Us trans folks, tossed aside from society’s central mass and out into the margins, shunted into relative cultural invisibility, have a very, very hard time finding ways to see ourselves reflected in our culture. When trans people appear in television, movies, comic books and other media, we’re typically portrayed as jokes, psychotic villains or “shocking” plot twists. In the few occasions that these portrayals are meant to be sympathetic, they usually nonetheless end up being glaringly inaccurate, offensive, patronizing, misrepresentative and still damaging in terms of the myths they feed.
Real life trans people in positions of success or power are likewise rare… not for a lack of existing, or for some kind of dearth of talent in our community (there are lots of really amazing trans folk), but due to the ways the usual forces of privilege, discrimination and bias operate to stack the deck against us achieving the recognition or visibility we deserve, and how recognition and success can often be conditional on keeping one’s gender status private. The net result is a community in desperate need of role models, figures to suggest that transitioning and living a trans life does not have to mean compromising your ambitions, interests or the rest of who you are, but for whom shockingly few such figures are provided.
So when certain trans people do arise to relative prominence, we end up investing them with considerable attention and significance. These few public trans figures end up meaning the world to us, playing very key roles in our lives, and making a genuine difference for us, especially during the early stages of our transitions. In virtually every transition narrative there is at least one such role model, a touchstone that helped provide us with strength and a realizable goal when we needed it the most.
We also look to these figures to represent us in the world as a whole, as they’re the only ones with the relative clout to not be shuffled into the general invisibility of our community. We depend on people like Kate Bornstein and Mara Keisling to do a good job on the Melissa Harris-Perry show. And we pour a lot of emotion into whether or not they do. “You’re us up there”, we think, “and we don’t get many chances. Please don’t blow it.”
With the incredible degree of personal, cultural, social and political significance invested in these figures by the trans community, there comes a great degree of responsibility. What these people say gets taken seriously… by trans people and even by cis people. And what they say has meaningful, real consequences. As the only real guiding voices of our community, whether they’ve opted for it or not, when they speak, they speak to and for all of us. So considerable care is demanded. When they speak recklessly, without thought to the consequences, actual people get hurt. Lives can be damaged. Even destroyed. [Read more…]