That's right, folks. If we're lucky, knowing a trans person may finally edge out that tired old "I'm not bigoted because have a gay friend" excuse people sometimes march out in the name of tolerance. Chaz Bono's transition announcement tipped the scales and suddenly networks are scrambling to cover this new, sympathy-friendly subset of people with touching exposes, "you're-so-strong" talk shows, and other sorts of news coverage. ABC is took this one step further and spent prime-time television time to profile a transgender woman. There's a preview available
It's pretty typical for a human interest story - family adjusts to big change - and thankfully wasn't as painful as some bloggers thought it would be. But for trans people it's the same old narrative: excessive courage in the midst of adversity and disapproval, complete with soft piano solo accompaniment, montages of old pictures, everything. As the story unfolds according to the director's cuts I find myself even feeling sorry for myself, which is never a good sign.
Welcome to the new world: trans stories are officially the new gay sob story.
While documentaries like this may appear, at first glance, like good press, I can't help wondering what long-term impact this press will have. The documentary makes transgender struggles clear at the price of making our lives look terrible. I know from experience that transition decisions are often delayed because of heartbreaking documentaries, confusing internet website information, and a lack of knowledge concerning how transgender people live on a daily basis. Instead of our daily life, people see the extreme pressures of family, career, and society at work on a transgender person's happiness. This would be fine if there was information available to counter the idea that all trans people live life in a constant state of melancholic nostalgia, but the information doesn't exist.
It's a pretty safe bet to assume that few media stories about trans people don't revolve around the "you're-so-brave" theme so prevalent in television today. I've mentioned in a previous column that holding a person in a position of pity is, in many ways, an expression of prejudice. By showing how poor and pitiful our lives are, we encourage people to act in proposed "love" and "kindness," stepping in to save children from this horrendous and sad way of life. Take Americans for Truth, or Focus on the Family, Love in Action as examples. It's only a matter of time before they step in to keep little boys and girls from exploring their gender.
I can only hope that time quickly rubs the newness off the trans documentary world. Understanding a struggle is one thing, yes. It's important that people know what we go through just to be ourselves. However, equally important is that people see our lives as mundane and, for lack of a better word, normal. I don't spend every day wandering through old pictures, the soft, minor chords of a piano echoing in the distance, discussing tearfully the way I shook up my family tree when I made my decision to make my outside match my inside. That kind of melancholy wouldn't leave time for Colts football, or fun with friends, or, you know, living my life.
Its only a matter of time before folk like me - twentysomethings out of college - or even younger trans folk get regularly featured on these shows. Too many times we focus on the struggles of older trans folk trying to transition with added burdens of responsibility; it certainly makes for great television. I think that showing young, successful transgender people doing everyday things is a vital component of changing the popular trans narrative. The sooner we can get past the drama, the sooner we can become run-of-the-mill people.
I mean, look at the GLB side of the spectrum: where homosexuality used to be a cue for soft piano music and dramatic conversation, modern media rarely makes a big fanfare about the coming-out process anymore. The reasoning is simple: "Some people are homosexual. Get over it." There have been growing pains to get to that point, but for the most part its generally accepted that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people exist, and their existence is not detrimental to the world around them.
In the meantime, welcome to the new, trans-happy media frenzy. Let's show them all just how mundane our lives really are.