Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stephen Colbert Discovers Trans People

I'm a big fan of The Colbert Report. But for a long time it's made me sad that he never had any trans guests on his show, or acknowledged the existence of trans people as human beings. Every so often he'd make jokes about men in dresses, which doesn't count.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Some Notes on the Classic Trans Narrative

(I started writing this about six months ago and never got around to publishing it.)

I am not familiar with all of the "classic" trans narratives, and even less familiar with more recent memoirs. But even so I have noticed a change. For the purposes of this essay, I'll be using the autobiographies of Christine Jorgensen and Jan Morris as examples of the classic narrative. These stories feature:
  • A happy childhood. Everything was wonderful, except for the fact that they were trans.
  • No interference in this happy childhood. We know that many gender-nonconforming children were, and still are, subjected to teasing and punishment, even sometimes to aversion therapy, when they try to express their gender identity. But the classic narrative doesn't mention anything like this. I'm willing to bet that more recent memoirs do talk about it. (And in fact, it's a fairly standard motif in gay/lesbian/bisexual memoirs.)
  • No other trans people. Jorgensen's story especially is the tale of a woman and her doctors. Morris' story is a bit more wide-ranging, but neither of them ever acknowledge meeting any other trans people (although Morris does mention that there were other patients at the hospital where her surgery was performed.)
Things have changed. I don't believe it's a coincidence that, along with greater trans solidarity and trans visibility, we also have less reliance on the medical establishment. Many trans people now question the standards of care and the right of a doctor to decide whether or not someone is really trans. We have each other now, for validation, support, and advice. (I don't mean to dismiss the concerns of trans people who do feel that medical intervention made their lives bearable. It's just such a precarious existence, in my opinion, relying on a cis doctor's word. LGB people seem to rely on each other.)

I assume that these memoirs were written for a cis audience. Actually, Jorgensen does mention that she gets lots of letters from trans people, begging to know where they can get help. Her response is an odd mixture of sympathy and "bear in mind that you might not actually be trans." And of course, she has to distinguish between the transsexual and the homosexual.