(trigger warning for transphobic slurs)
A few days ago I woke up to read an almost hilariously transphobic article on tv.com reviewing a recent episode of the HBO (or Showtime or AMC or whatever… one of those channels adored by critics and people who shop at Whole Foods) series Sons of Anarchy that prominently featured a transsexual (or transvestite? Or drag queen? It really wasn’t very clear) character in a comedic tilt. The review was painful, shocking and strangely distancing in just how overt and aggressive the transphobia therein was. The writer had absolutely no compunctions about addressing the character almost exclusively by slurs (“shemale” was even in the title), and made no effort whatsoever to conceal just how hilarious and zany and wacky and kinky he found the very concept of a trans woman.
This was mostly just the usual kind of depressing bigotry and ignorance I find whenever I engage our culture, but shortly later there was something that occurred to me I found interesting, and allowed me an opportunity to reexamine some mistaken assumptions I’d made about the way trans women’s sexuality is policed, erased or subjugated in cis-patriarchy. Mistaken assumptions about the basic roles we’re forced into in cis perceptions. The character was being simultaneously positioned within both the “tranny rapist” AND “tranny whore” roles. And she wasn’t simply being swapped from one of those pre-packaged concepts to another, but occupying both in the same liminal space.
What interested me about this was how I’d previously regarded the various roles we occupy (analogous to the “maddonna”/”whore”/”virgin” dynamic forced onto women) as being discrete concepts. Discrete means by which a given trans character or archetype is constructed, and discretely simplified, fantasy identities projected onto the complexity of actual trans human beings. That was a mistake.