So “we” did it, everyone! “We” successfully petitioned and fought and made a fuss and now “we’ve” won! Donald Trump himself has announced that Jenna Talackova will be permitted to participate in the Miss Universe Canada competition!
By banding together as a community, and making our voice heard, we have successfully ensured that this totally passing-privileged, beautiful-by-cisnormative-standards, successful beauty queen will be able to subject herself to objectification in an ultra-patriarchal competition built entirely around the premise that a woman’s worth and validity is dependent on how well men are able to sexualize her and project their desires onto her!
Meanwhile, the media blackout on Bill C-279, the Canadian trans rights bill that would prevent all Canadian trans women (not just individual gorgeous beauty queens) from being subject to all forms of legally-empowered discrimination (not just being barred from appallingly sexist pageants) continues, with nary a single comment raised by the media in regards to the bill over the entirety of the Talackova story’s unfolding. Meanwhile, no comparable outcry has been raised on behalf of Alexandra, the German trans girl who is now being subjected to one of the most horrific and disgusting human rights abuses I’ve ever witnessed within a “developed” democracy in my lifetime. The petitions for both the bill and for Alexandra remain at a fraction of what was pulled together for Talackova, likewise the media coverage.
Hooray for the rights of trans women to subject themselves to misogynistic oppression. Meh for actual progress or protection from blatant violations of rights.
I’m sorry, but this victory rings incredibly hollow for me (even though, technically, I do support Talackova’s right to compete, if only on the basis that trans people should have all the same rights as cis people, including the right to do silly things), and really, I am ENORMOUSLY disappointed right now. I’m disappointed in the media. I’m disappointed in Canada. I’m disappointed in humanity. I’m disappointed in the supposed supporters of trans rights. And for perhaps the first time since I transitioned and began participating in the trans rights movement, I’m disappointed in the trans community itself.
Way to fucking prioritize, everyone.
What does it say about our community, about where we’re heading, what we want, how we see ourselves, and our goals, when this is the fight we choose to pour ourselves into and ultimately celebrate? Is this what we consider most important? The capacity for trans women to be sexy bikini shots on the beach, to be in the evening wear competition, to be be sexualized by men and crowned most-attractive-in-the-land (in accordance with cisnormative, heteronormative, vanillacentric concepts of beauty)? Do we want to de-fang ourselves, remove the threat we pose to such cisnormative standards and concepts? Market ourselves as an object totally safe for male consumption? Become subservient pretty-things-to-look-at? We’re fighting for the right to be subjected to the same misogyny cis women are subjected to?
These are the things we’re willing to fight for, and invest enough energy into to win? At the expense of attention paid to actual human rights? These are the heroes and icons of our movement?
If so, I’m not sure it’s my movement at all, or anything I wish to be a part of.
I’ve been finding myself increasingly unnerved by who we position as our “positive role models” and “icons”, particularly amongst trans women. While we certainly have our Julia Seranos, Vandy Beth Glenns, Paris Leeseses, Sarah Browns, Sandy Stones, Lynn Conways and Susan Strykers, it seems more often than not the kinds of trans women we most consistently and strongly place on pedestals are those who are beautiful and “successful” in relatively conventional ways. The women we swoon over, and “want to be like”, are not scientists like Serano or legal pioneers like Glenn or activists like Stone or politicians like Brown or pioneering engineers like Conway, they instead seem to be valued on the basis of their beauty and charm like Janet Mock, Kim Petras, Jamie Clayton, Laverne Cox or Calpernia Addams. These women additionally end up being the primary image of “successful” trans women in the media, almost as though the only yardstick by which a trans woman’s success is measured is their beauty (again, within cisgender standards).
I have absolutely nothing against any of those women. They all are great people and really are doing a lot of good for our overall imagine in the public imagination, nor are their accomplishments strictly within the bounds of celebrity and beauty. Mock, for instance, is an editor at People magazine and had worked her way to that position long before disclosing her history. But nonetheless I have a lot of concerns and worries over how these women are positioned so strongly as our primary role models at the expense of women whose achievements have been more intellectual or political or artistic in nature. I worry about where we’re placing our priorities, that so much of our idea of what a “good” or “admirable” trans woman is seems to hinge on things like cis expectations of beauty, or on beauty itself, or on rather problematic concepts of what defines female success and power itself.
What do we give up when we attempt to position ourselves as acceptable within the current standards and parameters of sex, gender, and womanhood, rather than continuing to challenge those standards and parameters and keep pushing at their edges? When do we stop being a movement, and start being a commodity? When do we hit the point where the legacy of Stonewall turns into our own versions of “Will & Grace” and “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy”, our own sanitized, marketable, “safe” version of transgenderism?
There’s been a hashtag on twitter lately, I think initially started by Janet Mock, called #girlslikeus. While I’m sure its intentions were great, and it was meant to be an inclusive thing, through which we could find solidarity with one another, so far all the instances of the hashtag I’ve seen have focused on highly successful trans women in the entertainment and publishing industries. It’s all seemingly been about magazines, TV, award ceremonies and beauty pageants. Nothing about the #girlslikeus who are sex workers, or #girlslikeus who are homeless, #girlslikeus who are suffering from mental health issues, #girlslikeus who can’t find work, #girlslikeus who are assaulted, #girlslikeus who can’t access medical care, #girlslikeus who are harassed by police, #girlslikeus who still don’t have basic legal protections from discrimination.
The overall impression, reading these tweets is not one of “oh, there are girls like us in the media too!”. The “us” never feels right. Their narratives don’t really overlap with my own at all. Instead, it ends up looking like #girlslikeTHEM.
Having these kinds of positive images in media, and having our beauty queens and television presenters and entertainers, is all important, yes. Absolutely. Normative beauty itself isn’t something to be shunned. Normative beauty is one of the many ways a gender can be expressed, and is no less valid than any other such expression. But the problem is in fighting for our beauty queens and entertainers and ability to fit into normative standards at the expense of the other fights. When we hold up our pretty TV show hosts as being so amazing and beautiful but ignore the breadth and range of beauty that exists within our community that isn’t embraced and marketed by cis society, when we hold up these icons at our idols to aspire towards at the expense of considering all the other possible ways to be an amazing and successful and awesome trans woman (such as intellectually, creatively, politically)… and when we unleash an enormous outcry and zealously campaign for the right of a trans woman to compete in a beauty pageant, while ignoring the lack of legal protections against discrimination that made her exclusion possible in the first place while having FAR WORSE consequences for many other trans Canadians, and ignoring the possibility of a trans girl being institutionalized against her will and forced to endure a masculinizing puberty as psychiatrists attempt to “cure” her gender, with courts excluding all qualified and experienced medical opinion from the case, and denying her the right to even be able to testify for herself or have a lawyer represent her interests… when this is how we prioritize our goals, something is deeply, deeply wrong.
C’mon, everyone. It would break my heart to end up feeling like we don’t even deserve our rights.
Alexandra’s mother just lost her appeal. The German court decision stands.
Good job, everyone. Enjoy your beauty pageant.