So she’s sitting in my [barber] chair and she shows me the photo.
And I said put that phone down!
Just ’cause you’re transitioning does not mean
I have to see a picture of what your junk is gonna look like.
— “Clipped,” TNT, 8 August 2015
There has been a flurry of media attention to trans issues in the last few months. We are seeing jokes like the one above, although it can’t top Will & Grace’s Karen Walker offering a transsexual stripper cash towards her “Snippity-Doo-Dah Day,” from April 2000.
In a cursory glance at the covers of the tabloids, though, transpeople seem to have fallen out of favour. The “are they or aren’t they” chatter appeared to much last longer, a tease being much more endlessly fascinating than the simple fact of out which got boring very quickly.
People were curious, they got themselves a good look, and now they seem to have moved on, taking ratings and tabloid sales along with them.
The public interest in transgender issues is, it appears to me, much the same as it ever was: a mile wide and an inch deep.
The details of a trans life just are not engaging to most people who seem to find them off-putting, challenging and, well, just a bit icky, much like the photo referred to in “Clipped.” Nobody, it seems, wants to see that.
When they thought I might be a drag queen, the teens next door chased my car to get a glimpse. When I turned out to be a boring old transwoman, their interest just went away.
The fact of a trans life is simple: after people get through their own squeamish questions, people just don’t want to hear about it.
Transsexual women have been out and about since Christine Jorgensen became visible in 1951. In 1981, Caroline “Tula” Cossey, a Bond Girl and Playboy model was outed. We aren’t really anything new to the media.
After the thrill, after the sensationalism we get boring fast. Do you think the rubes would have paid a quarter to get into the freak show if they had to listen to tales of medical problems and social alienation? Reveal us to be everyday humans marginalized by society and we become a challenge, not a scary delight.
Even our allies don’t really want to engage our stories. Unless we fit into their context, we are just beacons of courage for choosing to be a visible freak in a way that they can feel sorry for our horrible abjection.
This is one reason so many trans stories are not really about the transperson but instead about the ripples normies feel when a transperson emerges around them. These are the stories a wider audience can get on board with; how do wives and children and pals deal with such a freaky thing in their lives?
As transpeople, we intuitively understand these limits. That’s why we shape our stories to fit the attention span of the audience. We abbreviate and simplify our stories, leaving in the titillating bits and removing the hard work and strain involved. While this meets their expectations, it has limited use in advancing understanding.
As we mature, though, we learn to edit our stories even more fully. We stay silent about our experiences knowing that if we share them we will just play into the gawker mentality. By erasing our differences we try to keep the focus on our work rather than on the twists in our story.
No hot shot producer has yet figured out how to make compelling product out of mature transpeople, those of us who have gone through the stereotypical drama of emerging and preening as newly released chicks in the world. We are no longer strange enough to draw stares but are still too strange to draw in other people, to have them engage with our common stories.
Transpeople aren’t new, but somehow, only the newness of transpeople is compelling to most of the world. The interest in trans is a mile wide and an inch deep, so shallow that it leaves most of us gasping for air and attention.
And no matter what the flavour of the month is, no matter how trendy trans was yesterday, I suspect that is not going to change anytime soon. People just want to be able to put us in little boxes and then move on.
As for me, like Storm Large, I am both wide and deep.