Dear “The Other Woman”: Trans* Is Not a Punchline!

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Katya, the co-founder of YA site The Book Lantern (full disclaimer: I, Ceilidh, am one of the other co-founders) joins us to discuss the exclusion & abuse trans* narratives face. 

I watch a lot of videos on the Internet. YouTube, obviously, but also Chez Apocalypse, That Guy With The Glasses, and I also visit Blip.tv when I want to catch things early. Like most people, I have a rather conflicted relationship with ads – I don’t hate them enough to use AdBlock, because I realize that’s why we get free content, and the producers deserve to get paid for all their hard work; at the same time, though, the constant repetition gets on my nerves. (We get it, Flora. The kids walked in on their parents having sex. Now vary it up!)

Needless to say, ads quickly wear off their welcome, and so it needs to be extra-interesting to grab your attention.

A few weeks ago, I caught the trailer for The Other Woman, starring Cameron Diaz and Nikki Minaj, and, barring a comment about “a lawyer, the wife, and the boobs,” it seemed like something I might enjoy. Girl power! Friendship! Possibly a lesbian character! I could almost overlook the fact that the trailer contains some of my least favourite things about Hollywood movies (dumb blondes, the black best friend that is the only black person in the movie, the philandering husband, and, last but not least, rich white people problems.)

That is, of course, until about the 1:53 minute mark when we get to hear about the wife giving her husband hormones… for a “pre-op transsexual.”

*twitch, twitch, twitch* Excuse me.

*20 minutes later*

Right… let’s see if I can do this again.

So all the way back in December (and a little before that) I started researching an essay on trans* exclusion as part of a course I was doing, and I read Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on the Scapegoating of Femininity Short review: READ IT, but what’s especially relevant to this post is the chapter on gatekeepers and how they inevitably forced trans* women to perpetuate the uber-feminine stereotype which some modern feminists wail about so much. (Basically, the objection some feminists have to trans* women is that they reproduce traditional femininity too well. Except, historically, trans* women were forced to act in that way in order to convince the doctors to give them access to medical transitioning.)

I’ll let that sit with you for a second. (I suggest grabbing a lemon and a shot of tequila. Hypocrisy doesn’t go down easy.)

Whipping Girl is a very interesting run-down of how trans-exclusion and cis-sexism are, at their roots, a different version of regular old misogyny, and that’s a topic for another post. But out of the whole book, the chapter on gatekeepers is what I keep coming back to over and over again, and especially when dealing with shit like The Other Woman.

Ha-ha, she’s making her husband look like a pre-op transsexual! Comedy gold that! Even if we side-step the issues of realism and gross ethical violations that come with that (how did she obtain the hormones? And she’s giving them to her husband without his consent? JESUS CHRIST, HOW DID THAT GET PAST THE FIRST DRAFT?) it’s still offensive as all hell! Suddenly, this cute you-go-girl type comedy is turning out to be another piece of misogynist crap.

Let me spell this out: Using trans* men and women as a punchline is Not Cool! Using trans* men and women as a punchline, by having your well-off, cis protagonist use a medical treatment which has, historically, been awfully difficult to obtain, is even Less Cool! (And it probably remains difficult to obtain, because it’s not like there are less asshole doctors nowadays than they were before.) Are we supposed to think that a man being subjected to hormone therapy without his consent (and becoming de-masculinised because he “look(s) like (he) need(s) a bra” because FUCK YOU!) is somehow appropriate punishment? Good grief ladies, kick him in the kidneys and take him to court for emotional damages. You’re all rich enough to sue each other for a paper-cut!

The saddest part about all this is that The Other Woman is just one of many occasions when trans* people are used as a punchline or a prop in a story. In the preface to Whipping Girl, and throughout the book, Julia Serano highlights how limited the stories about trans* women are in popular media, how most biographies are sensationalised, and how most Hollywood movies featuring trans* protagonists either focus on them as being pathetic or deceptive. Realistic and varied stories about trans* protagonists are few, and it’s even rarer when that story is not told from a cis person’s perspective. (YA, which is the primary genre I read, is especially guilty of this.) Our society has started to become more accepting of trans* children, with stories like this making the rounds, but it’s still an uphill climb and stories are not always positive. (Also, interesting fact: most are about trans* girls. Because, as Ms Serano says, it’s perfectly natural for girls wanting to be boys, but if a boy wants to be a girl? Heaven forbid!)

Society has come some way, but that doesn’t mean we should be patting ourselves on the back and saying we’re all equal now. Notice the false notes, and call creators out on it. It’s the only way to bring change about.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I went to see this movie randomly and have to say the bigoted transphobia gets even worse than described here. It got so bad that I had to leave half way through, which I have never done during a movie in my life. As a trans women just starting to transition I was celebrating graduating college and this just destroyed my day.

  2. Seen this today and yeah there is aside from bit mentioned in the trailer, a very large tall bearded wrestler type person who is meant to be trans. Assuming that’s when Ricki above walked out, then a “I hope he didnt sleep with anyone in thailand” joke later on obviously another diss at trans.

    Womens equality should not require crushing trans to get there. Almost every comedy I watch has a trans joke.

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