Two Trans Lives

There’s the celebrity version of Chaz Bono and a puff piece about him and the documentary of his transition in The New York Times which is unsurprisingly vapid, predictable, and full of gender essentialism and stereotypes about trans people.

This other article, however, in a Madison alt weekly called Isthmus, focuses not so much on Rhiannon Tibbetts’ transition but on her activism and the inequalities and injustices in trans people’s lives.

I prefer the latter, especially as the journalist actually spoke to someone who knows about the trans: Anne Enke, who teaches Gender Studies at UW Madison. It’s not just that, either — it’s that the focus is on what the trans person in question does much moreso than about who she is, per se.

You’d think The New York Times might not suck occasionally, but they keep doing godawful coverage of trans stuff: not just Chaz Bono’s story but the recent Renee Richards myopic was covered in a sloppy article by Maureen Dowd that presents every old saw about the unhappy, regretful trans person, and somehow connects it to the recent abuse suffered by Chrissy Lee Polis in that Maryland McDonald’s. As a writer, what I see in this article is Dowd at her desk, a press release from Richard’s producers on her desk, and the viral video of the attack on Polis on her laptop. Brilliant, Dowd: that took about 12 seconds of research. Maybe you should forward the check to Mary Ellen Bell who actually did some work.

2 Replies to “Two Trans Lives”

  1. Thanks Helen,
    I had to write a letter to Isthmus after hearing from many people who found the article on Rhee Tibbetts “too depressing.” I was also surprised by the tone of it (not to mention the misquotes and the use of pronouns attached to my name after Mary and I had come to an agreement about that).

    Here is the letter in full. It will probably be published next week.

    As the historian interviewed and quoted in “Her Own Woman” (Isthmus 5/6/11), I appreciate the opportunity to provide additional perspective. According to a 2011 University of California study, one in 333 people have a significant degree of cross gender identification. Most social institutions demand that all people learn to pass as one recognizable gender. Some people never question that process; others of us do.

    What I missed in the Isthmus article is any sense of the awesomeness of trans lives. As historian, teacher, and activist, I inhabit a vibrant world peopled with transsexual and transgender people across all age, class, and race demographics. Despite societal ignorance and stigma, being trans is not a dark, depressing path against impossible statistics. It is a powerful and sacred endeavor to become yourself in this world, and trans people have an exceptional degree of perspective on that. Trans people become our teachers, our farmers, our clerks and mechanics, our parents, our children, our ministers and rabbis, our steelworkers and lawyers, our artists and musicians, our healers, our comedians, and—not often enough—our journalists and politicians. If there is pathology, it is a world that refuses to be changed by and find hope in trans presence.

    Anne Enke

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