Transmisogyny in Mainstream Media : How Trans Women are Reduced to Punchlines

March 9, 2016 Written By Rohini Banerjee

[Trigger Warning: Transphobia]

 

Image Source

Transmisogyny is a phenomenon that is hardly discussed outside academic or activist circles, despite how disturbingly common it is. In fact, when I mention the word ‘transmisogyny’, I invariably have to explain what the term means. The short answer is that it is the intersection of transphobia and misogyny, and a form of discrimination and violence which specifically targets trans women. However, this dry and academic answer cannot even begin to encompass how visceral and the intense the actual experience of it is. While in daily existence, instances of transmisogyny are all too customary, what disturbs me the most is how horrific mainstream media’s portrayal of trans women are.

Image Source

Transgender representation in the media has had an uneasy history for quite some time. Although in recent years, transgender actresses like Jamie Clayton (Sense 8) and Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) have been revolutionizing the trans experience by being trans actors portraying sensitive, complex, trans characters, media still has long long way to go before being wholly accepting of trans identities. This was more than made clear when, recently, Caitlyn Jenner publicly came out as a trans woman. While many accepted and supported her, there was a vast body of frankly disturbing responses to her coming out. Many people didn’t waste a single moment in objectifying her, repeatedly commenting on her genitalia, refusing to accept her pronouns and identity, and even implicating rape threats. As Jon Stewart very poignantly says in his monologue, “Caitlyn Jenner, welcome to being a woman”. A YouTube channel named 8-bit Universe recently decided to promote a song by the Gender Blenders called “Caitlyn Jenner.” The Chorus of this song goes: 

“Freaky love?

Count me in!

Hotter than any Kardashian

I liked Bruce, but I love her

I wanna bang Caitlyn Jenner.”


The song is yet another example of the cis heterosexual male gaze who, here, is lusting for her “freaky love”, turning her into this warped object of both repulsion and desire. The song also has lyrics like, “He, she, you, and me – I really don’t care,” “I wanna lick your shaved Adam’s apple,” and “But forgive me, girl, if I slip and call you Bruce”, but, the one that really struck me is: “But if all your previous parts ain’t gone, could you please leave your panties on?”

This song is just one of the many examples of how trans women are utilized as comedic devices for cis consumption. The writers of this song truly believe that misgendering, objectifying, and ultimately sexualizing Caitlyn Jenner’s transition is somehow flattering to her. This goes on to highlight the disturbing binary with which trans women are perceived—either as hypersexualized objects who are at the mercy of the more superior cis sexuality, or as the monstrous, demonized, ‘freaky’ other, the very thought of whom completely disgusts and repels the cis person. This representational binary governs expressions of trans identity all across mainstream media (and here, lets be well aware of the fact that most of this media is created by cis het people).

A common transphobic trope is this idea of the trans woman who is attractive, but anatomically flawed. It’s centered around how repulsive it is that any man could be “fooled” enough to have an experience with a trans woman, because, of course, she isn’t a ‘real woman’, right? On an episode of Family Guy, Quagmire’s father comes out as transgender when she’s about to undergo gender affirmation surgery. Once she’s completed her transition, she is pursued by Brian Griffin, who ends up having sex with her. When it’s revealed that the woman Brian slept with was transgender, he vomits on screen for about a full minute. And of course, this is all hilarious because Brian was “tricked” into sleeping with a trans woman. In fact, the episode is also titled ‘Brian Bangs a Dude’—yet another example of how the trans identity is completely trivialized and disregarded.

Image Source

In a scene in The Hangover 2, the character Stu has a drunken affair with a woman who he later discovers is transgender. When it is revealed that she’s transgender, Stu recoils in disgust while the other characters look on in concern. Of course, this is supposed to be a punchline; the moment when the audience is supposed to laugh. This specific transphobic trope cashes in on the idea that trans women are repulsive creatures that no man would ever have an interest in, and yet, the trans woman in this particular scene is Yasmin Lee, one of the most popular transgender adult entertainers. 

The interest in trans women, specifically the interest in trans porn, has markedly increased over the past five years. In fact, Thailand, where The Hangover 2 was shot, is  known for its transgender sex tourism. In the real world, the sad reality is that many trans women face violence because men cannot process their attraction to them. While a lot of violence against trans women stems from the fear that trans women mislead men into sexual situations, a lot of it also comes from men who simply cannot cope with the fact that they have an attraction to them. The use of these tropes perpetuates the notion that trans women exist to deceive men into unwanted sexual situations.

Another popular transphobic trope is of course the trope of “men in dresses.” Socially accepted misogyny states that women are weak, so a man who wears women’s clothing is weakening himself and therefore cannot be taken seriously. The audience is generally aware that the characters are men in women’s clothing – and this is what makes it funny. This trope is repeatedly used not just in big-budget Hollywood and Bollywood films and television, but also in many other entertainment industries across the world. While this trope doesn’t usually directly relate to trans women, it does, however, reinforce a transphobic notion that impacts trans people because we still very much live in a society that doesn’t see “men in dresses” and trans women as two completely different entities. Trans women are not given the space to be anything beyond their physical characteristics. 

The central issue with a lot of trans representation is that trans roles are very rarely written by trans people. This, in a society where trans representation, until very recently, was limited to Jerry Springer type spectacles and adult entertainment, perpetuates stereotypical, demeaning portrayals of trans women.

These representations are dehumanizing, but trans people are very much human – and humour is part of the human experience. There is an intense need to start empowering trans actors, comedians, and artists who actually make an effort to portray the daily struggles and issues faced by trans women worldwide. Bethany Black, Avery Edison, Rye Silverman, Natasha Muse, and Red Durkin are all trans girl comedians that are fighting to change how trans women factor into comedy. Lexi Adsit and Luna Merbruja hosted Brouhaha: Trans Woman of Color Comedy Storytelling that got a lot of buzz in the media. Robin Tran, Ian Harvie, and Jeffery Jay are trans guys taking the comedy scene by storm. The Switch is a transgender sitcom with an all trans cast. Tangerine is a recent indie film which chronicles a night in the life of a trans woman, and very viscerally and realistically portrays the trans experience. Yes, transgender people are actual human beings, and not at all different from you and me. It’s okay to laugh with them, but not at them.

Image Source

Bethany Black, popular trans comedienne.

Respect pronouns, respect gender identities, respect chosen names. Trans Lives Matter.

 

Transmisogyny in Mainstream Media : How Trans Women are Reduced to Punchlines

March 9, 2016 Written By Rohini Banerjee

[Trigger Warning: Transphobia]

 

Image Source

Transmisogyny is a phenomenon that is hardly discussed outside academic or activist circles, despite how disturbingly common it is. In fact, when I mention the word ‘transmisogyny’, I invariably have to explain what the term means. The short answer is that it is the intersection of transphobia and misogyny, and a form of discrimination and violence which specifically targets trans women. However, this dry and academic answer cannot even begin to encompass how visceral and the intense the actual experience of it is. While in daily existence, instances of transmisogyny are all too customary, what disturbs me the most is how horrific mainstream media’s portrayal of trans women are.

Image Source

Transgender representation in the media has had an uneasy history for quite some time. Although in recent years, transgender actresses like Jamie Clayton (Sense 8) and Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) have been revolutionizing the trans experience by being trans actors portraying sensitive, complex, trans characters, media still has long long way to go before being wholly accepting of trans identities. This was more than made clear when, recently, Caitlyn Jenner publicly came out as a trans woman. While many accepted and supported her, there was a vast body of frankly disturbing responses to her coming out. Many people didn’t waste a single moment in objectifying her, repeatedly commenting on her genitalia, refusing to accept her pronouns and identity, and even implicating rape threats. As Jon Stewart very poignantly says in his monologue, “Caitlyn Jenner, welcome to being a woman”. A YouTube channel named 8-bit Universe recently decided to promote a song by the Gender Blenders called “Caitlyn Jenner.” The Chorus of this song goes: 

“Freaky love?

Count me in!

Hotter than any Kardashian

I liked Bruce, but I love her

I wanna bang Caitlyn Jenner.”


The song is yet another example of the cis heterosexual male gaze who, here, is lusting for her “freaky love”, turning her into this warped object of both repulsion and desire. The song also has lyrics like, “He, she, you, and me – I really don’t care,” “I wanna lick your shaved Adam’s apple,” and “But forgive me, girl, if I slip and call you Bruce”, but, the one that really struck me is: “But if all your previous parts ain’t gone, could you please leave your panties on?”

This song is just one of the many examples of how trans women are utilized as comedic devices for cis consumption. The writers of this song truly believe that misgendering, objectifying, and ultimately sexualizing Caitlyn Jenner’s transition is somehow flattering to her. This goes on to highlight the disturbing binary with which trans women are perceived—either as hypersexualized objects who are at the mercy of the more superior cis sexuality, or as the monstrous, demonized, ‘freaky’ other, the very thought of whom completely disgusts and repels the cis person. This representational binary governs expressions of trans identity all across mainstream media (and here, lets be well aware of the fact that most of this media is created by cis het people).

A common transphobic trope is this idea of the trans woman who is attractive, but anatomically flawed. It’s centered around how repulsive it is that any man could be “fooled” enough to have an experience with a trans woman, because, of course, she isn’t a ‘real woman’, right? On an episode of Family Guy, Quagmire’s father comes out as transgender when she’s about to undergo gender affirmation surgery. Once she’s completed her transition, she is pursued by Brian Griffin, who ends up having sex with her. When it’s revealed that the woman Brian slept with was transgender, he vomits on screen for about a full minute. And of course, this is all hilarious because Brian was “tricked” into sleeping with a trans woman. In fact, the episode is also titled ‘Brian Bangs a Dude’—yet another example of how the trans identity is completely trivialized and disregarded.

Image Source

In a scene in The Hangover 2, the character Stu has a drunken affair with a woman who he later discovers is transgender. When it is revealed that she’s transgender, Stu recoils in disgust while the other characters look on in concern. Of course, this is supposed to be a punchline; the moment when the audience is supposed to laugh. This specific transphobic trope cashes in on the idea that trans women are repulsive creatures that no man would ever have an interest in, and yet, the trans woman in this particular scene is Yasmin Lee, one of the most popular transgender adult entertainers. 

The interest in trans women, specifically the interest in trans porn, has markedly increased over the past five years. In fact, Thailand, where The Hangover 2 was shot, is  known for its transgender sex tourism. In the real world, the sad reality is that many trans women face violence because men cannot process their attraction to them. While a lot of violence against trans women stems from the fear that trans women mislead men into sexual situations, a lot of it also comes from men who simply cannot cope with the fact that they have an attraction to them. The use of these tropes perpetuates the notion that trans women exist to deceive men into unwanted sexual situations.

Another popular transphobic trope is of course the trope of “men in dresses.” Socially accepted misogyny states that women are weak, so a man who wears women’s clothing is weakening himself and therefore cannot be taken seriously. The audience is generally aware that the characters are men in women’s clothing – and this is what makes it funny. This trope is repeatedly used not just in big-budget Hollywood and Bollywood films and television, but also in many other entertainment industries across the world. While this trope doesn’t usually directly relate to trans women, it does, however, reinforce a transphobic notion that impacts trans people because we still very much live in a society that doesn’t see “men in dresses” and trans women as two completely different entities. Trans women are not given the space to be anything beyond their physical characteristics. 

The central issue with a lot of trans representation is that trans roles are very rarely written by trans people. This, in a society where trans representation, until very recently, was limited to Jerry Springer type spectacles and adult entertainment, perpetuates stereotypical, demeaning portrayals of trans women.

These representations are dehumanizing, but trans people are very much human – and humour is part of the human experience. There is an intense need to start empowering trans actors, comedians, and artists who actually make an effort to portray the daily struggles and issues faced by trans women worldwide. Bethany Black, Avery Edison, Rye Silverman, Natasha Muse, and Red Durkin are all trans girl comedians that are fighting to change how trans women factor into comedy. Lexi Adsit and Luna Merbruja hosted Brouhaha: Trans Woman of Color Comedy Storytelling that got a lot of buzz in the media. Robin Tran, Ian Harvie, and Jeffery Jay are trans guys taking the comedy scene by storm. The Switch is a transgender sitcom with an all trans cast. Tangerine is a recent indie film which chronicles a night in the life of a trans woman, and very viscerally and realistically portrays the trans experience. Yes, transgender people are actual human beings, and not at all different from you and me. It’s okay to laugh with them, but not at them.

Image Source

Bethany Black, popular trans comedienne.

Respect pronouns, respect gender identities, respect chosen names. Trans Lives Matter.

 

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