Laverne & Janet on HuffPostLive #GirlsLikeUs

I’ve just seen another excellent piece of coverage of trans issues. It features both Laverne Cox and Janet Mock live in the studio, having an intelligent and respectful discussion with the presenter and two cis male guests. It is about half an hour long, but here it is if you want to watch. The topic under a discussion is the case of a prominent hip-hop DJ called Mister Cee who has resigned from his job after being filmed having sex with a prostitute who is genderqueer in some way. Because, apparently, while people in hip-hop can do all sorts of things involving violence, drugs, straight sex and so on, being involved with genderqueer folks is completely unacceptable and harmful to kids who might be listening.

There is one point I need to make about this discussion. I’m not trying to blame or call out Laverne & Janet here; I know how hard it is get get all of your points across in a live discussion, but it does need to be said for clarity. Mr. Cee has confessed to having a sexual attraction for men dressed as women. That’s OK. There are plenty of men who dress as women with whom he can have fun. We don’t know how the sex worker he contracted with identifies. That person has, probably wisely, declined to talk to the media. However, “man dressed as a woman” and “trans woman” are not equivalent identities. If someone has sex with a trans woman, and objectifies her as a “man dressed as a woman”, that’s abuse, because it violates her identity.

Laverne and Janet are absolutely spot on in saying that there needs to be space for men who attracted to trans women to be able to do so without shame. That space has to exist for men like Mr. Cee, for men who are attracted to people who are genderqueer, and for straight men who are attracted to trans women as women.

It is not just us, either. If a man dates a woman who is disabled, who is large-bodied, who is of a different ethnic group to him, or anyone who doesn’t conform to current cultural norms of “beauty”, he risks being accused of being a fetishist, because it is assumed that no “normal” man would be attracted to such a person. The world would be a much nicer and safer place if it was OK for men to be attracted to women, regardless of their background and appearance.

The other thing that struck me about this coverage, and the previous interview with Laverne that I linked to the other day, is how good the coverage of trans issues is in US media aimed at people of color. I can add that last week I exchanged a number of tweets with a reporter from Al Jazeera who was researching a program on trans issues. I haven’t been able to see it, but from the respectful way he interacted with me and other trans people online I have high hopes that it went well. In addition, of course, I was able to do a whole half hour on trans issues last week on Ujima, a radio station aimed at an Afro-Caribbean community in the UK.

In stark contrast, coverage of trans issues on mainstream TV and radio (by which I mean cis white people’s TV and radio) remains poor. Programs like My Transsexual Summer have done a lot of good raising awareness, but they still tend to be strongly voyeuristic. If that HuffPost show had been on the BBC it would have been deemed necessary to have some religious fundamentalist commentator on the show, and that person would have proceeded to insult Laverne and Janet in disgusting terms. Or if such a person was not available, the presenter would have had to mouth those insults himself as a “of course some people say…” comment. All of this would have been defended by appeal to the need for “balance”.

What is that tag line from Fox News again? Oh yes, “fair and balanced”.

There is no balance for trans people in most radio and TV. Indeed, it seems that there isn’t a single “light entertainment” program that can be made that doesn’t have to denigrate trans people at some point during its run. If we complain, we’ll be told that we have no sense of humor, and that because no cis folk complained the number of complaints was vanishingly small so clearly any offense was all in our minds.

And yet, as soon as serious news coverage is required, this need for “balance” turns up.

I’m guessing that the reason trans folk are getting such respectful treatment in media aimed at people of color (other than Laverne and Janet being totally awesome people) is that the folk running those media outlets have had the “balance” thing done to them, and know it for the hogwash it is.

Sometimes people from minority cultural groups deserve an opportunity to talk about themselves and their issues quietly and respectfully. It is not always necessary to have someone from the majority cultural group on with them to put them down.

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