Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown was in Chiang Mai province of Thailand this week. A night of food and drink ended up at the local ladyboy cabaret.
The jokes were simple: these were all really guys in dresses, trying to fool people. Oooh.
There was no attempt to understand the culture or background, how these people lived their lives, why they made the choices they made. There was no social context, no understanding.
No, the joke was simple: born with a penis or not, that’s all we need to know to know who you really are. One of us or one of them, a joke to see as a cartoon, some cosmic goofy guy in a dress.
I recently saw the film “I Am Divine,” about the famous star, Amidst everyone calling Divine “he,” I fell for Fayette Hauser, a one of the fabulous Cockettes who talked of Divine falling in love and having their heart broken.
“She would come over to my house and we would watch movies and eat ice cream and cry,” Fayette says, talking about Divine from the heart rather than from the genitals. Such a moving moment.
I know the choices that face transwomen, the demands of the binary to be one or the other, with altered body and an erased narrative passing in the world, or to be pinned down by our birth sex assignment and only be allowed to be an oddity, a freak. This is “The Guy-In-A-Dress Line” and it deliberately devalues trans hearts in favour of heterosexist enforcement of compulsory gendering.
The cost of being trans in the world is very high, and no one does it for fun. You just don’t walk in the world as visibly trans just to fool people, to get some kind of gendered advantage.
In my experience, all trans expression, no matter how silly and performative it may be, expresses some kind of inner truth. For those who dress as clowns and mock women, this may be some kind of internalized misogyny, but for those who strive to be attractive and engaging, the truth is centred around a trans nature.
The “ones with breastes” were especially attractive to Bourdain. If these gals aren’t committed to expressing their feminine hearts, then their surgery is just baffling.
Bourdain, who in another part of the episode says that some food is so good that he would eat it out of a jockstrap, knows how to be cocky. To him, the penis is central and defining, balls to the wall truth. Quotes from the episode are here.
This phallocentric, binary attitude, though, does not serve him well in being respectful, being the “good guest” he prides himself on being, in a lady boy cabaret.
I understand the homophobic joking and disrespect can just be dismissed as part of the blokey party tone of this show, which featured prodigious eating and drinking, but it was very disrespectful to the trans-women just trying to make a life and support their need for self-expression.
These transwomen may be marked as boys when they are born, but they know themselves to be ladies.
And when a CNN host chooses to disrepect them, he deserves to be called on it.