Is it just me or is it now trendy to be trans*?
When I came out in 2000, it was trendy to be gay and soon, by 2004, it was trendy to be a lesbian. People asked me if I was sure, if it wasn't just that "everyone" was coming out Lesbian. They asked me if I had a girlfriend to "prove" that I wasn't just jumping on the bandwagon. It was kind of like the opposite of being bashed for being gay, it was being bashed for not being able to PROVE that I was gay. But soon, the dissenters died down and I was accepted as Lesbian. I didn’t watch any of those shows that took advantage of the popularity trend for gays and lesbians: Queer Eye, Will & Grace, Queer as Folk and The L Word. I was too busy trying to piece my life together after coming out, leaving my husband, becoming a single mom and learning how to live in this totally new culture. Oh, yeah, that was the reality. Not Melrose Place-like/Aaron Spelling-esque apartment complexes filled with gay or lesbian folk just ready to hop into bed with anyone else. (As I said, I didn’t see these shows, so this description is just based on what I gleaned from the rabid fans in my friend circle.)
And now, it’s trans* folks’ turn. Well, we have Transparent, which is more about the children of the lead trans* character, played wonderfully by the ever-agile Jeffrey Tambor. (Yes, I do watch Transparent and that’s because I’m 15 years into being OUT. I now have my life together, mostly, and I can afford to spend time watching entertainment that highlights people from the queer community.) And then there’s Sophia on Orange is the New Black, the transwoman inmate (played stunningly by Laverne Cox). She’s just about the most beautiful woman up in that place and she has become Miss Popularity and a favorite on the college circuit for giving speeches. Same with Janet Mock. And now, Caitlyn Jenner.
It’s wonderful that there are more and more trans* faces and names out in the media. It’s great that there are tv shows (albeit, not network) that are framing trans* folks in a positive light. But I wonder if this popularity, this becoming a ‘fad,’ isn’t taking away from the real-life struggle that trans* folks still have to face: family rejection, community rejection, lack of connection, insurance struggles, finding safe and supportive medical care, entering into a whole new community in a whole new way. Transparent shows some of that, but again, like I said, the show is more about the children and how they deal with having a trans* parent.
But now I find myself asking those same "prove it" questions and inquiries to my younger trans*-identified peers. Youth as old as mid-20s and as young as 12 or 14 are identifying as trans*, wanting hormone blockers, wanting to get onto testosterone and estrogen and now I find myself asking (silently in my head), "Do you really think you're trans*? Do you have gender dysphoria? Or is it just popular?" How horrible is that of me? I didn't appreciate it when my identity was challenged by people in the community. But, I now have a little bit of perspective on why they were asking. Which comes first the trans* kid or the popularity in the media for trans* people? Chicken or the Egg? And does it even matter? (Just to be clear, I don't say any of this to any of the youth that I speak to. I remain as respectful as I can be of them and their truth, in all that it is.)
I’m all for visibility for all our sexual and gender orientations in the alphabet soup community. I just don’t want any of the realities that most of us have to deal with to get overshadowed by the noise of that visibility and popularity. We’re still real people, with real successes and real struggles. No matter how simplified we’re made to look on TV, we are real and we have to deal. Just like everyone else.