Category Archives: media

Why Won’t the Media Listen to Non-Binary People’s Actual Words?

screen-shot-2014-03-28-at-2-15-18-pmThis is another post that is so five years ago, but it’s about a bit of media coverage that’s still annoying me in 2017. Specifically, it’s about the mainstream media coverage of model Andreja Pejic back before she came out as a woman and was being intentionally vague about her gender in interviews. Throughout that year or two of heavy coverage, the media was completely obsessed with its own invented idea of Andreja as terribly androgynous and the fun of a tired old “surprise, it’s a man!” storyline, while completely ignoring what was revolutionary about Pejic: the fact that she openly talked about a non-binary identity in interviews and asked mainstream readers to question their understanding of gender.

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Anti-Trans Hate from Suzanne Moore and Julie Birchill Isn’t the Point–Using Feminism to Push Transmisogyny Is

What Do You Mean, Trans Women Are Women?If you haven’t been following #trans Twitter in the UK lately, let me briefly bring you up to speed. First, UK journalist Suzanne Moore published a piece in the New Statesman about women’s anger, which included a throwaway line that justifiably got a lot of trans activists pissed off: “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Moore defended herself by saying that trans issues were not the point of the article and published a piece in the Guardian where she called intersectionality “its own rectum” and attempted to sound like the sane, logical one focused on women’s issues while implicitly casting the trans Twitterati as narcissistic and irrational. Julie Birchill then shored this opinion up in a more openly vitriolic way when she wrote the Guardian follow-up piece, Transsexuals should cut it out.

Here’s the thing: the Burchill piece clearly has one aim. It’s there to stir people up. It’s there to get the Guardian clicks (which is why I haven’t linked the article; you can Google). It’s there to sell ads. And while it pisses me off that the Guardian would publish such a thing, I also know what their business is. The thing that really gets me riled up is slightly different, and that’s the fact that these arguments seem rational to some people—that this hate speech is being put out there, on its own, without any kind of warning or counterpoint, and left to sit and seep into the brains of folks who really haven’t thought about trans issues.

Blah blah, transsexual lobby, blah blah. Burchill openly insults us for funsies, but at the same time she and Moore are pushing an insidious, dangerous argument. The argument is that trans people don’t care about women, that we are getting in the way of women’s rights, that we are anti-feminist. The argument is that trans women, in particular, are so concerned about penises that they can’t focus on the important issues of domestic violence, human trafficking, and women’s rights generally. And it’s important that we stand up and loudly proclaim that this argument is bullshit.

The scary thing is that to many, it will sound logical. And of course, it sounds terrible. To someone who’s never interacted with a trans woman on a friendly basis, it’s probably not so hard to jump to “oh my God, they’re so selfish that they’re ignoring domestic violence in favor of lobbying for sex change surgeries!” We need to directly attack this strawman argument. We need to point out that many trans women are in fact actively engaged in women’s rights issues that have nothing to do with trans identity. It isn’t our fault that anti-trans feminists only notice trans women when they’re talking about trans stuff, because that’s what they want to pick on. A trans woman working against trafficking or DV doesn’t make the news when the news is all about making fun of “those silly transsexuals.”

But even more importantly, we need to make it clear that transmisogyny is anti-feminist. And this has nothing to do with penises, honestly. It’s about human rights, it’s about casting trans women as less than human and how that is a patriarchal act. It’s about issues that cis feminists talk about all the time: body image, gender stereotyping, women’s dignity. Why do these arguments disappear when an anti-trans feminist is presented with a trans woman’s body? We need to stand up in the media and shout about these hypocrisies. When someone starts dividing “real” women’s rights from the “trivial” ones, we have a big fucking problem.

Say it with me, now. As a favorite Facebook group of mine proclaims, Transmisogyny Is A Women’s Issue! Moore, Birchill, and their anti-trans feminist buddies are simply on the wrong side of history.

Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars: Again, We Need a Queer Movement

Recent debates on whether Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars is an appropriate viewing experience for children exemplify a dangerous conservative trend in the LGBT movement.  As in debate on same-sex marriage, queer activists find ourselves being ask to defend our simple humanity, backed into a corner where visible queerness is seen as a bad strategic move.

Again, I find myself using an example of a queer celebrity in the media to argue the necessity of a truly queer movement.  The more time we spend arguing that we are normal, “just like” our opponents, the further we get from our policy priorities.  When we allow hate groups to define the debate, they have already won.

How can we turn this disaster around? Refuse to engage by framing our position around being like our opponents.  We are not like bigots, homophobes, and transmisogynists.  We embrace diversity.  We fight with creativity and humor.  We shift the ground under gender stereotypes and we regularly fuck with patriarchy.  We don’t accept conservative arguments that dehumanize us and challenge our right to occupy our space.

We’re here, we’re queer.  Join us.

Should Bert and Ernie Get Married? A Queer Feminist Perspective on LGBT Characters in Popular Media

The Internet has been all a-flutter the past few days with an unlikely question: Should Bert & Ernie get married on Sesame Street?

There have been a number of responses, from those claiming that queer representation for young children is crucial and Sesame Street should use the puppet-roommates to get back to its slightly subversive roots, to those suggesting that queer human characters make more sense, to those who are concerned that gay marriage might ruin the innocence of Sesame Street.  The powers that be have explained that the Sesame Street puppets are not human, and therefore, don’t marry.

I’m not too invested in the outcome of the Sesame Street question, but I do think this is a good time to look at queer characters, and more broadly, what TV and film should be doing from a queer feminist perspective.  My suggestions fall into two major categories.

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Queer 101: LGBT Terminology & Saying What You Mean

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed quite a few faux pas in headlines describing some segment of the queer population. My guess is that the writers didn’t really think their terminology through, so I’d like to offer a little guide that might be helpful, especially to those who are not part of the queer community, in deciding what language to use when describing us.

  1. Don’t use the whole alphabet soup to refer to a specific population.  The term “LGBT” means “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.”  It’s appropriate when referring to those four groups en masse, and at no other time.  Often, the “T” is simply thrown in, as in “today, LGBT New Yorkers gained the right to marry.”  While the marriage law did affect many transgender people, I don’t think that’s what the writer means there.  It’s okay to say “gay, lesbian, and bisexual” or “gay and lesbian” if that’s what you mean.  Even better with marriage is to simply say “same-sex couples,” which describes the exact population.  Throwing in transgender people just to be politically correct is actually harmful, because you’re not referencing that population.  If you do include the T, then include it: don’t be the group that holds an “LGBT” event and then excludes transgender people at the door.
  2. If you want to refer to the whole population, then use an appropriate term.  I like “queer” because it can be used to refer to a range of gender and sexuality minorities.  It works well when you’re not referring to specific populations, but to everyone who’s marginalized in this way.  Of course, keep in mind that the goals of each population under this umbrella are not the same (see #1).  Some like LGBT, LGBTQ, QUILTBAG, etc., but I tend to find that the alphabet usually leaves someone out.  Others use trans/queer or queer/trans.  When I say “queer,” I’m including trans, but that’s a matter of personal choice.
  3. Don’t use one term as a proxy for another.  Lately there has been a lot of discussion about websites requiring people to identify as male or female.  This gets characterized again and again as a transgender issue.  Certainly, some trans people would like to identify as something other than male or female, but many of those affected by this issue identify as genderqueer or some variation.  Instead of using the term transgender, it might make sense to describe it as an issue affecting non-binary genders, gender minorities, or non-conforming genders (I don’t love that one, but that’s for another time).  I’ve also seen many “genderqueer” communities that are all about trans issues.  It’s important to understand that genderqueer is a specific term with a specific meaning, not a proxy for transgender.
  4. Describe subsets of a queer population accurately.  This is a problem in pretty much every area of activism, not just the queer bubble.  Don’t say, for example, that “gay people have more money.”  The ones with the money are mostly white, cis-gender gay men.  If you’re doing academic research and the population you’re studying is white, young, middle-class, students, or some other subgroup, say so.  The queer population as a whole has been done a tremendous disservice because those of us in a position of privilege tend to ignore huge subsets of the population–particularly trans people, youth of color, homeless kids, etc. It’s important to be clear and take note when you are making a statement that does not including one of these or another group.  Define the subset clearly, then make your point.

WAM!It Yourself Blogathon: The Case Against a Battle of the Sexes

Have you been keeping up with the WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media) It Yourself unconference this week?  Today is the last day of the Blogathon and we’re talking about various aspects of gender and the media.  My post for this event focuses on the idea of the “battle of the sexes” and why it presents such a barrier to feminism and gender activism in media.

I got this idea from watching the first few episodes of Celebrity Apprentice Season Four, an endeavor I do not necessarily recommend to my readers.  I started watching because my favorite actress, Marlee Matlin, is on the show, and of course it’s not too surprising that a show like this would piss me off with all its ableism and misogyny.  I do think it provides an interesting example, though, of one place where reality TV consistently goes wrong–and it’s not just reality TV.

A battle of the sexes is supposed to be fun, funny, and rile up the audience.  Everyone can root for “their” team, and it’s a clear dividing line that we’re all used to in this society.  You can even make an argument that in this modern, “post-feminist” world, the battle of the sexes is updated and consistent with feminist goals.  Many of the shows that use a battle of the sexes have a strong female team, the women tend to be intelligent and kick ass, and the female viewership supposedly gets excited about this and ratings go up.

But something is seriously wrong with this picture.

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Stop the Presses, Ellen Called Portia “Baby”

My Google Reader was all abuzz today about Ellen Degeneres and Portia Rossi on Oprah, so I decided to check out the appearance. Now I know Oprah’s kind of schmaltzy anyway, and I’m sure she had the best of intentions, but the episode kind of struck me the wrong way from the opening segment. Oprah talks about a photoshoot where Portia walked into the room and Ellen’s eyes lit up, and how beautiful that was, and how she said “Hey Baby,” and how cute that was, etc. It had a very animals-in-a-zoo feel to me. “Look at the lesbians in their natural habitat!” Yes, Ellen’s eyes lit up when Portia walked into a room, because it’s her wife. I’m just saying.

Half-naked fifteen year olds, clearly what we need

Today’s sexism in the media rant focuses on a disturbing trend of sexualizing children.  Now I admit I have some somewhat old fogie-esque views on this topic, because I think the longer people wait to have sex, in most cases, the better.  As much as I embrace sexual freedom in some ways, and am uncomfortable saying that you shouldn’t be allowed to have sex if you’re under eighteen (and definitely don’t think we should demonize those that do), it bothers me that children and young teenagers are having sex.  Maybe this is part of my middle-class privilege, in that I was “protected” from that in ways (and also just exempted by the fortunate fact that I was not a gorgeous fifteen-year-old), but it creeps me out when I see children marketed as sex objects.

Feministing recently posted two examples, here and here.  The poster’s focus in showing the first ad, a creepy television spot demonstrating how a new cell phone can be used for stalking your sleeping neighbor, was that stalking/objectification is wrong.  The poster’s focus in the second ad, a BMW magazine spread, is again the objectification of the woman pictured.  Both perfectly good points, but I was surprised that neither poster noted that the “women” shown are teenaged girls.  The actresses themselves may be eighteen, but I would pin them both in the 12-15 age range.  What creeps me out is not only that we’re objectifying women, but that we’re objectifying kids, more or less.  Especially in the second ad, the whole “yeah, you know she’s not a virgin” message nearly made my mouth drop open.  Sure, in today’s culture perhaps it’s not inaccurate to assume that a teenager or preteen has probably been abused in the past, but should we be celebrating it?