Thursday, April 3, 2008
I never thought I would see the day that gender complexity would be celebrated with this degree of respect by the mainstream media
photo taken from Oprah.com
As many of you know a lot of the media studies research that I have done has revolved around the representation of transgender bodies and lives on the Oprah show, it is for that reason along with a host of others that I eagerly awaited Thomas Beatie's appearance on her show this afternoon. It is uncommon for me to fall in love with something that I have seen in the media, particularly when it comes to transgender lives, but without a doubt he was incredible. I was practically in tears as I watched this episode (yes I am that big of a media nerd) for the life of me I never thought that I would witness mainstream media cover a story of this complexity, and handle it with the respect that they have. Here is a man who is proudly talking about his body, history, and family and in doing so is shattering the narrow and restrictive transgender narrative which all too frequently is the only option the media provides for the telling of gender diverse lives.
On Oprah Beatie responded thoughtfully and strongly about why he and his wife made the decisions they did both in regards to getting pregnant, but with coming forward. He spoke about wanting ot be the one to tell their story, to present it to the media before someone else did, and I have to say even as someone who works with and critiques queer media they couldn't have done it any better. There was such strength in their story as they spoke of the pain of trying to get doctors too bogged down by their own transphobia to work with them, and they spoke candidly at their shock about the way in which they saythe national transgender movement has shut them out.
As a transgender person who lived as an FTM for a number of years before quitting T I believe that I have somewhat of an understandings of the alienation that they are feeling and the fear that they must have had with going forward with the media. I know what it feels like to be shut out of communities which claim to be your family, and when I went off T and began living as a queer femme I watched many of my transgender brothers and sisters walk away from me. This is a media moment to be celebrated, for arguably the first time the mainstream American public is being asked to grapple with the complexity of gender. For the first time the mainstream media is in a very public way showing the complexity and beauty of our community and we are not dumbing down our lives, identities, bodies, or experiences in order to fit into a prescribed idea of what a transgender person should be.
I have been watching a lot of media coverage of Thomas prior to today's Oprah and People exclusives and to be honest I have been thrilled with the response from audiences. Yes there have been the transphobic people who have said extremely hurtful things, including late night TV host David Letterman (whose actions were deplorable) however the majority of people have interfaced with this situation quite well. I have seen very few pronoun blunders, and I have seen people truly embracing this queerness that they never knew existed in the world.
It is true that he is not the first man to do this, Patrick Califia and Matt Black are perhaps the other most well known couple to have done this, and I personally know a number of people who either have gone off T to get pregnant, or who have planned on it, however this is without a doubt the most publicized case to date. The American public, and really the world has been handed an honest look at the queerness of our community, and they are not shying away, sometimes (and as a former queer separatist I never thought I'd be the one to say this) but i think we don't give straight folks enough credit. I may be proved wrong, but at this point they are rising to the occasion, and truly getting a look at what the possibilities of gender.