Sunday, 9 March 2014
“Society is so genital-centric. The genitalia, a minuscule part of a person, become the most definitive part of the body – more than our brains. If you’re going to come to think of it, the male and female on our birth certificates, as well as the question ‘Are you boy or a girl?’ are all euphemisms to telling others and asking you what genitalia you have between your legs.”
- Sass Rogando Sasot
Friday, 7 March 2014
Jared Leto won an Oscar this Sunday for his portrayal of a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club. Justifiably, transgender women are pissed off. Some say that his portrayal of Rayon was hollow, strange, and uninformed; others, like Bilerico’s Brynn Tannehill, claim that the film reinforces a cultural focus on the tragedy of many transgender lives at the expense of a respectful representation of transgender experience in its entirety.
In Dallas Buyers Club, Leto’s character Rayon is an HIV-positive transgender woman who must take whatever work she can in order to survive. It is true, yes, that many transgender women are at high risk for HIV infection and that they often rely on sex work for income. But that doesn’t mean transgender people want to see themselves martyred in every mainstream movie that includes a transgender character.
|Jared Leto photographed - Photo via Ping Foo/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)|
Last night, the Academy didn’t honor Leto’s acting; they honored the simple fact that a cisgender man would dare to portray a woman. It’s Tootsie all over again. In the pop culture imaginary, the gap between Leto’s own gender identity and Rayon’s gender identity is the film’s real source of drama. In a year that included Chiwetel Ejiofor’s incredibly moving turn in 12 Years a Slave, Leto got an Oscar for hair, makeup, and some pained expressions.
Now that Hollywood actors know that the backs of transgender women are some of the best stepping stones to an Oscar, my attention is turning to the future, when more cisgender folks get approached to play transgender roles. Leto got an Oscar out of his role, but he also earned himself the ire of the trans community for playing what Time’s Steve Friess called a “transgender Mammy.”
Based on the current response from the transgender community and its allies, Leto will go down in history as an elite Hollywood actor who appropriated the experiences of transgender people for his own fame.
If you’re an actor in film, television, or theater, you have some important choices to make if you are ever approached to play a transgender person. Here are three things you can learn from the backlash against Leto’s role:
1. Don’t play transgender roles if you are cisgender. Recommend a trans actor instead.
I know this is not what you want to hear.
A transgender role can be such an enticing challenge, a proving ground for method actors. But if you want to avoid backlash, your best bet is to refuse roles that are completely foreign to your own embodied experience of the world. There’s a difference between, say, Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Howard Hughes and Jared Leto portraying Rayon. DiCaprio doesn’t know what it’s like to be an aviator, but he knows what it’s like to have been socialized as a white man. Jared Leto, on the other hand, has never experienced gender dysphoria, never been misgendered in public, never been harassed for just daring to exist.
A gender transition completely transforms a person’s relationship to their own body and to the world. Hormone replacement therapy changes the shape of the human body, yes, but it also alters a person’s brain chemistry in powerful, mood-changing ways. Living life as a transgender person exposes you to forms of violence that most people have never even thought about: being placed in a prison with people of the opposite gender, for example. I would argue, in fact, that a transition is such a powerfully irreducible experience that it requires a transgender actor.
A straight actor may not produce a perfect portrayal of a gay character, for example, but a straight actor can at least extrapolate something meaningful from shared experiences of love, sex, and intimacy. When combined with a fair amount of education, actors can produce subtle, nuanced performances that approximate experiences radically different from their own. But no amount of research or respect can compensate for the lived knowledge of a woman like Laverne Cox, who can bring the weight of her own life to her role on Orange Is the New Black.
If you’re ever approached to play a transgender character, you can recommend some amazing trans actors to the casting agent. They can play the role informed by a lifetime of experience. I know it’s hard for Hollywood folks to resist a spotlight this sensational, but deferring to a transgender actor will result in a better film and a better relationship with the LGBT community. But if the glimmer of the Oscar is just too tempting, please keep my other two pieces of advice in mind. They will be essential for you if you decide to move forward.
2. Shut down jokes that reinforce the gender binary.
When a cisgender man plays a transgender woman, the media obsesses over the bodily details of crossing the gender binary. It happened with Tootsie, it happened with Dallas Buyers Club and it will happen again. “Did he wax?” “Did he pluck?” “How long did he have to spend in hair and makeup?” Actual transgender people hate being asked these questions, not just because they are invasive but also because they reinforce a focus on transgender bodies rather than transgender lives.
Transgender people are not just flesh, not just before-and-after slideshows, not just breathtaking spectacles of gender transformation. They are people. If you care about your role, maintain a commitment to the humanity of the population you’re portraying in all of your comments about the film.
Physical changes are just one part of the experience of a gender transition but, because we live in a scopophilic culture, they receive an inordinate amount of focus. One of the first questions most transgender people receive from strangers, for example, is about “the surgery” when, in fact, the majority of transgender people have not undergone surgery.
A gender transition is an emotional, psychological, and often a spiritual shift in someone’s personhood. Shifts in names, pronouns, relationships, and self-conceptualization matter so much more than the granular details of genitals and body hair. One of the classic mistakes that actors make in their portrayal of transgender characters is allowing the media to reinforce the titillation that surrounds gendered bodily practices that cross cultural expectations.
Leto has been awful about resisting the fixation on the body, and it hasn’t earned him any favors with the transgender community. He has waxed on about the horrors of waxing his whole body, much to the amusement of his interviewers. This sort of talk is deeply insensitive. Body hair in the transgender community can be a matter of life and death: When transgender women don’t pass as cisgender women, they become subject to extreme forms of violence and harassment. For some transgender women, a 5 o’clock shadow makes all the difference.
While Leto laughs it up about all the professional body treatments he received as a brave Hollywood hero, transgender people are stuck in the trenches, struggling with disposable razors, duct tape, and makeup just to stay alive. If you find yourself in Leto’s position, don’t do this. Shift the focus to the role, the person, the human being and don’t give into the sensationalist display of transgender bodies.
3. Actually, you know, mention transgender people when talking about the film.
In his acceptance speeches, Leto has been notoriously silent about the situation of transgender people in the United States. His Golden Globes speech was an insufficient and, frankly, irreverent response to the gravity of his role. In his Oscars acceptance speech, he mentioned victims of HIV/AIDS, yes, but he specifically mentioned transgender people a grand total of zero times. Imagine the political work Leto’s speech could have performed had he delivered a stirring tribute to transgender people and rallied against the sorts of injustices that made his character’s life unlivable.
If you take on a transgender role for the publicity, the personal glory, the honor, you should at least make an earnest effort to elevate mainstream awareness of transgender issues. More than half of anti-LGBT homicide victims are transgender women. Transgender people face rampant verbal and sexual abuse. Changing sex and gender markers on personal identification is such a complicated endeavor that it takes teams of legal experts (like those at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project) to help transgender people navigate the legal system. You can still be fired just for being transgender in 34 states. Things are not getting better for transgender folks fast enough. If you’re going to jumpstart your career with a transgender role, you need to be a part of the change we so desperately need.
Shine your spotlight on the folks who need it most, on the people whose lives make your fame possible. Use your platform for good, not to selfishly hoard the attention for yourself. And, when someone asks you about shaving your legs, you can say that you’d rather talk about your sympathy for victims of transphobic violence and your admiration for transgender people who are still managing to survive in a hostile world.
Auhor / Source: Samantha Allen at The Daily Dot
Samantha Allen is a doctoral fellow in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. In addition to writing regularly for the feminist gaming blog The Border House, her writing has also appeared on Salon, Jacobin, Kotaku, and First Person Scholar. You can find her on Twitter at @CousinDangereux or on the web at www.samanthaleighallen.com.
Thursday, 6 March 2014
Bill and his wife were sitting on a bench in the terminal waiting for me as I approached them. Then two men stepped between us, both wearing dress shirts, one orange and one blue. The orange shirt asked where I was traveling to. I replied “Earth.” This was not intended to be antagonistic. I usually reply that way when asked where I am from. It’s a product of my love for science fiction. He asked me to be more specific and I said, “The Northern part.” Admittedly snarky, but still not malicious. I didn’t know who these men were. I had already been cleared by security, and based on their attire and their forwardness I thought they might be other attendees of the conference on their way home. I was joking with them, like I do with most equals.
Then blue shirt said, “Just answer the question.”
Full stop. State speech is hate speech. I then noticed their name badges, but I didn’t have the forethought to commit them to memory. I responded, “Are you conducting some kind of an investigation, or do you have reason to suspect me of something?”
They identified themselves as “managers” and the orange shirt said he was obligated to inquire whether or not I was traveling internationally, which was not an answer to my question. I replied, “Am I obligated to answer your questions?” He replied, “If you are traveling internationally you are.” I replied, “Do you have any reason to suspect that I’m traveling internationally?” The orange shirt said “We’re the ones asking the questions here” and the the blue shirt asked to search my bag for my boarding pass. I told him that my bag was already inspected and didn’t contain anything dangerous, and that I didn’t consent to another search. He said until I was cleared by security he was free to search. I said I was cleared by security.
I was about to ask for my attorney, who happens to be my wife, when the orange shirt said, “What about Bitcoin?” I was flabbergasted. This was above and beyond any scrutiny I had ever received from the TSA, and a little frightening that they were looking for Bitcoin. I said I didn’t understand the question. He continued, “We saw Bitcoin in your bag and need to check.” I was incredulous, and asked, “Do you have a superior officer because I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” The blue shirt replied by repeating that they were “managers,” but if I didn’t answer his questions he could call law enforcement and have me taken into custody. I asked, “Aren’t you law enforcement?” and he replied, “No we’re with the TSA.”
I turned back to the orange shirt and asked “What did the Bitcoin look like?” Bill chimed in and told the agent that what he was saying was impossible because Bitcoin is digital and doesn’t have have any physical manifestation. You can’t “see” Bitcoin.
Obviously, the TSA has been trained, although poorly, to look for Bitcoin. They are apparently now trying to catch money launderers in addition to terrorists, and large tubes of tooth paste.
It was an open faced lie when they said they “saw” Bitcoins in my bag. Always remember bureaucrats can legally lie to you, but lying to them, even by mistake is a serious crime they’ll use as leverage to coerce further cooperation. They didn’t inquire about my phone, or my laptop, or my USB drive, which makes me think their Bitcoin training wasn’t very good, or that these particular bureaucrats didn’t pay very close attention. But, if the TSA is going to be looking for Bitcoin, they can use that pretense to search any person, at any time, to any degree. It’s entirely possible that a traveler could be carrying thousands of Casascius coins which are not loaded, and worth little more their value in brass. It’s also possible that a traveler could be carrying one Casascius coin that has been loaded with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoin. Technologically speaking the private key to a Bitcoin wallet could be embedded in virtually any object, including the brain of the traveler. It could be argued, in fact I would, that the Bitcoin is already on both sides of the check point, and carrying any kind of physical wallet is no different from carrying a debit card, or a pin number. It would even be possible for a traveler outside the TSA screening area to send any amount of bitcoin directly to a traveler already inside the terminal, and there’s nothing the TSA can do to prevent that.
In the end it’s important for Bitcoin users to be aware of these Stasi tactics being used by the TSA. Maybe some Bitcoin users want to confront it directly with some kind of civil disobedience or demonstration. Maybe others will want to take extra steps to ensure they don’t face this added scrutiny. But this is what FINCEN meant when they said that Bitcoin could be regulated under existing law. They meant that the policy toward Bitcoin will be decided in secret, outside the legislature, by law enforcement bureaucrats reinterpreting old laws in new ways, to be enforced arbitrarily and inconsistently to evoke to greatest degree of doubt, confusion, and alarm.
Author / Source: Davi Barker at Daily Anarchist
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
The parade of nations of the 2009 Copenhagen Outgames had just finished. Naomi Fontanos, my friend and the current Chairwoman of STRAP, and I decided to skip the programme and to go back to our hostel to rest. Naomi, who served as the muse of the Philippine contingent, was wearing a traditional Filipino dress, while I was wearing a 50’s dress.
While we were walking towards the train station, we encountered two bulky tall guys. One of them approached us and casually asked me, “Why is your chest so flat?” Then they walked away laughing. I was stunned by his rudeness. Before I could say anything, Naomi stopped me, and said “Sassy, don’t mind them! Assholes!” Scared, we ran towards the train station.
This was not the first time I encountered such harassment. The scariest one was eight years ago. One night, while I was on my way home from a speaking engagement, a gang of teenagers who were hanging outside a 7-11 convenient store saw me and started debating among themselves whether I was a girl or a boy. One of them settled it and shouted, “Putang-ina walang suso! Bakla yan! (Fuck! No breasts! That’s a fag!)” Then they started running towards me, shouting “Bakla! Takbo! (Run faggot!)” Terrified, I ran as fast as I could. I screamed for help but there was not much people in the road, only cars and jeepneys speeding by. Luckily, I saw an empty cab. I immediately hailed it. I locked all the doors and asked the driver to drive fast. There I saw that the teenager closest to me was carrying a steel pipe. He banged the trunk of the cab with it. The driver was furious and tried to stop to confront the guy. But I pleaded for him to just go and hurry up. Only fate knows what would have happened to me if I had been too slow or if there had been no empty cabs that happened to be there.
I have also experienced being humiliated because of my body even in spaces one can consider to be safe, like in a human rights conference. Last June, I was in Barcelona for the International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights. We had just finished the affairs of the day. I joined the table of a group of transgender women having a lively chat. As I was about to sit, one of them stopped talking and shouted at me “You are in desperate need of boobs!” Every one laughed. I felt so embarrassed. I just smiled at her and asked myself, “How can a transgender rights activist bully and make someone feel bad about her body? Does she really know the point of what she was fighting about?” I have been harassed, humiliated because I have “the wrong body.”
August 2005, Washington D.C. Tyra Hunter was a passenger in a car that was badly hit by another car. The fire department personnel arrived on the scene and pulled the driver and Tyra out of the car. Tyra, who was semi-conscious, soon received treatment for her injuries but her pants needed to be cut open first. According to the witnesses, as soon as her pants were cut open, the fire personnel who was supposed to give her treatment stopped. He saw that Tyra Hunter had a penis. The firefighters started making jokes about Tyra while she was gasping for breath and in great pain. Some of the witnesses shouted at the firefighters to help Tyra. One of them even said to the firefighters, “It don’t make any difference, he’s a person, he’s a human being.” An EMS supervisor arrived and resumed Tyra’s treatment. Tyra was then rushed to DC General Hospital. Unfortunately, Tyra suffered the same fate. The doctor refused to give her adequate medical treatment. Tyra died because she had “the wrong body.”
December 2003, Nebraska. John and Tom, two male friends of the girlfriend of Brandon Teena confronted him at a Christmas Eve party. They found out earlier that Brandon Teena was not born with a penis. They pulled down Brandon’s pants for everyone to see. Later that evening, they raped Brandon and threatened to kill him if he reported the crime to the police. Nonetheless, Brandon proceeded to report the assault. On New Year’s Eve, Brandon was shot and stabbed to death by John and Tom. Brandon died because he had “the wrong body”.
Perhaps some of you here have also experienced being humiliated, bullied, and harassed because of your body. The experience does take a toll on your self-esteem, leading you to ask yourself “What’s wrong with me?” Oftentimes we weigh this reflection against our societies’ demands for a particular kind of body. So before we can even appreciate the uniqueness of our form, we already feel the pressure to transform it into something more palatable to the tastes of other people.
Consider transsexual bodies. These are the bodies that were born without the genitalia and other sexual characteristics that are considered appropriate for the gender identities of their inhabitants. These are the girls and women who have penises and testicles, whose puberty didn’t command the growth of breasts, and who are incapable of pregnancy. And the boys and men who have vaginas, ovaries, breasts, and who aren’t capable of producing sperm. And of course within this general description, there are various permutations of what a transsexual body looks like. To the eyes of Mother Nature, this is one of the countless configurations of the human form. It is sad that we tend to appreciate people and ourselves not with the naked and embracing eyes that Nature has given us but with the prejudiced and limiting eyes that the conditionings of our societies have produced. So to some people, the transsexual body is an undesirable, freaky deviation from the norm that should not be allowed to exist.
I understand that an explanation of our existence by some expert opinion can be our lifeline against the different forms of violence and discrimination wielded against us by those who are disturbed by our existence. There are different scientific and religious theories that have been offered to explain us. I find that all of them seem to revolve around that famous statement that “We were born in the wrong body” or its other form “Trapped in the wrong body”.
For us transsexual people, this statement has been a convenient explanation to make people understand why we live with a gender that does not match the gender associated with the genitals we were born with. However, the realization that “I am born with the wrong body” and the action one takes in order to “right this wrong body” cannot be divorced from the traditional beliefs about how a female or male body should look like. We live in our bodies and our bodies live in a particular society. The moment we stand naked in front of the mirror, the reflection that we’re seeing is not necessarily being seen by naked eyes for our eyes are adorned by the conditioning of our societies. We were conditioned to consider those who were born with or do have vaginas and breasts as girls and women while those who were born with or do have penises as boys and men.
I identify and live my life as a woman, I look at myself in the mirror and I see a penis and a flat chest. How do I convince you that I am a woman? By feeling wrong about it? By hating the genitals I was born with as well as the body my puberty sculpted? By feeling trapped in this body? By transforming this body so that it can resemble the form of your woman? But is this body really wrong? What made it wrong? Who made it wrong? God? Scientists? Politicians? Theorists? Or me?
I am a human being inhabiting a transsexual body. Why am I inhabiting this body is a question that I cannot answer. I know that some dare to answer it by virtue of their whims, religious beliefs, scientific research, or various theoretical discussions. Yet what is the point of subjecting the existence of people like us under the microscope of various opinions? We exist, therefore we are and we do not need to prove and justify why we exist in order to be.
I am a human being who is neither in a wrong body nor trapped in a wrong body but a human being who is expressing her beingness in one of the various forms of the human body. I am not in a wrong body. I am in this body just like how you are in your body. I am not trapped by my body. I am trapped by your beliefs. And I want to reclaim this body from those who want it to breathe and be fed by their dogmas.
And I want to reclaim the body of the Tyra Hunters of this world from those who ridiculed and shamed it to its death. I want to reclaim the body of the Brandon Teenas of thus world from those who raped it so it could be put to its “right use.” I want to reclaim the bodies of all those who have been killed because their bodies have been wronged by the life-denying righteousness of those drowning in their hatred.
And to reclaim this body is to reclaim the inherent dignity and liberty of our bodies to live according to its own elegance and intelligence.
Friends, the next time you look at yourselves in the mirror, consider appreciating your bodies. Perhaps as you marvel at its reflection you might feel a deep, abiding sense of gratitude for its mere existence - after all, it is through your body that you can sense and be sensed by life. Remember this feeling the next time you encounter another human being for it will bring you closer and closer to appreciating the bodies that are different from you. Those bodies are not there for you to ridicule, hate, and eradicate but for you to get intimately and directly acquainted with the diversity of the creation of life. The same life that allowed you to exist. And one of the greatest ingratitude you could do to life is to wrong other bodies.
Author: Sass Rogando Sasot