Trendy with a Capital "T"
The Week In Review - week ending 2/5/2006
There's a well known saying that I think is particularly appropriate right now: "Be Careful What You Ask For".
The transgender community, like the GLB community, has dreamed for a day when they would get sympathetic treatment in mainstream media. These opportunities come along once in a blue moon and when they do the impact cannot be underestimated. In fact, I daresay that the effects can be culture changing. The problem is, not all of this changing is necessarily for the better.
The one-two combination of "Brokeback Mountain" and "Transamerica" could not have come at a more opportune time. I don't like to believe in coincidences, and the fact that these two movies are receiving the critical acclaim that they are, both at the same time, both involving well-known names, and both involving GLBT themes is something you couldn't in a million years predict. What are the chances? But, here we are. Two movies facing the Oscar spotlight at the same time. Two empathetic portrayals of real, human, elements that involve themes most people are not accustomed to seeing. Amazing? Yes. But, there is a cost.
There is a significant segment of America that considers anything that even hints of GLBT to be obscene, and unfit for general consumption. The fact that our community is getting this kind of attention in arenas where these topics are rarely discussed does not make these people happy. In fact, it makes them downright cranky. And, they want to be sure people know it. If Albert Einstein was right in saying that "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction" then I suggest everyone hold on tight because the repercussions are going to be huge. And, whereas these themes are playing themselves out in fictional stories sprinkled with Hollywood Magic Dust, the real battlegrounds will hit much closer to home. It will hit in our schools, at work, in our legislatures, in the streets. In short, it will come everywhere.
Here are a few examples, all from just this past week:
Did you see how a man walked into a bar near Boston, asked if it was a gay bar, and after he was told that it was he took out a hatchet and a gun and just started creaming people? It's not like this person was some hardened criminal or anything. This was an 18-year old kid. This was a hate crime.
Have you seen the reviews? (Click here to read one of the particularly "interesting" ones). They're as polarized as our nation is. Some see these movies as watershed events. Others perceive them to be about selfishness and other base human traits. Somehow, the saying "For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; For those who do not, none will suffice" comes to mind.
On the entertainment front, check this out:
Catherine Zeta-Jones to Take On Transgender Movie Role
247gay.com - Los Angeles,CA,USA
... turn in TransAmerica, Academy Award Winner Catherine Zeta-Jones is rumored to be eying a starring role in an upcoming film about a transgender cabaret performer ...
You knew it wouldn't be long before other actors and actresses would see the challenge in playing transgender roles (not to mention, the critical acclaim enjoyed by those who have done it well). Oddly, I find it interesting that none of us as transgender people win little miniature Oscars for playing these roles so well our entire lives. Perhaps someday...
There is newfound interest. Just today I did an interview on being transgender with a radio station in Missouri, and I got an interview request from the National Enquirer. The email states: "I would like to speak with a male -female transexual who ideally has a child or children, who would be prepared to speak with me about the new movie TransAmerica, with Felicty Huffman. I'd like to talk about how true the movie is and what their experiences have been during their own personal gender journeys." It ends by warning, "anyone who takes part must be photographed". Frankly, I'm a little concerned that they even know I'm alive - how long can it be before I find myself on page one, finding out that I'm somehow carrying Tommy Lee's baby? I suppose any opportunity I ever had of being stealth is probably long gone...
At the HRC dinner here in Phoenix last weekend I chatted with Neil Giuliano, former mayor of Tempe and new Executive Director of GLAAD. I continued the conversation I've been trying to have for quite some time that they don't have enough trans-people involved with their showcase events - the Media Awards dinners. When I say they don't have enough trans people involved what I really mean to say is that they have historically had zero - lots of room for improvement there. He hinted that Felicity Huffman would be considered for some kind of recognition this year and I told him that a real live trans person was a natural selection to present it. Calpernia and/or Andrea James are perfect for that, and I'll scream bloody murder if the right thing doesn't happen here.
I've gotten emails indicating that two more Fortune 500 companies have added discrimination protections based on 'gender identity or expression' to their EEO policies just this week alone. In 2002 there were only 5 of them total. And, more are on the way.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. This kitchen is going to get warm, and the bigger question is whether or not we're ready for it. Are we ready for the scrutiny we're going to be getting? Is our message consistent and clear? Can we avoid the skirmishes that somehow seem to derail these discussions time and time again? I suppose we'll find out.
There's a commercial from the Super Bowl a few years ago showing a large group of people from some internet start-up huddled around a computer screen, waiting for the clock to strike 8 so they can begin their first day of business. Just after business starts, the order counter on the screen clicks to "1" and the group erupts in celebration. Then it clicks to "2", then"3" followed in rapid succession by "4", "5" and "6". Pretty soon the ticker is going so fast that you can't read the numbers, like the speedometer of some Indy Car. At that point, everyone huddled around the computer screen is quiet. Stunned. Terrified. That commercial embodies some of my concern...
Cultural change is not a linear process. It happens in spurts. There are as many stops as starts, as many mis-steps as steps. Sometimes, it takes some cataclysmic event to crystallize things, to focus vision and passion. There are those who feel that the transgender community hasn't experienced it's crystallizing event yet. We haven't had our Watts Riots, our Rosa Parks, or our Martin Luther King. We haven't had our Stonewall. Apparently, in the minds of some we haven't paid our dues. We haven't suffered enough yet.
I disagree. I think our cataclysmic events are our stories. They are stories of loss, of rejection, of violence, of fear, and of agony. At the same time, they are stories of hope, and honesty, of change, and of courage. In short, they are stories of being human - not of simply being one single thing. That's the message. That's the key. That's why these movies are hitting home with mainstream audiences. By the end of Transamerica Bree isn't simply a transsexual woman. She's a parent. She a feeling, caring, needing person. And, it's by helping others to realize that we're all far more alike than we are different we each play a role here.
There are those who point out that life is about choices, and about facing the consequences for the choices we make. I agree. But the same thing that makes me choose life over death, that makes me choose honesty over deceit, that makes me choose courage over fear, is the same thing that makes others choose to judge things they can't (or won't) understand. They are choosing to remain ignorant. They are choosing hate. Everyone is making choices here - not just us. And, everyone needs to be accountable for that.
The transgender community is gaining recognition like never before. The message this week is one of hoping that we're up to the task. It's of hoping that each of us remembers that the most important thing any of us has is our dignity, and that nobody can take that unless we give it away. It's of awe at the amazing things that are happening. And, it's of appreciation that we are where we are. As that great philosopher Marv Levy (former coach of the Buffalo Bills) used to say, "Where would you rather be than right here, right now?" The answer to that is easy. Nowhere.