The show follows the modeling agency Slay at the time of their one year anniversary. What makes Slay unique is that it’s the only modeling agency to only work with transgender models. The show follows a wide array of models, from business veterans to fresh faces, between New York and Los Angeles. I was really nervous at the beginning when one of the models said the word “penis” before the opening credits even started, but for as much as Strut is about transgender models, it doesn’t spend the whole time dwelling on the fact that their trans. I mean, yea, it comes up often, but the show’s direction does a pretty good job of letting the issue fade to the background enough to let the much more interesting aspects of each model shine. There actually wasn’t a single mention of genitalia after that, which was honestly surprising.

The models themselves are quite diverse, representing a wide array of ages and ethnicities. I do wish there was more than on male model in the cast, but that’s a nitpick more than an outright issue.

 And…that’s about it. Like I said, I’m really not much of a critic. It’s a good show and I enjoyed watching it, but it brought to mind a broader issue that took up my mental energy way more than the merits of the show itself. I don’t know whether or not Goldberg and her team intended for transgender people to be the target audience of the show, but undoubtedly we will take up a large chunk of the viewership. I couldn’t help but watch this show from the perspective of a transgender woman, thus my own feelings emotions flavored my experience. And while I did enjoy myself, I couldn’t help but feel…well…inadiquate.

This was one of my worries going in and part of my last post. So much of the transgender experience is unfairly centered around physical appearance, and having a all-trans show set in a world also focused on looks is worrisome. It’s not like this was an all-transgender law firm, or an all-transgender bakery. The fashion industry already has a lot of problems when it comes to affecting the self-esteem and confidence of women since it’s rare to see any model booked who isn’t super skinny. And while there have been some improvements in that regard as of late, transgender models are pretty new to the scene and have to meet one obvious requirement before anyone will even think about booking them.

Passing.

No media outlet is going to book a transgender model, even if the fact they’re trans is disclosed, unless most of their audience is going to have a “that person is trans?!” reaction. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen a non-passing trans person get featured in anything. As I’ve said many times before, if only passing trans people are given the spotlight then the public will continue to judge the validity of someone’s gender identity only on their looks. Again, this isn’t something the show is doing wrong, but it’s an overall problem that Strut is marinading in.

I’m lucky enough that I pass pretty well, but I know a lot of transgender people where that’s not the case. It’s a well-known fact that the media, especially fashion media, puts a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way. Women have to run a proverbial gauntlet of stigmas and expectations to be considered valuable in society, but transgender women have another gauntlet they have to run just to get to the starting line of that one. A woman who is overweight or in any other way conventionally not pretty is going to face a lot of undeserved obstacles, but no one is going to assume (in most cases) they are anything other than female. A trans woman who doesn’t pass can’t even get it that good, and often spends a not insignificant amount of time and money changing her body just to make it to the level of just another un-pretty or unworthy woman. And this isn’t even going into the looming threats of harassment and violence they face when not passing.

Women watching fashion shows often feel a sense of shame or inadequacy about their own bodies, but I was honestly shocked how strong those feelings were for me when I watched Strut. It wasn’t just the feeling of “I’m not that pretty” or “I’m not that skinny”; it was “I don’t pass that well”. I looked for the things I’m self-conscious about on them and felt inadequate when I didn’t see those same flaws. I worry about the aspects that “give me away” as trans like the faint amount of shadow still on my upper lip or how wide my jaw is. When I don’t see those same things on the models on Strut, it doesn’t do good things for my confidence.

And I’m really curious to learn how other transgender women feel when they watch this show. Again, the show is not bad because of this, but it’s for the same reason other fashion shows aren’t bad even if they contribute to low self-esteem issues in women. It all serves to highlight an unfortunate truth: society largely doesn’t care about transgender people and those that do only give you a pass if you…well…pass! And not just pass, but look conventionally beautiful as well. It’s a problem that goes well beyond toxic notions like, ‘you’re not thin so you’re not pretty’ or ‘you’re don’t look good enough to be loved’. No, this reaches the point of, ‘you don’t look good enough to even be accepted for who you are’. And when you live in that kind of stigma, watching models enjoying things you might not even be able to achieve is heartbreaking.

I’m happy to have a show starring transgender people. I’m happy it allows real transgender people to tell their stories. But nothing is going to get better until we show the broader reality of being transgender to the world. We don’t start our journey of transition at the end. We don’t always pass and some of us never will. And we certainly aren’t all going to look like supermodels! The world needs to see the transgender community in a more realistic manner, because there’s a lot more on the line for us than just ‘being pretty’.

-Faith

Gay Geek Girls Gossip Episode 7: A Mormon Housewife’s Wet Dream

***TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE AND SUICIDE***

With Dragon Con behind them, the girls rant about the Broc Turner case, Tig teaches us about how “50 Shades of Grey” gets BDSM wrong, and things get emotional during a discussion about LGBT suicide prevention.

Listen or download here.

Hosts: Faith Naff and Tig Pollum

Like what you hear? Please contribute to our Patreon!

Music: “Every Time You Look Around” by Gavin Dunne: used with permission.

The Stumbles of “Strut”

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Outrage over something clearly problematic is easy. My last post didn’t take a lot of effort to get my point across since casting yet another cis person as a member of the still poorly represented transgender community is such a cut and dry case of fuck no. Though even then some people will fail to grasp exactly why you’re angry, the bulk of the readership tends to at least figure it out after you make your case (and I did have a few people say they hadn’t understood why it was a problem until they read the post).

Pointing out the problems in something less blatant is a much greater challenge. Hell, it can even come across as being too picky or trying to find faults just for the sake of doing it. It becomes more touchy when the subject matter appears to be actually progressive and done with the very intention of making right the sins of poor representation. And while I’ll agree that being outright angry over such things is definitely not the right way to go, holding back criticism as a thank you just for trying sends the message that the entity in question got it 100% right, therefore no one needs to try any harder than that to appease said community.

What the hell am I going on about? Well, it’s been revealed that the Oxygen network has picked up a new show called Strut. Seemingly framed like America’s Next Top Model but without being a competition, the show is produced by Whoopi Goldberg and features a modeling agency that only works with transgender models.

Click here to watch the trailer.

If you’re thinking, ‘Faith, how can you think a show like that looks bad?’, let me go ahead and say that I don’t. I actually think this looks like a good show and I plan to at least give it a shot. It shows real transgender people who are allowed to talk about their own struggles. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some issues with it and I believe those issues have merit. Like I said last time, I refuse to just take what I’m given simply because I’m given so little to begin with. I will always be picky about how I’m represented in the media, even when the media in question is trying to get it right.

To break down the issues I have with this show, we need to tackle them from two different angles. First, there’s the issue of Strut as a progressive entity (as in will work to actively progress transgender acceptance). We live in a world where people have access to a near infinite amount of entertainment options. Between hundreds of channels, on demand sites like Hulu and Netflix, Youtube channels, podcasts, ebooks, and everything else the digital age has to offer, there’s virtually no chance you’re ever going to have to watch, listen to, read, etc. something you don’t want to. Strut is a progressive show produced by a progressive person and presented on a progressive network. It’s preaching to the choir. And while that can be good for the choir, it’s not going to achieve anything meaningful in the long run. The people who actually need to be exposed to these people and their stories will still be able to easily sequester themselves away from it. If the show were on NBC, CBS, or even a bigger cable presence like FX or TNT, it would have a greater probability of at least having someone stay on it till their show came on afterward. On Oxygen, it might was well be in a box wrapped in caution tape reading: WARNING: THIS SHOW WILL BREAK YOUR IGNORANCE.

Of course I’m not touting any of this as a fault of the show itself (that’s coming next), but more as an overall observation. Anyone who thinks this is going to be a means of turning public opinion is sorely mistaken. This is any other reality show; period. Nothing more, nothing less. And the thing that makes me the maddest is that very few content creators seem to be fighting for the simpler solutions that actually would work to make things better. I don’t need a show just for trans people, I need trans people on the shows people already watch. Instead of this, couldn’t we get a trans contestant on Dancing With the Stars? How about on Survivor, or Big Brother? These shows are already watched by millions of people, both the progressive and the ignorant. That’s where we need visibility! America’s Next Top Model actually got this right by having transgender contestants in with everyone else. That’s proper representation!

You want to really shake things up? Give us a transgender contestant on The Bachelor.

I said a while back in my post about neutral bathrooms that attempts to be inclusive can often just be a different kind of exclusive. In the bathroom example, the point is that neutral bathrooms are a great thing to have, but to build them specifically so transgender people have somewhere to go is just singling them out in a different way. “You’re not allowed to exist,” becomes “you can exist, but only over there.” Strut has the same feeling to me. There are a ton of shows just like it all over the place, each with a cast of men and women representing a variety of colors, ages, and sexual orientations. Why can’t we just throw transgender into that mix? Why do we need our own special version of what’s already out there?

Secluding the transgender experience from the rest of media further pushes the notion that varying gender identities are abnormal; they must have their own special place because they don’t fit in with normal life. For a long time you couldn’t get a gay character in a story unless the story was about them being gay. That’s gotten better over time, but transgender representation hasn’t caught up. Strut might be telling some great stories about the transgender experience, but it’s not letting those stories exist alongside what our collective culture already knows. What’s more, it’s doing it in the safest space imaginable outside of an online only medium.

As for the show itself (and this is purely impressions off the commercials as I’ve not seen any episodes yet), it’s another show about runway models. The transgender aspect is simply a gimmick, and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I still think it looks like an entertaining show, but there’s nothing remarkable about it. I will say, however, that if we have to have a show with an all transgender cast…can it please not be models? Not to put down models or modeling in any way; it’s a valid profession that takes a great deal of work and talent, but so much of the stigma about transgender people is already centered around appearance.

It would be so easy for the plot of this show to be about how well the models appear cis when the pictures are submitted to magazines, billboards etc. If that turns out to be the goal these men and women have, then the narrative will actually become something harmful. So much of the transgender experience has been poisoned by the notion that passing equals validity. I know I’ve fallen into that trap more than once in my life. The idea that one’s gender identity isn’t worthy of respect unless they can pass for a cis member of said gender is an incredibly difficult battle that most of our community has to fight. Telling the stories of transgender people through the framework of a modeling show is only going to exacerbate that notion.

I’d like to stress again that everything I’ve presented here is speculation based on how the show has advertised itself. Once it’s out and I’ve had a chance to watch it, I might return to this topic and offer more insights. Until then, it’s hard to get excited for something like this. It’s hard to see this as a step forward when the greater advancement could have been made in a simpler way. It’s hard to be optimistic when so many of the same old problems with transgender representation are already showing up in the marketing for this show. It looks like a fun show, but if it’s aiming to be anything more than that, anything meaningful for the lives of the people it portrays, I find it sorely wanting.

-Faith

UPDATE: It’s come to my attention that Big Brother actually has had a transgender contestant before. Just goes to show you how much reality TV I watch.

Gay Geek Girls Gossip Episode 6: Buying Stock in Butt-hurt Creme

Faith and Tig are fresh off of Charlotte Pride and ready for Dragon Con! They tackle the ways to be a good geek, Faith rages about trangender representation, and Tig sneezes really loudly.

Listen or download here.

Hosts: Faith Naff and Tig Pollum

Like what you hear? Please contribute to our Patreon!

Music: “Every Time You Look Around” by Gavin Dunne: used with permission.

Trans-face: Exploiting Transgender Characters

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Once upon a time when I was in college, I took a creative writing class. We had to write short stories and have the class read/critique them. I wrote a story about a sniper who finds out his next hit is an old boyfriend. When I came to class the next day after everyone had read it, I kept hearing the same question: this is a really good story, but why did you make him gay? I thought it was a strange question so I asked why they wanted to know. ‘Being gay has nothing to do with the story,’ was the general complaint. ‘Why would you make the character gay if it was just some espionage thriller?’

Hopefully you already understand why this is a shitty thing to ask. I mean, why can’t my sniper be gay? I think he had dark hair, too, but no one asked how that was integral to the story. The LGBT community has always had trouble finding good representation in media. It’s thankfully gotten better since I was in school. I think of characters like Captain Holt on Brooklyn 99 and Connor from How To Get Away With Murder; gay characters whose sexual orientation has nothing to do with the core of the story. They’re just gay…and it’s normal. Because being gay is normal.

Sadly, the same kind of cultural enlightenment hasn’t been extended to transgender characters. First off, even having transgender characters in a mainstream piece of media is rare. With the notable exception (as always) of Orange is the New Black, there really aren’t any trans characters in big name shows or movies (and even Sophia is just an occasional guest star). The bulk of trans representation is currently restricted to small, art house productions as well as online shows like the phenomenal Her Story. Occasionally, directors with the glimmer of Oscar statues sparkling in their eyes will take on a project with or about a transgender woman.

Unfortunately, the directors who do this end up committing a greater sin than not representing trans people at all. They may want to have a trans woman in their story, maybe even portray her in a positive light, but all that gets undermined when they cast a cisgender male to play the part. You already know what I’m talking about. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, and just announced; Matt Bomer in Anything. Critics call it inspiring. Hollywood calls it progressive. Wanna know what I call it?

Black-face.

Sound harsh? Sound like I’m blowing things out of proportion? Well, let’s take a look at what black-face (as a general term, not a literal comparison) is. It used to be that black people weren’t allowed to perform as actors, but script writers still wanted to include black characters in their stories. So they took white actors, painted them to look black, and had them perform the part. Fast forward to today, we have non-transgender actors and actresses being dressed up and “painted” to appear as transgender characters, therefore allowing the character to be portrayed by an actual transgender person. It’s no different. It’s the same exploitative practice with the same intent behind it and results from it. It’s trans-face

We can go into debates about levels of bigotry behind this and the practice of literal black-face decades ago, but nothing would change the fact that the actions are one in the same. When you physically alter a person to look like someone they’re not just to play a part instead of giving that part to an actual member of that demographic, you’ve committed the exact same act. What makes this even more astounding though is it’s being done in films that portray the transgender character in a positive way. These movies aren’t mocking their transgender characters, they’re not setting them up as villains or objects of disgust (well, not all of them). The filmmakers themselves genuinely seem to want to shine a light on the struggles, but the sentiment rings hollow when they don’t include actual transgender people in their cast. For fuck sake, transgender actresses like Jen Richards (Twitter: @SmartAssJen) even auditioned for it!

I’ve shared this concern with people before who didn’t understand my anger. “Why are you making such a big deal about it? They’re not demonizing the character. It looks like a positive movie.” And then there’s my favorite…”shouldn’t you just be happy that they have a transgender character at all?” No. No, I should not. I refuse to fall into that notion of beggars can’t be choosers. I don’t care if it means I never see another transgender character on the movie screen: if they cast a non-trans person to play the role, I will not see the film. That’s not even just a transgender sentiment. A lot of people thought the LGBT community should be thankful to the people who made Stonewall. Hey look, it’s a movie that champions your movement! It shines a spotlight on one of the most defining moments in your fight for equality! Aren’t you happy they made the movie and want to go see it over and over? No fucking way.

It’s funny, a lot of media, especially video games, get accused of “pandering” to LGBT people just for having a gay or trans character. Just simply having one is ‘pushing an agenda’ with the film. That’s not pandering. That’s just having a diverse cast. But movies like Stonewall are pandering because they assume we’ll be thrilled just because you bothered to do it at all. Sorry, but no. We have more respect for ourselves and our history than to sell out to your white-washed, revisionist garbage.

To bring that back home, I don’t care if the transgender character in your movie is a positive character. I don’t care if you’re making them the hero. You didn’t let an actual transgender actor/actress with aspirations to be a big movie star get one of the very few roles even possibly written for them. I don’t need to know anything about your movie other than that, because that tells me that your compassion is only skin deep. We may get next to nothing, but we will at least demand what we get is worthy of our praise.

This whole problem goes deeper than most people realize, especially those making the film. Going back to the black-face thing, transgender people have to overcome an extra hurdle when it comes to acceptance. Racists look at black people and say, “I know you’re there, but I still hate you.” But our bigots look at us and say, “you don’t really exist; you don’t deserve anything just for wanting to be something you’re not.”Bigots say they hate our sin and not us, feeling justified in their notion that who we are is a matter of choice.

I said back in my post about the Rocky Horror advertisement that, while media can be targeted to a certain audience, the marketing and news for that media will be consumed by all. Those people saying transgender experiences aren’t real have their ignorance backed up every time a cisgender man portrays a transgender woman. It just further insinuates that being transgender is just cross dressing and pretending to be something you’re not. That same actor wearing makeup and a dress on the screen will be on the red carpet during the premier in a black suit, and everyone will see that. It will color their perception of the transgender community. These movies exacerbate already damaging misunderstandings about transgender people, and lives are on the line.

And even if we could move past this and get actual transgender people to play transgender characters…can we please be something other than sex workers? Look, I’m not looking down on sex work. I have a great deal of respect for it and think it gets about as bad a reputation as transgender people. I’m just sick of it being the only way Hollywood knows to represent us. There are indeed a lot of transgender sex workers as it’s often the only kind of work trans women can find and there are a lot of cis men with a fetish for us. The slur tr**ny exists because the porn industry created a whole genre for guys who get off fucking transgender women. Hollywood knows this. In fact, it seems to be the only thing they know about transgender women, so they overuse it. It’s like how they can’t seem to think of a way to make a cis woman seem dark and angsty without getting her raped. It’s lazy and perpetuates already tired stereotypes.

I for one will never be desperate enough to just take whatever is tossed to me. I will not hold back criticism just because a piece of media acknowledged I exist. People say change comes slowly, and that’s often true. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept slow when it doesn’t have to be. I don’t want to wait until I’m an old woman to see authentic representation of my community in big budget movies. You can call me ungrateful, but I’d rather think of myself as knowing I’m worth more than what I’ve been given. These movie makers aren’t doing us any favors by hiring cis men to pretend to be us. All that does is make things worse.

And to Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer: Shame on you. For fucking shame! I always thought better of the both of you. You’re each fine actors and have done wonderful things for many good causes. I don’t know. Maybe this only further highlights just how little understanding there really is about the transgender community. If one of Hollywood’s biggest names when it comes to social progression teams up with an outwardly gay actor to make a movie with a transgender character and even they can’t get it right, things may be worse than I thought.

-Faith

Gay Geek Girls Gossip Episode 5: Fake-ass Looking Shelf Tits

Fresh off their trip to Charlotte Comicon, Tig and Faith discuss boobs because…well, because boobs. They talk about diversity in the new Star Trek series and a segment about the Olympics leads into a discussion on the dangers of outing someone without permission.

Listen or download here.

Hosts: Faith Naff and Tig Pollum

Like what you hear? Please contribute to our Patreon!

Music: “Every Time You Look Around” by Gavin Dunne: used with permission.