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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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47 Responses

  1. Lance
    Lance March 17, 2010 at 7:55 pm |

    I was a bit frustrated with the previous discussion of the Telephone video, since it seemed that some of the points of disagreement with the video were based on misconceptions Sady had when she saw it. (For example, the guards weren’t trans women, they were female bodybuilders, so the entire idea that they were making fun of manly trans women just seemed to be a really odd thing to read into the video.)

    Anyways, the interview is really awesome. I thought her take on the body as sculpture is very interesting.

  2. Elyse
    Elyse March 17, 2010 at 8:13 pm |

    I agree with Lance and also loved this interview. I would love to see some of Heather’s performance art if I had the chance, the description in the interview was really intriguing.

  3. The Chemist
    The Chemist March 17, 2010 at 9:04 pm |

    Hmm, it appears Lady Gaga has hidden depths- I hope we get to see more of that. On a separate note- I found out she’s a week younger than me, and my birthday’s coming up (I guess hers is too). I’m still young, but it does kind of make me wonder if I haven’t done enough with my life up to this point.

  4. The Amazing Kim
    The Amazing Kim March 17, 2010 at 11:18 pm |

    That photo just prompted me to go to the gym. Damn, those are some fine guns.

  5. Ann
    Ann March 18, 2010 at 12:44 am |

    Heather’s framing of trans and genderqueer identities as inherently subversive strikes me as problematic. Our identities are about us trying to exist in a cissupremacist binary world, not about politics, and I’m tired of people appropriating my identity just so they can make a statement.

  6. gudbuytjane
    gudbuytjane March 18, 2010 at 1:27 am |

    @Lance I’m not sure what “misconceptions” you’re applying to Sady’s article on the video, but that feels like a dismissal without any depth beyond feeling uncomfortable with someone else’s analysis. Except for the transmisogyny, of course, to which you say:

    (For example, the guards weren’t trans women, they were female bodybuilders, so the entire idea that they were making fun of manly trans women just seemed to be a really odd thing to read into the video.)

    One of whom played the transphobic character Miss Man in Scary Movie (warning, that link leads to a scene from the movie that is both NSFW and extremely transphobic). Whether or not the actor was cis doesn’t change whether one can read the character as trans. Seriously, disagree with my analysis, but do so with your own analysis of the piece, not just as another cis person looking for a-ha! facts to disprove allegations of transphobia in the pop culture you consume.

    You were “frustrated” by the other conversation? Trust me, it wasn’t probably nearly as frustrating as receiving transphobic hate mail for three days from cis people because you critiqued a pop start they like. That is frustrating, let me tell you.

  7. karak
    karak March 18, 2010 at 3:09 am |

    I thought Heather was stunning in the video, and stunning in this picture, and I just read the interview and I am blown away by how awesome this person is.

  8. kaninchenzero
    kaninchenzero March 18, 2010 at 3:42 am |

    My frustration with the earlier discussions of the Telephone video is that so many people — like you, Lance — seem to believe that the existence of valid non-transphobic (or at least valid non-ciscentric) readings of the strip search scene in context of the GaGa is trans*/is intersex/has a dick rumors discounted the validity of readings by those of us who actually do live with the oppression of transphobia and a deeply intrusive and unpleasant public focus on our genitals. Many readings of any text will always be valid. This is just how communication works.

    But when people who live an oppression are talking about their actual fucking lived experiences the people who have not lived it are supposed to pay some fucking attention. This is how social justice is meant to work.

    (For example, the guards weren’t trans women, they were female bodybuilders, so the entire idea that they were making fun of manly trans women just seemed to be a really odd thing to read into the video.)

    I really hope you are not saying that for you to accept this scene as transphobic they would have had to cast actual trans women in the roles of the guards. Because that would mean almost nothing much would ever be transphobic because we don’t get hired as actors much.

    Are you starting to see how there might be more frustration than just yours that people didn’t agree that the video was way awesome?

  9. Azalea
    Azalea March 18, 2010 at 3:49 am |

    I didn’t want to assume whether or not someone was cis or trans and I think thats part of what frustrated Lance, the assumption of who someone is or how they identify by the way they look.

    I read the interview and I must say that Cassils description of Lady Gaga was nice. Ze (because at one point Cassils mentions mayyyybe identifying as male) seems to have liked working wit her and had lots of good stuff to say about her so I’ll take hir word for it.

  10. Lance
    Lance March 18, 2010 at 9:15 am |

    The reason that I was frustrated with the discussion of the guards as signifiers of some kind of transphobia is because it sounded like just another case of female bodybuilders being denied status as women. Deciding that these cisgendered women must be a commentary on trans women (and a negative commentary at that) is just another way of saying that female bodybuilders are somehow wrong in how they choose to be. They have to deal with that shit often enough from the culture at large, so it’s unfortunate to see the same kind of thing being said on a progressive feminist forum.

    Now if they had named one of the guards something like “Mis Man”, or put a big dildo in their pants, or gave some other signifier that they these guards were supposed to be playing a parody of trans women, I would agree with Sady’s analysis. There are no such signifiers in the video, though. Nothing other than the shape and size of the women playing the guards could be used to read the transphobic message into their presence in the video. I believe that reading them that way is a way of saying that being a female bodybuilder is not a valid way to be a woman.

  11. Samantha b.
    Samantha b. March 18, 2010 at 9:47 am |

    @Ann, Cassil’s arguments didn’t seem entirely consistent on that point. I don’t know that one can simultaneously make a case against societal normalization, and then also argue that one craves a place within “the machine.” It strikes me as a rather opportunistic logic, given the one common element in both of those stances is that Heather Cassils gets a lot of attention. That’s fair enough as a personal choice for Cassils, but, eh, don’t tell us your a fucking hero for it, especially not while marginalizing activists for social change.

  12. Curtis
    Curtis March 18, 2010 at 10:23 am |

    My frustration with the earlier discussions of the Telephone video is that so many people — like you, Lance — seem to believe that the existence of valid non-transphobic (or at least valid non-ciscentric) readings of the strip search scene in context of the GaGa is trans*/is intersex/has a dick rumors discounted the validity of readings by those of us who actually do live with the oppression of transphobia

    I just wanted to stop in to say that not everyone who’s reading a non-transphobic message (on the part of Gaga) from that scene is cissexual. For me, that scene was about prison guards abusing their authority. The “too bad” in reference to “she doesn’t have a dick” sounded a like they were hoping she did in order to exploit it to the media. To me, it read like a comment about the policing of gender and violation that people who don’t conform to it experience from others in places of authority.

  13. Athenia
    Athenia March 18, 2010 at 12:18 pm |

    I read the prison guards as “fans” who *want* Lady Gaga to be trans/intersex. Hence the “Too bad she doesn’t have dick.” Meaning, it would have been perfectly ok if she did.

    I don’t think Gaga necessarily didn’t comment on that issue because she wanted to make a statement. But I do think she wanted to address the violation of it all with that segment of her video.

    And of course, just cuz she has a vagina doesn’t mean anything— but it probably quells the anxiety of heterosexual men or anyone who would have not like to think about Gaga with a dick. (Of course, Gaga is more than willing to stap on a dildo, so….)

  14. The Chemist
    The Chemist March 18, 2010 at 12:35 pm |

    With regard to the reading of the video vis-a-vis Lady Gaga having a dick: I read it as a reference to prison rape (i.e. you can’t rape without a penetrating instrument, and it was “too bad” for her because it would have allowed her to assert herself as the sexually dominant one in the context of prison power dynamics) It’s not an unproblematic subtext- but it’s not a message given by the video, rather a statement made by one of the characters in the “story”. This extends to cover Kaninchenzero’s reading of the scene. The totality of a narrative’s message is not determined by the statements of the people in the narrative. These people are not heroes, or even sympathetic, so it can be read as a statement about values set by society, by authority. A narrative can even have zero sympathetic characters and yet deliver an important message (subversively or not).

    That said, I disagree with the general idea put forward that all interpretations and readings of a work are valid. I think that there is a strong tendency to see any work reflect the anxieties and concerns of the reader based on the reader’s particular epistemological leanings. I think that a work can only be interpreted fairly in the context of the creator’s/(s’) individual or collective understanding. This may or may not include various problematic social biases and pressures. The only thing that makes the range of acceptable interpretations so vast is that we are unfamiliar with critical aspects of the smaller context in which the video was created, and all of out judgments are based on the larger context of the society we live in general. Therefore all interpretations are merely reasonable speculation until someone suddenly develops telepathy.

    You may print this comment out if you have trouble sleeping.

  15. queen emily
    queen emily March 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm |

    I for one feel quite relieved by Lance’s statement. Now I can tell all my friends that every representation of trans women EVER excepting Candis Cayne in Dirty Sexy Money is not transphobic due to a lack of trans women actors. Especially the ones played by cis men.

    And you know, they’ll rebut that maybe it’s part of trans oppression that we’re so thoroughly ventriloquised by cis people, so that as a result televisual “transness” is a set of signifiers of undesirable qualities displaced from the cis men and women playing us onto trans women offscreen, regardless of appearance. And sure, maybe they’d have a point, if they weren’t y’know trans, and hence quite obviously wrong about what messages the culture they live in sends them. I mean, they only hear these messages every day, over and over, it’s not like real experience.

    THANKS LANCE!

    Hugs n kisses,
    Emily

  16. gudbuytjane
    gudbuytjane March 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm |

    Hence the “Too bad she doesn’t have dick.” Meaning, it would have been perfectly ok if she did.

    Or maybe cis people like Gaga shouldn’t be telling trans people that their bodies are okay or not?

  17. queen emily
    queen emily March 18, 2010 at 1:35 pm |

    I mean, it’s kind of the point of oppression that you get to have your cake (transphobic dog whistle, Lady Gaga asserts forcefully her Amazing Cisness etc) and deny it too (what transphobia? there wasn’t even trans women!).

    Both of which leave trans women precious little space to speak from, no?

  18. kaninchenzero
    kaninchenzero March 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm |

    I just wanted to stop in to say that not everyone who’s reading a non-transphobic message (on the part of Gaga) from that scene is cissexual.

    I’m completely aware. So?

    The presence of at least one $MARGINALIZED person who says “I don’t find this oppressive” invalidates all the $MARGINALIZED people who are saying “Hey there’s something oppressive here”? WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK Y’ALL?

    Do we have to do remedial social justice training with every group that exists? Yes, it works EXACTLY THE SAME WAY with trans* folk too?

  19. Lance
    Lance March 18, 2010 at 2:53 pm |

    I’m not saying that it has to be trans person playing a role for that role to make a transphobic statement. Obviously that isn’t the case.

    My main objection is the notion that female bodybuilders are automatically seen as a “transphobic dog whistle”. Don’t they have a right to be visible as who they are without being automatically considered an instrument of oppression?

  20. gudbuytjane
    gudbuytjane March 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm |

    @kaninchenzero:

    Do we have to do remedial social justice training with every group that exists? Yes, it works EXACTLY THE SAME WAY with trans* folk too?

    I ask myself that question repeatedly, and sadly I think the answer is yes. Remember a few weeks ago when another marginalized group of people raised concerns about appropriation by a pop musician and this led to hateful backlash (PWD bloggers and Evelyn Evelyn, anyone)?

  21. Croobie
    Croobie March 18, 2010 at 5:18 pm |

    Um… I kind of agree with Lance here.
    By reading into it that female bodybuilder=not a woman it’s certainly indicating something uncomfortable about ourselves, or society, or something. It’s expanding the categories, but still forcing bodies who differ from what is “normal” into a category.
    That by no means is saying that Sady’s interpretation isn’t spot-on either, but there are layers to this. It IS problematic because it could be interpreted as being transphobic given society’s strict gender expectations, but that interpretation exposes the problems with those expectations by the othering of non-standard female experience.
    It’s like literary criticism. Just because one interpretation isn’t right, doesn’t mean other interpretations aren’t right too.
    I hope my ramble made sense. I’m running on about two hours of sleep. :S

    1. Cara
      Cara March 18, 2010 at 5:26 pm |

      Wait wait wait wait wait wait WAIT. How is reading a female bodybuilder as trans the same thing as reading her as not a woman? I’ve yet to see anyone read the bodybuilders as trans men or as non-binary identifying, so the only way that reading someone as a trans woman can be reading them as “not a woman” is if you think that trans women aren’t women every single bit as much as cis women are. And while everyone is more than welcome to think what they want, that is not a thought that is welcome to be expressed here.

  22. kaninchenzero
    kaninchenzero March 18, 2010 at 5:23 pm |

    Who said all readings of a text* are valid, The Chemist? I said many readings of a text will always be valid. There will never be one reading of a text that is the One True Reading. The creator’s intended reading of a text is not the One True Reading. The creator’s intended reading of a given text should not (though it often is) even be given primacy over readings of that text by others.

    Text is communication. Text is a mode of interaction among creators and audience. For communication to be more than simply the imposition of the creator’s perspective on a passively receptive audience, perspectives of others have to be given equal weight. (Yes this is the general case of your good intentions don’t make what you say harmless and the oppressors do not get to define for the oppressed what is bigoted.)

    That said, some readings will be less valid than others. A reading of the strip search scene in “Telephone” that all [cis] woman bodybuilders are mean stinky pooheads because they will be mean and stinky to GaGa because they are pooheads is not going to be real useful. The reading that builds from a foundation of trans* people are already really seriously oppressed and that oppression often manifests as demands from cis people and cis society that we:

    Discuss the current shape of our genitals with any cis person who knows we are trans* and is curious about them.
    If we are transsexual, we must desire genital revision surgery to be considered truly transsexual. We must have completed genital revision surgery to be considered as having transitioned.

    It doesn’t matter if we want genital revision surgery or not.
    It doesn’t matter if we can access genital revision surgery or not.

    Demands to actually show one’s genitals are, under most circumstances, frightening and traumatic for most trans* people. Simply coming out to a potential crush or sexual partner is an experience fraught with potential disaster. It says something that “I like you a lot but if my friends find out I’m dating a transsexual they’ll think I’m desperate” is a fairly mild reaction. When the circumstances are even less pleasant — police searches, psychiatric hospital intake skin marking inventories (ASK ME HOW I KNOW) — it gets really bad.

    A cis person including a strip search as part of a pop fucking music video, in a context of rumors that she is trans* or is intersex or has a dick, confirming that “No dick, too bad” is in fact bad for trans* people and intersex people. (It is also bad for many cis people.) It reinforces the idea that people who are not trans* should be totally okay with displaying their equipment to disprove rumors that they are not trans*. People who are not totally okay with displaying their equipment to disprove such rumors in this context clearly have something to hide.

    The blurry circle does not change the message. A visual check of external genitalia being a wildly unreliable measure of trans*ness or cisness does not change anything. The social structures are in play and they are much, much larger than we are. Some may think we are being mean to Lady GaGa who was just having fun and playing with bigoted rumors about her but shit does not happen in a fucking vacuum.

    How many times do we have to say it? When will it be okay for us to say this? Here, in this social justice-oriented space? Ours is not the only valid reading. We are not saying you have to stop liking GaGa or stop liking the video we just would like y’all to stop saying “No it’s not!” when we say “This is harmful.”

    Okay?

    * If it hadn’t already been clear from the way I’ve been using it I mean ‘text’ in the broadest possible sense. ‘Text’ includes of course written and spoken and signed communication but also non-verbal creations including dance, film, still images, architecture, patterns of urban development and population distribution, u.s.w.

  23. Lance
    Lance March 18, 2010 at 5:47 pm |

    @kaninchenzero – That a very insightful reading, and something that I hadn’t considered. I now better understand how that is problematic. (And hey, what do you know, it has nothing to do with who the guards happen to be played by.)

  24. Croobie
    Croobie March 18, 2010 at 5:57 pm |

    I’m sorry. I know that is what I said, looking back. I’m kind of muddled right now, and Cara, you’re absolutely right.

    Rewind.
    I identify somewhere outside the binary. I’m speaking now from my experience, as a female-bodied person with a “none of the above” gender and a “masculine” gender presentation (which, of course, does not excuse me from saying stupid things). There’s the binary, and people not falling on that binary are tended to be clumped together, although that’s not true at all. People occasionally use male pronouns for me, even though I am very visibly female bodied, and prefer female pronouns. I have, however, due to my gender presentation, been shuffled into the “other” category more times than I would like. In those times, I am not a woman with a masculine gender presentation, I am something else entirely and it’s not something I would like to identify as.
    I think part of what I’m arguing against is the immediate assumption of masculinity to whatever extent of musculature. True, men naturally have more muscle mass, on average. But muscle mass is an easy way to be shuffled into that “other” category where anybody who does not fit into very strict gender coding gets tossed.
    I think I’m flirting with an idea that actually I myself disagree with, so I’m going to stop now. I think I want to say that we’re using very strict gender identifiers, but that argument is starting to reek too.

  25. The Chemist
    The Chemist March 18, 2010 at 6:20 pm |

    @kaninchenzero

    Okay, I’m not going to waste time arguing with you, and here’s why: I think we’re on pretty much the same page, we just don’t realize it yet.

    First of all, I misread your comment. Where you wrote,

    “Many readings of any text will always be valid. This is just how communication works.”

    I don’t whether it’s the “always” in italics and I somehow saw “all” in it, or what, but a wire got crossed in my brain and I somehow came off thinking that you said “all interpretations are valid.” Funny thing is I double-checked to make sure it was what you’re saying and the same wire must have crossed again because I misread it again. So- you have my unreserved apologies for misreading and misrepresenting your argument twice.

    That said, I think you might have misread my comment as well. Nowhere did I discount your reading. Quite the opposite, I said that without knowing more about the author’s(s’) epistemology, it’s impossible to discount your reading (or pretty much any reading- see how I define “reading” below, for that to make sense).

    What I did do was offer a reading of my own, and then offer a larger analysis that could potentially include any reading, including yours. However, nowhere in my extensively long and boring comment did I try to invalidate your reading, even in my confusion.

    I also misunderstood your meaning of “reading”, my comment still largely holds with the definitions I was using, but when you said “reading” I was thinking of it in terms of the author’s(s’) intent. Not a literal “reading” as a subjective experience. I was thinking of “a reading” as in “a gauge” or “a measure”. I think that part of the issue is that I was not part of the discussion that occurred in the previous post, which spilled over here and caught me a little unawares.

    However now that I am unconfused, and I think understand you more fully thanks in no small part to your rebuttal, I’m even more in agreement that many readings are indeed valid. So overall, I think having an argument with you would be a waste of both our times. Okay, so it’s not exactly awesome that we misunderstood each other, but I’m always amazed to see people arguing about two completely different things and not realize it.

    Also, I already hear horror stories I can’t believe, and I’m sure it’s nothing like the experience- but I’m aware that prisons are especially inhospitable to trans* people.

    (Also, I’m trying to understand what the “*” at the end of “trans*” signifies. Is it a wildcard to include trans- -sexuals, -men, and -women?)

  26. Tracey
    Tracey March 18, 2010 at 8:38 pm |

    Cara,
    thank you so much. I was trying to figure out how to express exactly what you said. Reading them as suppose to be representative of transwomen is not reading them as being not women. I have yet to see the video (Gaga is boring me and never been a Beyonce fan), but those comments defiantly bother me.

  27. piny
    piny March 18, 2010 at 9:27 pm |

    My main objection is the notion that female bodybuilders are automatically seen as a “transphobic dog whistle”. Don’t they have a right to be visible as who they are without being automatically considered an instrument of oppression?

    I don’t think this is right. It’s not that it’s wrong to be a female bodybuilder, or to have an unusual body shape, or to be a female bodybuilder and act.

    To use an analogy: gay male characters in mainstream movies are often not coded as gay via sexuality. In fact, they’re frequently desexualized. You don’t see them in bed with other men. You understand that they’re supposed to be gay because you see them playing out stereotypes. They’re femmey, they’re snarky, they work as hairdressers and wedding planners, they play agony aunt to their straight friends, pick a silly trope.

    When gay men object to those portrayals, they’re not slamming working actors, gay actors, gay stylists, or femme men. They’re complaining about the use of stereotype as shorthand and, usually, the way those stereotype-burdened characters are fit into the narrative.

    That’s how the reading works here. The argument is that these women are meant to portray trans women using transphobic ideas about trans women, and that these trans women are being fit into the story of the video in a transphobic way.

  28. karak
    karak March 18, 2010 at 10:59 pm |

    @gudbuytjane
    gudbuytjane 3.18.2010 at 12:55 pm
    Hence the “Too bad she doesn’t have dick.” Meaning, it would have been perfectly ok if she did.

    Or maybe cis people like Gaga shouldn’t be telling trans people that their bodies are okay or not?

    Wait wait wait wait wait. Okay. let me understand this:

    If Lady Gaga is making a nasty/ignorant/thoughtless comment about either non-op or pre-op transwomen, she’s being transphobic. (Inarguably true!)

    If Lady Gaga is making a postive comment about non-op or pre-op transwomen, she’s being transphobic?

    But, if in the entirety of her career, she was dead silent on anything about trans issues, never spoke about, never mentioned it, never responded to any questions put to her about it… would she ALSO be considered transphobic?

  29. piny
    piny March 18, 2010 at 11:16 pm |

    Yes, clearly: what GBTJ really wants is for no one to ever reference trans people or trans issues in any forum at all. Especially in any piece of art. Cis people are too stupid even to be trusted with the concept, which is why trans people would be best served by radio silence. Invisibility is a small price to pay for integration.

    She’s saying that this is one reason it makes sense to read these characters as trans women: they’re disappointed that Lady Gaga is cis. She’s not saying that “Yay, trans women! Trans women are so cool!” is transphobic, because…that’s not her reading of the video.

    Also, having a character say something is not the same as saying it yourself.

  30. Bonn
    Bonn March 18, 2010 at 11:30 pm |

    Karak: Probably.

    So what I just read here was, if you don’t interpret the video to be transphobic, that’s okay (I guess), and if you do, that’s okay (totally), but if you ARE trans and you interpret it to be transphobic, that view is more valid than any other permutation.

    Well, I guess that shuts down all the argument.

    My sex is female, but I’m relatively genderless and have no sexual orientation to boot. I guess I’m not allowed to have an opinion on anything. :/

  31. piny
    piny March 18, 2010 at 11:48 pm |

    Did you read the part about how GBTJ got hate mail and comments because she as a trans woman dared to have a negative opinion of a pop star? I’m guessing that they weren’t hateful towards her as a critic.

    The idea is not that cis people cannot also have an opinion–or that people in general cannot decide that this video is not transphobic. (My personal position is, I do not even understand what is going on. Why is that horse wearing a tutu? Is that Betty White? I give up. But I can see where the transphobic interpretation comes from, and some of the counterarguments seem unlikely to me, e.g., “They’re bodybuilders, NOT trans women!”

    It’s that, in general, members of a marginalized group have better sensors for these things. Women do a better job with skeevy vs. gentlemanly; people of color do a better job with racist vs. diligent; trans people do a better job with transphobic vs. hi-larious.

    And when several trans people are saying, “I am not comfortable with this portrayal! It strikes me as very familiar! My long experience with many transphobic portrayals–and the specific raft of shit I’ve had to deal with as a trans person–send up red flags all over the place with this piece of art,” the response isn’t, “Nuh uh! It’s not transphobic! It’s cool! And anyway, how do you know they’re even trans women? What is your problem, anyway? What, you prefer Judd Apatow? People even say Lady Gaga IS trans, so you don’t even know!”

    You don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen. There are other interpretations of this weird and complicated video–and, as with many pieces of pop culture, there’s the ever-popular, “I don’t even know what the fuck I was doing myself!” defense. But the transphobic one is also valid.

    The other thing people are complaining about is the hate mail response. You and karak are not just saying, “That’s ridiculous!” You’re saying, “That’s ridiculous, and what, I can’t even disagree with you because you’re trans? Is THAT what you’re saying? IS it?” You’re forcing GBTJ to defend not only her interpretation of this piece of art, but also her right to complain about transphobia when she perceives it. That’s silencing.

  32. kaninchenzero
    kaninchenzero March 19, 2010 at 12:25 am |

    piny: Oh yes. (Also: Thank you so much for the tag-in; it gets tiring and today hasn’t been so great.) It’s everything you said. And to put a cherry on top of that it’s “Those mean trans* people are using their oppressed-people privilege again and it’s not faaaaaaaaaaair!”

    Uh. Yeah.

  33. The Chemist
    The Chemist March 19, 2010 at 6:28 am |

    Um, is there a particular reason my comment hasn’t been released from moderation yet?

  34. gudbuytjane
    gudbuytjane March 19, 2010 at 7:28 am |

    @Bonn: No, in this case you are a privileged person and you’re being told that marginalized people’s readings of oppression related to their marginalization are more valid. Sorry. It’s the same if this was about racism and you were white, about disability rights and you were able-bodied, or any other dominant group/marginalized group dynamic.

    This doesn’t mean that people outside of dominant groups have valuable contributions to conversations of oppression, but if their response is to silence (which is what all these tone arguments are about, not engaging on ideas) then, well, tough break. Your comment is ultimately about, boo-hoo, those mean trannies are not letting you have a voice, so I am not going to engage anything but that? Why would I, it sets your discussion in bad faith and poisons the well against trans women before we even begin.

    The implication in tone arguments against trans women is that we have some inherent access to privilege and we’re then framed as having the ability to shut down entire conversations because we have all the power. This is ridiculous – trans women are one of the most disempowered of groups – and transmisogyny at its core. The idea we’re angry and threatening is rooted in the concept we’re not real women, i.e. we’re being attributed negative, violent stereotypes of “what men do.” It’s the same old shit I’ve been responding to for literally decades, and it doesn’t change so I don’t engage it.

    @piny: Yeah, and by hate mail I don’t mean “Your opinion is stupid!” I mean threats of violence, opining that they wished I’d die or be assaulted, long raging hate-rants, and every bit of transphobia that crawls out from the dark corners of people when things like this happen. Even the “polite” emails would turn to schooling me on why trans women needed to shut the hell up and play on cis people’s terms.

    Thanks for your responses here on this thread, like kaninchenzero, I’m a bit worn down by this whole experience.

  35. Natalia
    Natalia March 19, 2010 at 7:43 am |

    I think that encountering videos like this is like looking at a depiction of the Rape of the Sabine Women. You can’t have a right reaction. You can’t have a wrong reaction. Who you are and what you’ve been through in life is likely to shape your interpretation, sometimes in predictable and other times in very unpredictable ways.

    Not all of us have the same “distance” from a work of art. Art can humiliate and horrify you, it can beat you over the head, reduce you to nothing, and there will be others who’ll glance at the same work and go, “huh. I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about it,” and move on, which can often play like a humiliation on top of a humiliation.

  36. gudbuytjane
    gudbuytjane March 19, 2010 at 8:15 am |

    And also, in general, re: transphobia and transmisogyny.

    THEY EXIST IN DEGREES.

    This either/or response is an extension of tone policing by framing dissenting opinions as being unreasonable for their implications. By suggesting Lady Gaga’s pop music video has elements which are transmisogynist that doesn’t mean I am holding her with the same contempt I’d hold someone who murdered a trans woman, but from the response of some people you would think I did.

    @Karak:

    If Lady Gaga is making a nasty/ignorant/thoughtless comment about either non-op or pre-op transwomen, she’s being transphobic. (Inarguably true!)

    Yes.

    If Lady Gaga is making a postive comment about non-op or pre-op transwomen, she’s being transphobic?

    Still yes. Not at all to the degree as the previous scenario, but still transphobic in its extension of cis privilege. It is still policing trans women’s bodies. That isn’t the catch-22 you seem to suggest by your third example, it is a representation of how transphobia actually works in our extremely transphobic culture. The either/or oppositional model doesn’t reflect reality.

  37. piny
    piny March 19, 2010 at 8:28 am |

    You’re welcome, but it’s not like it’s a huge sacrifice on my part. I haven’t had any hate mail, either. I’m sorry to hear about yours.

  38. karak
    karak March 19, 2010 at 10:39 am |

    gudbuytjane:

    I did some pondering, and I’ve decided that in the end it doesn’t matter whether or not the video was transphobic. Because in the worst-that-could-happen-argument:

    If it’s not, then Lady Gaga is being inaccurately perceived to be a jerk. Which is an easy enough fix, on her part.

    If it is, then that’s one more special stacking of humiliation and embarrassment on a big goddamn pile of bullshit on trans community.

    The logical conclusion is that arguing you down is kind of an asshole thing to do, and not something I’m going to pursue further, because winning, *even if I’m right* won’t make me a smarter or better person or someone who’s done something good in the world. I won’t have stopped the wheels of oppression, but I sure will have made an almighty effort to make an oppressed person feel like shit and convince them they’re crazy. And God knows I *love* it when people do that to me.

    So, in conclusion, I’m sorry for being an asshole. I’m sorry for making what probably been an angering and frustrating (and possibly frightening) experience suck even more. And I am wrong. And you are right. And if Lady Gaga is not transphobic, she’s perfectly capable of dealing with that issue from her international stage, and doesn’t need a Private Army of internet people to do it for her.

  39. Adrienne
    Adrienne March 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm |

    Karak,

    I just wanted to de-lurk to say, holy crap, you win my personal internet for the year. That is one of the most incredibly moving and awesome apologies i’ve read ever. Thank you for showing me how it’s done; ghu knows i put my foot in it enough to need pointers.

  40. kaninchenzero
    kaninchenzero March 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm |

    Also, I’m trying to understand what the “*” at the end of “trans*” signifies. Is it a wildcard to include trans- -sexuals, -men, and -women?

    As I use it, trans* is meant to include a good deal more than that. When I use trans without the asterisk it’s a modifier for a noun, usually singular and very occasionally plural. I am a trans woman. (Yes I know this doesn’t tell you if I identify as transsexual or transgender or transvestite or what. It’s deliberately ambiguous and most people don’t need to know the specifics.) Social justice for trans* people is relevant to my interests.

    Trans* includes, but is not limited to (in no particular order): Transsexuals of all genders. Transgender people who are not transsexual. Transvestites. Cross-dressers. Drag kings. Drag queens. Everyone who doesn’t fit into a male/female binary including those who identify as genderqueer, androgyne, nonbinary, agender, nongender, etc. People whose genitals may result in their being labeled intersex by cissexist gender-essentialist society, if they don’t mind being included — some wish their movement for their rights to be completely distinct from trans* identities and trans* rights movements and that’s entirely cool. (There have been trans* people, especially certain transsexual people, who have appropriated the shit out of intersex people’s identities and experiences without speaking to people who already carried that identity and lived those experiences and without much or any consideration for their feelings. Some continue to do so. Resentment is completely justified here.) Women with the various androgen insensitivity syndromes. People known to have chromosome group twenty-three haploidy or aneuploidies.

    In short I am using it as a way to refer to everyone not-cis without having to type all that shit out every time.

    Anyone whose internal gender identity fits pretty well with their societally-imposed gender identity and whose genitals are neither very ambiguously shaped nor cause highly distressing body dysmorphias and whose karyotype in the twenty-third chromosome group fits the grade-school biology text standard of XX means female/XY means male is cis. Everyone else is trans*.

    Like all ways of categorizing humans the edges of the categories are fuzzy. The categories overlap in places. There is no test which will divide cis from trans* or transsexual from intersex or whatever with accuracy and precision. Which is how it should be.

  41. The Chemist
    The Chemist March 19, 2010 at 9:18 pm |

    Trans* includes, but is not limited to (in no particular order): Transsexuals of all genders. Transgender people who are not transsexual. Transvestites. Cross-dressers. Drag kings. Drag queens. Everyone who doesn’t fit into a male/female binary including those who identify as genderqueer, androgyne, nonbinary, agender, nongender, etc. People whose genitals may result in their being labeled intersex by cissexist gender-essentialist society, if they don’t mind being included — some wish their movement for their rights to be completely distinct from trans* identities and trans* rights movements and that’s entirely cool. (There have been trans* people, especially certain transsexual people, who have appropriated the shit out of intersex people’s identities and experiences without speaking to people who already carried that identity and lived those experiences and without much or any consideration for their feelings. Some continue to do so. Resentment is completely justified here.) Women with the various androgen insensitivity syndromes. People known to have chromosome group twenty-three haploidy or aneuploidies.

    That’s very much what I expected, but I really wasn’t sure and felt I had to ask. Thank you for taking the time to explain that to me.

  42. Zoe Brain
    Zoe Brain March 20, 2010 at 10:03 am |

    Karak – Just thought you should know I’m keeping a copy of your words as an example to live by myself. Thanks.

    I deny that you’re an anal sphincter though. One of those couldn’t have written that. You just got it wrong this time, realised that, and corrected it as best you could. I’ll try to follow your example there as well, as I screw up sometimes too.

    Hugs, Zoe

  43. conductress
    conductress March 20, 2010 at 2:36 pm |

    kaninchenzero- Thank you for your comment. I agree that the video promotes the idea that people should be willing to display their genitalia for inspection and that is harmful. However, I also think it’s worth considering that Lady Gaga is already being inspected. There are photographs and video all over the internet that people study intently to try to discern whether she has a vagina or a penis or whatever (I suppose someone could argue that she ‘asked for it’ by wearing revealing clothing, but I hope no one here will do that). So… I don’t know… I think she’s suffering from similar societal injunctions as trans people (not at all to the same extent and not with the dangerous and often physically hurtful consequences, so again, I can see that her promotion of this message is concretely harmful to trans people) and that people feel entitled to study her genitalia and in fact already are doing so. That doesn’t make the message of the video any less harmful, but I support her attempt to respond to the people policing her gender. I wish her response had been different, but I’m not surprised that it replicates a lot of nastiness given that that is the society we live in. I think she’s a smart performer and hope she listens to these types of critiques and takes them to heart. And, honestly, I do think she’s trying. After hiring able-bodied (white, thin, feminine) dancers to portray people with disabilities for the Paparazzi video, she made a video with women bodybuilders, women of color, women of different shapes and sizes, Heather Cassils who I think identifies as queer, etc. The video definitely has many problematic aspects, but it makes me hopeful that Lady Gaga is trying to do something both interesting *and* ethical. Maybe that’s naive, and having re-read my comment, it’s certainly rosier than I intended (like, ‘Oh wow, Gaga put some Black women in her video’ when her dancers are still thin white women). Anyway, I know you’re not saying that the video should be banned or anything and this comment isn’t really directed at you, just me working through my thoughts.

  44. Dani
    Dani March 20, 2010 at 11:48 pm |

    What is interesting about all of this debate about ‘Telephone’ is that so far, not one has really known what Lady Gaga’s intent really was. Today, she released the following statement in defense of the video:

    “There are transsexual women and transgender women and suddenly it becomes poisonous and something else because there are some people in this world that believe being gay is a choice. It’s not a choice, we’re born this way. That’s why for me this video is groundbreaking because it has one foot in the art community and one foot in the commercial world…”

    So there you have it. Flat out appropriation of other people’s life experience in order to promote commercial success. And- at least in my mind- an unofficial answer about the prison guards we have been so heatedly analyzing. n addition, we get a wonderfully misguided statement on the apparent “sameness” of identifying as gay or trans. Who knew so much could be said in three sentences? Awesome to know that someone who is ‘speaking out’ on behalf of a community she doesn’t fully understand can’t even be bothered to separate gender identity and sexual orientation.

  45. Li
    Li March 21, 2010 at 4:30 am |

    Dani, I’d like to point out that there are quite likely trans wom*n in the video clip other than the two prison guards. Presuming that the two prison guards must be trans/coded as trans/the trans wom*n Gaga refers too because they are butch is not really interrogating the butch/trans conflation trope as deeply as it needs to be. There are a whole lot of other tropes that concern butch women, like for instance the Butch Prison Guard Lady (who is almost always Cis and fairly often Queer) Trope, which are kind of viable in the context of this clip (because for instance the two prison guards being fairly uncontestably butch, prison guards, and wom*n).

    I’d also kind of point out that many of the tropes about trans women, at least the ones that I am familiar with, are not just that they have butch bodies, but that they try to hide their MANHANDS and MANJAWS and OMGMANSHOULDERS with makeup and femme clothing: read Trans Wom*n as Man In Dress Trope and Trans Lady With Drag Queen Makeup Trope, and that the body building prison guards don’t really fit those tropes particularly well. There are other women in the clip who actually probably do fit those tropes, but are much more incidental in the clip.

    On the other hand, yeah, let’s face it, there are a giant pile of fairly dodgy trans politics that can be identified in this clip. Like the genital-let’s-all-take-a-look moment: fairly dodgy.

  46. gudbuytjane
    gudbuytjane March 22, 2010 at 10:34 pm |

    @Karak: Hey, I meant to reply to this sooner. Thank you for the apology, it means a lot, especially when it is so easy to dig one’s heels in online. I don’t think you’re an asshole, either, you know, we all need space for learning. One of the frustrating parts of the Angry Tran trope and how it plays out as tone argument is it makes it seem the person presenting the challenging opinion isn’t doing it in a constructive, engaging way. If I am engaging I am seeking discussion, and it makes me happy when it happens. I’m glad this turned out this way.

    Thank you.

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