Tuesday, October 7, 2008

There Is A Difference Between Being Androgynous and Transgender: Black Voices Gets It Wrong

Intersectionality is something that I am very passionate about. As a WOC I have come to understand how the different social stigmatizations interact to effect my life.  Many in the black community continue to advocate against racism while at the same time participating in homophobia, trans hate and sexism as though it is not all fruit from the same poisonous tree.  All of the isms are related and all have an effect on people of colour.  There is no such thing as a monolithic representative of blackness and therefore when we refuse to speak out about an ism we are participating in the othering of POC.

It was with much trepidation that I decided to read a post at Blackvoices entitled Transgender On TV: Laverne Cox & Isis King Brings On New Reality.  From the very start of the post it gets off on the wrong foot.

BlackVoices.com takes an up-close and intimate look at how androgyny has crossed into mainstream entertainment culture via the work and depictions of transgendered people, transvestites, transsexuals, cross-dressers and gay icons.  Sometimes dramatic, sometimes comedic, and often-times jarring, these gender-bending images leaves a lasting impression on all who bore witness. Take a gander.

Someone who is transgender is not androgynous, they have a specific gender to which they identify with.  The idea that there has been some great transcendence because of two people being "granted" a chance to appear on reality TV is ridiculous. 

When we can see trans women and men on television daily without any need to comment, that is transcendence.  When they are not depicted as poor confused creatures that need to be pitied that is transcendence.  When they are not overwhelmingly played by cis people that is transcendence.  The idea that it is suddenly cool or hip to be transgender in our society is ridiculous.

If you are going to write about the transgender experience it should behove you to understand even just the basics.  Gender identity and sexuality are two separate things.  Gender is in reference to whether they are identifying as male or female or even gender butch; whereas sexuality can run the gambit from straight, gay, bi,  or even asexual.  There is no connection between the two different sets of identity beyond the fact that if you identify outside of the cisexist heterosexual characterization, you are existing as an othered, marginalized body.

Finally please explain to me what the hell a gay icon is?  The very idea of it is ridiculous.  I suppose because of Ellen, the L Word and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, homosexuality has gone mainstream?  Think again. This is all about performing acceptable homosexuality, and not about accepting the idea that sexuality is fluid.  If you are gay and happen to be white, middle to upper class and never show any visible affection to someone of the same sex beyond hand holding, maybe just maybe you can be acceptable for prime time.  I also find it disturbing that all of these so-called icons and role models are expected to perform gayness, that's right perform.  As long as someone who is lesbian or homosexual is acting like what straight people believe a "real gay person" acts like (you know playing up the stereotypes) then it is acceptable.

I am sure that The Blackvoices would like to have a cookie for bothering to engage when so many have not, but if your engagement only serves to maintain misrepresentation then you might as well have remained silent. 



Monica Roberts said...

Amen Renee,
While I'm happy to see AA transpeople start to get more coverage, like this article, too much of it is laced with inaccuracies or plain ignorance about the lives of transwomen.

Lisa Harney said...

Somewhere on Bilerico, someone commented that the AA community is racist against white people because there's apparently a belief that being LGBT is a white thing - I don't know how accurate that is (and don't want to imply that I know) but I found it telling that he was unable to identify it as homophobia or transphobia (erasing the African-American LGBT people entirely) rather than any kind of racism (no institutional power to back actual racism in the first place, white people aren't harmed by assuming black LGBT people don't exist).

Ellie said...

Ugh, the "androgynous" label pisses me off to no end, especially because it always seems to come from cis people *trying* to be helpful.

I was in a "Sex and Gender Across Cultures" class trying to explain the concept of "cisgender" to my (feminist) professor and a cis classmate felt the need to butt in and try to clarify what I meant, calling transgendered people androgynous in the process.

Yeah, thanks a bunch dude.

Ellie said...

I guess I want to add that I really wanted to call him on it, but the class was already pissed off at me for bringing up violence against transpeople during a discussion about gendered violence. In fact, another guy in the class openly said that he'd react violently if he found out that a sex partner was a transsexual.

I was honestly too scared at that point to want to step on people's toes any more, but I also feel bad because by allowing my classmate to say "androgynous" in his seeming agreement with my views, I probably made others think it was okay.

Anonymous said...

Although being transgender is not the same as being androgynous, it is possible to be both --- at least I am....

Renee said...

@Anon...of course I believe that it is capable for trans people to be androgynous, the point I was trying to make is that using it as a universal label is an attempt to other.

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