Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

The Advocate: "Beau Bridges on Sex Changes, High Heels"

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | December 16, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Beau Bridges, GLAAD, sex change, sex reassignment, The Advocate, The Closer, transgender

The Advocate on Monday published an article on an interview with actor Beau Bridges, who portrays a transgender detective on TNT's TV show, "The Closer."

The article is written by "Advocate.com Editors," who appear not to have read the GLAAD Media Reference Guide and are unaware that the term "sex change" is listed in the section of GLAAD's Guide labeled "terminology to avoid." Bridges, who notes that he did a lot of research on the subject and met many transgender people for his previous role in the movie Looking for Normal, stated that he has profound respect for people who get sex changes.

This is by no means the first time The Advocate has used the term. In fact, a search of The Advocate reveals that they used the term in five stories in the last month alone. A Google search shows 1,940 such references in The Advocate altogether, although some of those may have been in reader comments. While Bridges obviously felt that the portrayal was sensitive, he obviously did not understand that the show portrayed the transgender character in a negative light. There's no mention of that in The Advocate article.

The show appears to be no better researched than the interview or the Advocate article.

Here's a few of the plot elements:

That didn't matter to the case, except that Georgette couldn't testify as a woman because the confession he/she had obtained had been as a man... I also loved how Georgette was still straight, in that he (George), still was attracted to women. He had his eyes on Brenda and her "caboose." It drove Provenza -- who we now know is Louie Provenza -- nuts. Favorite line: "You had a sex change to become a lesbian?"

One note in the show's comment threads from someone who is a professional facilitator of sexual orientation and gender identity programming for adults in the workplace, Liz Winfeld of Common Ground Consulting, tells the writers and producers that "your handling of his portrayal and the character was, by and large, derogatory and incorrect." She characterizes the show as "insulting," "benign contempt," implying that trans people lack both professionalism and judgment, and "using other people as foils for sophmoric jokes or the continuing spread of stereotypes that serve no purpose."

There are several other things about this Advocate article and this show that are problematic, but that would take too long to go into right now. I don't expect Beau Bridges or TNT to know any better, but it is disgraceful that The Advocate finds it appropriate to use, over and over again, terms long known by journalistic standards to be pejorative. This is part of what I mean about transphobia in the gay community.


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Angela Brightfeather | December 16, 2009 1:34 PM

Just another reason why some people have hissy fits I guess.
You would think that the "deep respect", might be followed up with a little "deep professionalism" as well.
As for the Advocate.....since when can anyone expect them to do anything by a community rule book. They seem to take great joy in not following any rules when it comes to writing about Transgender people or in reviewing their live as portrayed by others.

And last but not least....I guess that TNT just can't find any Transexuals to play the role of a Transexual? I guess that Beau Bridges just wanted to show everyone what a stretch he can make with his acting. Of course I might consider that a bit of sensationizing on one hand and insulting on the other hand.

Though I don't look at it much, in my experience The Advocate is pretty much exclusively a gay magazine, and barely seems to care about lesbians (which is why I don't look at it much!), so in my opinion, it isn't too surprising that they don't care much about trans* people.

california panda | December 16, 2009 3:28 PM

It is, for those very reasons, exactly why I've dropped the Advocate from my reading list.

Having never seen the show, I'm not qualified to speak to Beau Bridges' comments. However, as a male-to-female transsexual, I definitely feel qualified to weigh in on the media guidelines referring to my body. Frankly, I feel that "gender reassignment surgery" is both blatantly misleading and medically inaccurate. Gender is an amalgam of social presentation and self-identity resulting from expected social roles and behaviors, and has nothing to do with surgery or surgical proceedings. Gender is not "assigned" so much as it is "established." To speak of "reassignment" of something that wasn't assigned is linguistic folly. To claim that surgery can reassign a social role compounds the insult.

Sex, while still an oversimplified term, at least has the specific referent to primary sex organs, which is what the surgical procedures altered. To be sure, a more accurate description would eliminate both sex and gender from the descriptor and speak of reconstructive genital surgery: vaginoplasty, phalloplasty, and other individual surgical procedures aimed at building appropriate physical characteristics. If we must continue to make hay of our genital arrangements in public, the least we can do is start to draw a distinction between "sex" (genital arrangement) and "sex" (physical acts of intimacy which may or may not have anything to do with genitals).

Optimally, mentions to surgery would be eliminated entirely from media guidelines; what I have between my legs is my business, and the business of those people I invite to partake. By encouraging guidelines that not only focus on surgery but describe it in misleading language, we perpetuate the toxic notion that "you aren't really done until you've had surgery." It establishes genital configuration as the determinant of social identity. It reinforces the misleading idea that it's everyone else's business what you've got tucked under your skirt.

I was born a woman with XY chromosomes and a male body. I came out as transsexual in 2000. I started gender adjustment four months later as part of my real-life experience. I had reconstructive genital surgery--a sex-change operation--on March 15, 2002. Other people may choose never to have such surgery; they find the configurations with which they were born to be adequate, or are contraindicated for surgical procedures. These people are still quite capable of going through gender adjustment, and we would do well to remind each other and the rest of the world that some boys have vaginas, some girls have penises, and That's Okay.

Kristina,

I have lately heard the terms 'gender-alignment surgery' and 'gender-confirmation surgery' used. To me personally, they seem to speak to aligning the physical aspects of one's body with the emotional and psychological aspects of the body and mind, respectively. But, that's just me. How do you feel about this?

Carol :)

Personally, I still find it highly misleading. We are not "confirming our gender" through surgical means. We may be realigning our bodies to match our minds, but that's sex realignment to match gender, not the other way around. Either way, it's "what's between our ears" that's stable and "what's between our legs" that's changing to match. The language that we use needs to reflect that.

I stopped using both and simply call it correction.

It's also my opinion, Carol, that "sex reassignment surgery" is the best term because of its accuracy, and because the other terms tend to confuse people as to the meaning of the terms "sex" and "gender". I understand the argument that terms such as "gender confirming surgery" and "gender alignment surgery" suggest that the surgery is confirming one's gender -- but it is doing so by changing sexual anatomy. I think that some are uncomfortable with the word "sex". I don't have any objection to people using the other terms if that makes them more comfortable, however.

Thanks, Dr. Wiess! Your position seems pretty well aligned with Katrina's, and makes a lot of sense. Carol :)

Kristina, you discuss the term "gender reassignment surgery" in a lengthy post, noting its inaccuracies, because you don't like its inclusion in the GLAAD Media Guide. But the term "gender reassignment surgery" is not used in the GLAAD Media Guide.

It seemed implicit from your comments that it was. If so, then I misread the statements you were making.

I watched the episode last night not knowing in advance about “Georgette!” It didn’t take long for “my skin to begin to crawl” either. The jokes and gags stopped just short of mean spirited high school humor. My first thought was that the producers and writers had done no research whatsoever!

My mind wandered back to the stereotypical portrayals of African Americans in feature film and television for most of the previous century. Then I thought of the great roles played by Morgan Freeman, including President of United States.

By the end of the show I kept thinking that I hope no one I’m out to saw this episode of “The Closer” because I’d be stuck with the “damage control.” It’s difficult enough getting family and friends to comprehend the truth about TG/TS people with all the wonderful info available on the Internet… “Georgette” will no doubt force me to once again calmly answer a barrage of ridiculous questions that I’ve already dealt with. Guess I’ll just keep smiling and politely answer them again!

The thing that kills me, Pam, is that they're over there slapping each other on the back and thinking they're so brave and progressive for including a transgender character who's not a murdering prostitute. They would probably think we're a bunch of whining babies. After all, they're the ones with a TV show, so they must be right.

JAKE KOPMEIER | December 17, 2009 10:51 AM

I watched The Closer. At first I was horrified at the portrayal of Georgette. Then unfortuantely it seemed too real. The way the folks reacted was adolescent but also seemed to be what would happen in real life. The fear, ignorance, the struggle to comprehend. It is wrong that our trans sisters held up for ridicule. It is unfair. But it is real.

Jake, trans man

No one, of course, should be surprised by this representation of a transsexual person on television, or, for that matter, in an exclusively gay publication.

This is the very structural issue we have been discussing, not in the majority of posts to this sites--as one gay man has recently complained--but simply in one or two interesting and helpful posts that still do happen on this site.

No one can make people read either this site or any particular contribution of comment--and if the suggestion of reducing in size and importance comments to almost nothing is accepted, then there will be no interesting comments.

But mass media is a different story.

Your previous proposal for communication, Jillian, seems not to obtain in this case.

Rather, mass media, and GLAAD guidelines are themselves rather high level institutions and if there is restriction of contributions to this site, there is little hope for something positive happening higher up.

I am not trans but did watch the Closer episode. While I understand the comments of those disappointed with the show, I had a somewhat different reaction. I thought that the show ultimately made the point that the stereotyped responses of the cops to the trans character were both inappropriate and just stupid. It showed the lead character, Brenda, making a definite point of keeping her gender pronouns appropriate. It also showed the inappropriate cops making some progress in acceptance toward the end and applauding the trans character for her courage.

I know that the show was filled with gender stereotyped comments and was far from a perfect treatment of the issue. But in my small town very few people know a trans person and most have never really thought about these issues at all. To that audience, I thought the show did offer a simple message that trans folks exist (including among cops) and are strong people who contribute to society in meaningful ways. Remember, it was the trans character who got the bad person to confess (something normally reserved for Brenda on that show).

You're correct Dan... I found myself feeling a little better (as a recently "out" TS woman) with the way the show wrapped up and "Brenda's" obvious respectful treatment of "Georgette." I will admit that I may have been "overly sensitive" about the jokes made by the older male cops in the beginning of the show because of what I've gone through recently.

For me watching that show was kinda like the overall debate we've had here as to whether or not publishing Gold's post was appropriate. My first reaction to this TV show "got my dander up" in the beginning but I felt less uncomfortable by the end of the episode. This made me think more about my own “bias.”

Thanks for your take, Dan. I didn't see the show, so I can't comment on the tone. But what was that about a person who is transgender can't testify? And there seems to have been something salacious about the idea that Georgette was ogling other women. These track some pretty inaccurate stereotypes that are damaging to transwomen in employment and social life. Can you explain what the show said about these two issues? I promise not to blow my top. :)

Sigh, my parents love this show and got me to go out and watch some of it. The first episode I watched, the first episode of the show, decided to go with the whole plot twist of "the victim is trans" as a way to explain the mysterious disappearance of a man and the sudden discovery of an unknown woman's body.

They ignored the discrepancy that his body most likely would have been noticeably different from the average cis woman, and they also portrayed his gender as a deceit which he used to hide as a fugitive from a former radical bombing case. They managed to include the cliche of the trans murder victim, the trans murderer, and the deceitful trans person who's deceit leads to their death -- All within the very first episode.

I watched some more and found some redeeming content, but overall I wouldn't expect anything positive to come from their trans portrayals. As for the advocate, I'll just add this to my ever growing list of all cis led LGBTQ groups honoring transphobic media, which I was discussing just last night in the comments of my last post.

I am transgender, somewhere between a crossdresser and genderqueer. I also fell into being the President of an LGBT employee resource group at work. So I read a lot from Pam's HB and Bilerico and other sources to get a feel, since I will probably never truly understand, how gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, transexuals, intersexual, etc. really think. I do this so that I can be a better representative of the community I represent at work.

For me, specifically, as I watched it with my wife, the actors were really overacting at the first part of the episode. It made me wonder if this was being done (you have to remember that many people watching the episode are repeat watchers and have gotten some idea how the characters normally act) to show that the actions being portrayed were making fun of the teams actions. The audience would see these actions and know they were wrong.

You would probably say that the writers and audience was not that smart, except at work, I saw this same sort of insight from the audience for Diversity Training we had at work a few months ago. I saw a nuance that I thought most people would miss and was suprised at how many people actually picked up on that nuance.

The episode also had one redeeming aspect for me. When the discussion between the characters about Georgette being a lesbian, it caused my wife to ask me if that was a true assertion, and I replied in the affirmative. My wife has known about my crossdressing for 5 years or so and we have gone on a cruise together with be being enfemme for the entire trip. So this episode was able to dispel some myths for her, and I think helped her understand that I truly am still attracted to her, even when presenting as a woman.

Deanna

Dee Ann Scott | December 16, 2009 6:18 PM

I watched the show and I cringed the whole way through. Bridges made no real effort to portray a real transwoman. Could they have not picked a real transwoman to fill the role?

I mean really, all they did was put a dress and lipstick on him and he rehearsed a few lines and parroted some stuff they googled up.

Eyebrows? Leonid Brezhnev

Facial hair? Tons.

Voice? Please...

He was making no effort to portray a woman that is trying to assimilate. The crying scenes? Please. I saw enough aligator tears when my kids were little. He can't even do as well as my kids did with the fake crying.

About all he did was make us look like clowns and misfits. The show was terrible, just terrible.

Do I see a chance that the general public would come away from that show with a better understanding and better acceptance of us? Not a chance. If anything, I imagine it only reaffirms the negative image the cisgendered world has of us.

Awful. Just plain awful..
It's a shame they can't unshow a show. This one needs to be unshown in the worst kind of way.

Two thumbs down.

And BTW, yes, I am a full time transwoman.

Whoa, Dee Ann. Thanks for watching and reporting back. It sounds awful. I'm cringing just listening.

I kinda stopped looking at all media portrayals of anyone thats trans until they do have someone who is trans play the part of a trans person.

Its like hiring a white to play someone african/american or hiring a african/american to play an indian.

Until they have a trans person playing the role and giving input on how a trans person acts then any role that has a trans charater is false.

Besides, TNT is known as the 'Tits N'more Tits' network for a reason.

Absolutely, we would never cast an Afican Ameican in a "must be white to make sense" role these days. I had the opportunity to direct a wondeful script called the "Home Team". The female lead is a transexual. My actress woked so, so hard to understand what it must be like to have lived the expeiences her character had lived though.
While the notices of my poduction were good, I recieved fom non-transpeople,criticism that it had not been fair to leave out clues as to the character's gender "thing".
Stop and think about that for a moment--I,(transwoman)was citicized for not directing a transsexual character to conform more closely to pre-concieved,stereotypical non-transexual expectations.

Yes, it happens all the time unfortunately: When casting actors for a trans part directors rarely look for trans actors. They cast either cis males or cis females, depending on the impression they want them to make on the audience.

As a matter of fact, trans actors are not often casted in cis parts either. After 20 years of experience on stage, my chances of getting casted have rapidly approached zero as soon as I started my transition...

The TV episode, which I did not see, sounds terrible. But I honestly don't understand what is offensive about the term "sex change" or "sex change operation." The terms have the advantage of being understood by the general populace, without requiring lengthy explanations. Why is that formulation different in meaning or thrust than "sexual reassignment surgery?" And isn't it much clearer in meaning for the layman than "gender confirmation surgery" or the like?

As I live privately and have paperwork long changed right down to the birth certificate, the issue does not come up every day. But in the rare occasions that a discrepancy arises, I can take care of misunderstandings in five seconds by saying I had a sex change operation, or I can have a far lengthier, more embarrassing and intrusive discussion about my personal life with a stranger who may not be up on the more politically correct terms.

The advocate is a magazine for white, middle class, gay cismen and has a long history of being Transphobic and TNT is another mainstream media outlet. Clearly its a problem, but this should not surprise anyone.

I saw the first half of the show mentioned. The character in question was portrayed more like a truckdriver in drag than like a trans woman. She broke down in tears at the merest slight, fumbling in her purse a for a tissue, behavior I doubt was typical of a character who was supposed to be a hardened, experienced police detective. She reminded me of the man-in-a-dress characters created by Milton Berle in my early days of TV watching, types that are still super-commmon in the comedy skits on Spanish-language TV whenever a cheap laugh is desired. Brenda's male detective colleagues made the typical wink, smirk and rib-poke comments one would expect, and there was so sign that the comments were meant to appear stupid or insensitive. We, the TV viewers, were apparently meant to share in the fun.

Karin Fresnel | December 17, 2009 11:08 AM

Since when should anyone expect television to correctly portray anyone (more over a trans woman)? If we want change, then we need to stand up and be counted. All of us.

As for the advocate, frankly, I could care less how they refer to "the operation". As long as they use the right bloody pronouns and don't say "Jane/John Doe, who used to be a man/woman....". One thing that frustrates me continuously with the media (ANY media) is the portrayal of all trans individuals as wanting an operation. A lot of us don't.

Guess it's time for more education.

CSI this show is not. But it did have a positive ending. It probably comes cloest to those films in the B movie genre.

As a post-op woman, I don't feel I could ever go back - even for a crime case. The Closer was an attempt to portray a transsexual and it came off fairly unconviencingly. One scene we see Georgette with breasts, then without breasts, and then again with breasts. Her oogling of the Chief of Police made me a bit uncomfortable. Yes we are sterotyped as having surgery to have sex with guys, but in fact many still remain attracted to women.

My hope is that folks who are LGBT will see this as an attempt, although a bit comedic, to protray a post-op woman. At least they used a man for the role of Georgette. I have a pet pieve against usig natal women to portray MTF transsexuals.

As of yesterday this episode is available on the TNT website.

I watched it yesterday and have some comments. I have met this character (as portrayed by Bridges) over and over and over during my 15 or so exposure to transland. I've met her both pre and post op versions. Bridges did do his homework and that is the real issue here. Trans people need to start living in the real world. Every single reaction to the character is one I have witnessed. Every one.

This show dealt with those reactions, the central character of the series, Brenda, never once slipped on pronouns and a running gag on the show since it's beginning is her own sometimes discomfort and often over the top femininity to compensate.

The trans character was, in the end, treated with respect, accepted even by his former partner who has real macho attitudes. What the hell do you expect from mainline tv? It really isn't ever gonna be better than this was especially when you have transwomen saying "at least they had a man doing the part, I hate GGs doing this"....as a woman with a classic intersexed/transexed background who blends in just fine with other women, I never cease to be amazed by this sort of attitude.