Monday, July 31, 2006
Elizabeth's Body Image Article: My Thoughts
As transwomen we are a subset of the greater society. That parent society places huge emphasis on how one looks. The better you look, the more money you make, and various studies over the years have corroborated that.
It's assumed that if you have the looks and cash to go with it you'll have a fabulous life. That's not always the case. Ask Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, or Vanessa L. Williams about the not so sunny side of that. You can't ask Dorothy Dandridge or Phyllis Hyman that question because they both took their own lives. (Dorothy Dandridge in 1964 and Phyllis Hyman in 1995.)
You get the good and the bad with transition. You not only get the femme body to match the gender brain map, you also get the increased risk for breast cancer, decreased strength levels, devaluement of your intelligence and all of the other assorted drama that women grow up with.
Women tend to admire other women who have bigger breasts, prettier faces, curvier hourglass figures, bigger butts, fly hair, more flawless skin...well, you get the picture.
Transwomen are no different. I'm envious from time to time of my sisters that have that combination of genetics and hormones that allowed them to transition into those types of feminine bodies with minimal surgical intervention. I'm also envious of the women who were fortunate enough to be born and raised from birth as such and got the genetic luck of the draw as well. (I'm currently writing a series of TransGriot blog articles about various women I admire and why)
One of the reasons I founded Transsistahs-Transbrothas is because we DON'T have a lot of positive role models that we can point to with pride and look up to. I've been on ths planet for four decades and I've only seen articles written about African-American transwomen in Jet FOUR times.
In order, they are the 1979 Justina Williams one that discussed her transition and her fight with GM. The one about Teddy Pendergrass' 1982 car accident in Philadelphia that identifies the other passenger in his car as a transsistah named Tamika Watson. The 1987 Sharon Davis one that discusses her transition and the book she was writing about it. On the very next page from the positive Sharon Davis article is the negative one about then Mississippi governor Bill Allain (D-MS) and a picture of the attractive sistah transgender call girl he was accused of sleeping with. I recall her being interviewed on ABC's 20/20 about it.
As we know from being African-American in this country, it's vitally important to see representations of yourself doing positive things in various walks of life. Since there aren't many out African-American transwomen, (or they haven't gotten the recognition for being so) it leads to a skewed impression with our transgender youth about who they are and what they can accomplish. If the only role models they see are porn stars, escorts or female illusionists and there's no counterbalance to that, it does ALL of us a disservice.
As for the 'can you tell' game we play, it's not just us playing it.
Nobody is 100 percent male or female. You get half your chromosomes from mommy, half from daddy and we all started out as a FEMININE fetus until that critical eighth week of pregnancy. Any woman who is over 5'8", has broad shoulders, wears a size 9 shoe or larger or has 'masculine traits' is now suspected of being transgender.
Everyone has some trait about them that 'belongs' to the opposite gender. My female relatives and friends constantly tell me that they are jealous of my naturally long and thick eyelashes. I was mercilessly teased in junior high about my 'girl's legs' and 'girl's butt'. I have a friend who is as beautiful and girly-girl as you can be but has a deep masculine tone to her voice. My late ex-girlfriend was 5'11", wore a size 9 shoe, had 38C breasts, a flawless even-toned honey brown complexion and a natural hourglass figure complete with sistah butt, but had hands bigger than mine. (my hands are SMALLER than many guys, BTW). Conservative pundit Ann Coulter is not only 6 feet tall, but has a very prominent Adam's apple.
I was told a story about a Southern Comfort Conference in which they do a tour of CNN headquarters as one of the events. From time to time those tours are led by various onair CNN personalities. That day the SCC one was led by international reporter Christiane Amanpour. Christiane told them that she requested this one because she wanted to meet some transpeeps. She also revealed to the tour participants that she's often been accused of being a transwoman because she's six feet tall and broad shouldered. She's not a transwoman, but when I watch her do her news reports on CNN I'm a bigger fan of hers.
It's been rumored for years that Eddie Murphy's soon to be ex-wife Nicole Mitchell was a transwoman. Before you laugh it off, remember this is LA/Hollywood and anythang can happen. Janet Jackson kept a 10 plus year marriage to Rene Elizondo secret. Rock Hudson being gay was covered up for decades until AIDS blew him out of the closet. So what's the probability of Nicole being a transwoman and married to a Hollywood actor, especially when Nicole's background prior to marrying Eddie was so mysteriously murky?
While I have my doubts that Nicole is, with four kids being powerful evidence against that, it's the May 2, 1997 West Hollywood, CA traffic stop that continues to breathe life into this conspiracy theory. He was stopped on Santa Monica Boulevard, a known transgender hooker stroll with the late Atison Seiuli as a passenger in his vehicle. Several LA area transwomen have mentioned for years Eddie's fascination with transwomen. I even heard the same stories when I visited Club Peanuts back in 1992.
As to the 'can you tell' game, I do it as an icebreaker exercise in my Trans 101 lectures. I show pictures of various trans and non-trans peeps and get the audience to try to guess who's genetic and who's trans. Nine times out of ten people get it wrong, including us trannies. Some of Maury's most popular and highest rated talk shows are the 'Can You Tell' ones that have the audience try to guess who are the transwomen and who are the genetic ones. It's not a coincidence that he runs those shows during the February, May and October sweeps.
If Ciara were a transwoman, would I love to see a press conference in which she states, "I'm transgender and I'm proud of it"? Damn skippy. Any assorted WNBA ballplayer? Any congresswoman? Any actress/singer/fashion model? Sorority members? Notable business leaders? Politicians? Female athlete? Yep, I would.
I personally know and have heard of transpeeps who are doing great thangs, but unfortunately they're stealth transpeeps. I'm not going to out them because it would cause blowback that could compromise their corporate jobs, marital status, et cetera. The ill timed outing of such transpeeps may also have repercussions in terms of our quest to be accepted in this society as valued members of it.
The decision to come out is theirs to make. Hopefully one day there will be a climate of understanding and acceptance in my community and in this country which will allow them to do so without repercussions in their lives. I hope I live long enough to see that day.
Invisibility and a dearth of knowledge about us leads to fear and repression. Visibility and abundant knowledge about transpeople will eventually lead to understanding and acceptance. Even with that, the issues of celebrity status, body image and acceptance will always be a part of the transgender community as long as it is prevalent in our parent society.