Earlier this week, John Scalzi and Jim Hines did a charity thing in which they did parodies of a “silly female pose” book cover. If you haven’t seen the pictures then you have probably seen people laughing at them. Well, this morning I woke up to discover that concerned feminists were angry about this. Apparently anyone who laughed at the pictures was guilty of transphobia. Jim even saw fit to issue a public apology. Update: Scalzi also has a post on the subject here.
Let me see. I didn’t exactly laugh out loud, but I did groan and appreciate the joke. I guess that makes me a wicked transphobe.
No, wait, let’s step back a minute. What John and Jim were doing was drag. Now drag is a complex phenomenon that I’ve never been part of, but I do know some stuff about it. I know, for example, that it can take many forms, from gross parody in which the performer is making fun of extreme forms of gender presentation, to impersonation, where the idea is to look convincing when cross-dressed. I also know that some drag performers self-identify as trans, while others adamantly do not. And I know that some cis people mistakenly believe that drag and trans are one and the same thing.
Now what John and Jim were doing was pretty clearly in the parody category. They weren’t trying to look like women, and they were deliberately mocking the way that women are portrayed on book covers.
In contrast, trans people, for the most part, are not intending to parody anything, though some may do so at times to make a political point. It’s true that there are genderqueer folks who enjoy mixing and matching elements of gender presentation, but they take pride in their appearance. Indeed, some of the genderqueer people I know are incredibly stylish and good-looking. Even the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Goddess bless them, have their own, off-the-wall aesthetic, as exemplified by Project Nunway.
I note also that drag performers (with one or two dishonorable exceptions) do not set out to mock trans people, they are mocking cis people.
It never crossed my mind that John & Jim might be seen as mocking trans people. Of course there are going to be idiots who comment on the pictures saying things like, “Hur, hur, u look like a tr*nny!” That’s why you should never read the comments. But the connection between parody drag and trans people was in their minds already, John and Jim didn’t put it there.
The connection can be in other minds too. When I hear someone say, “Anyone who laughs at those pictures is transphobic”, what I actually hear is, “Well, we know that trans women are actually ugly men in dresses, and can never be anything else, but you still shouldn’t laugh at them.”
You know, I appreciate the concern, but I’m not sure that I want to be defended by people who think I look like John & Jim do in those pictures. Nor do I want the idea spread that those pictures are what trans people look like.