So. Nightline made a show about trans people. Specifically young trans women. And I’m gonna be real with you, it made me furious. But I want to resist simply hating on it, cause I do think that it might be a good tool for making parents and other people who might not have a single clue about these issues come around. That being said, why, flying spaghetti monster, why???
I’m gonna give you a little rundown of each segment and share my thoughts, mostly to spare you from watching it yourself. Seriously, don’t. It won’t be good for your health.
Synopses are from the Autostraddle article.
1. “This segment introduces us to the Dyson Kilodavis and his mother, who is the author of the children’s book “My Princess Boy.” Dyson is a five-year-old boy who loves wearing dresses, and we learn about his mother’s initial reaction and eventual embrace of her son’s gender expression.”
This segment features a supercute African-American child from an apparently wealthy family whose strong sense of gender moved his family, especially his mother, to open their minds and hearts to gender variance. Not only is this little boy my hero (for his bravery and superfabulous styyyyle), but his mom is amazing. She went from serious discomfort and gender policing to being a trans activist, ally, and wrote this fab book, linked to above. These two people are really contributing to our community, but I don’t think that the segment showed them the respect they deserved. They gave the dissenters a pretty loud voice without allowing the family to answer them directly, so while the tolerant rhetoric is very present, it comes off as esoteric and less strong than the virulent criticisms. Also, the whole tone of the narration is so sensationalistic, with a lot of stress laid on the spectacle.
2. In this segment we meet Jackie, a ten-year-old trans girl who recently transitioned with the support of her parents.
Jackie is a white, midwestern preteen, again from an apparently wealthy family, who very strongly identifies as transgender. Her family, with the help of this groovy doctor, decided assist her in transitioning at an early age. This is where show’s fascination with the medical/physical transition spectacle begins, as they show Jackie getting dressed, before and after pictures, etc. Somehow I never feel like images of transition presented by non-trans people are as respectful as they should be. I understand the interest, even among trans people, but can’t we look at trans people’s representations of themselves? Anyway, this is where the narrator starts to get pronouns all wrong and uses terms like ‘biological male’ and ‘biological female.’ Ugh guys. Ugh.
Also this section had a quote that really got me riled up. The father said he was worried about his daughter finding a ‘mate.’ Excuse me? I am actually having trouble expressing how much I hate that thought. My instinct is to talk about all the trans* people I’ve loved and the people who have loved me, but really I don’t need to prove anything. My message is this: everyone is lovable. Furthermore, none of us have to have a ‘mate’ to be happy or justified, or even to have children. So don’t worry about us, alrighty?
3. This segment is about a 19-year-old Latina trans woman named Vanessa, who is traveling to Mexico for breast augmentation and facial feminization surgery because she cannot afford these procedures in the United States. She helps pay for her surgeries through sex work.
This section is just riddled with racism, classism, and prejudice against sex workers. It is painfully clear the way the narrator treats this story versus the ones of the white girls, and her complete ignorance about sex work and the ways that racism and classism affect trans* women of color. The narrator uses derogatory language to describe sex work, which I’m just not gonna repeat, and literally tells Vanessa to stop doing sex work and ‘start working at McDonalds.’ I’m just gonna quote Annika on this, cause she got it down “Oh no she didn’t just say that. Privileged white cis woman telling a Latina trans woman to go get a job at McDonald’s? Who does she think she is? And anyways, has she not heard about what happened to Chrissy Lee Polis earlier this year? Or in 2009, when a teenage trans girl applying for a job at McDonald’s in Florida was told “We do not hire faggots”? McDonald’s isn’t exactly a safe space for trans women.”
What’s more, this segment focused extensively on video footage of her surgery, which I had to spare myself from. Again, spectacle, spectacle, spectacle, which is unfortunately business as usual, especially for those with intersecting minority/oppressed identities, like Vanessa. Which of course, doesn’t make it any more acceptable. It just brought my head that much closer to exploding. The only pleasant surprises in this documentary are the parents, who, even though their struggle was visible, were way more supportive and accepting than the overall tone of the piece.
4. Charles Kane is a man who transitioned to female at age 37, and then transitioned back to male after 7 years of living as Samantha.
I have literally never heard of a case like this before, and as we all know I am a HUGE trans* nerd. I am just so deeply offended that they included him instead of, oh, say, A TRANS GUY. I mean, I’d be cool if this was a documentary specifically about the experiences of transgender women, trans*misogyny, their experience with sexism in and out of the trans* community. But it wasn’t. It was about trans* people in general except, oops! You forgot half of us (or about half, because there are definitely trans* people who don’t identify with the binary). Legitimately, there are far more out trans women than trans men, but if you’re gonna be representative like that, at least do it with an accurate ratio, which would be about 3 to 1, not 5 to 0.
Anyway this section was maddening and I don’t want to talk about it. If you must know, look this guy up yourself. Be prepared to get angry.
5. Kim Petras is a 19-year-old German trans girl who has a successful career as a pop singer. She has been featured in various news stories for transitioning at young age: starting estrogen at age 13 and having SRS at 16.
This section is adorable because Kim is so sweet, but it’s all about the spectacle of a girl who is conventionally attractive and thus, obviously, doesn’t “look” trans. I’m kind of okay with it because I like to be all like “wah we walk among you!” with cis people, but really, this is just misogyny, white supremacy, transphobia, and fatphobia. And even though this girl is obviously awesome and talented, the narrator continues to be condescending, use incorrect pronouns, and interrogates Kim about her genitals.
The show leaves off on some rude question about whether parents of trans* people are hurting them by letting them transition. It bothers me that that can even be posed as a question that is subject to public opinion. Like what, the parents are gonna look at twitter and news polls to make decisions about their own families? “Honey, twitter says drink your milk.” “But daddy, I’m lactose-intolerant.” “DO WHAT THE INTERNET SAYS HONEY.” Awesome.
Overall, this made my brain melt. However, I do think that people who haven’t heard of this stuff before and maybe have trans daughters could be swayed by this. There is very little media that represents us well. This one hasn’t exactly set the standard, and I’ll be excited when something does, but for now, I think this would not be impossible to work with.
Anyway. Enough sass from me. If you want more sass from other sassy individuals, sass over to Autostraddle for their analysass.