Eric Marcus

Learning About Trans People

Filed By Eric Marcus | November 30, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: GLBT, Kate Davis, Robert Eads, Southern Comfort, trans, transgender

My post last Sunday about rules for answering GLBTQ questions generated a heated back and forth over what trans people prefer to be called (among other trans issues). The exchange just confirmed for me that when I'm asked questions about trans people that I should stick only to the most basic answers and then refer the questioner on to other resources and/or people who know better. When I answer questions about homosexuality I rely heavily on my own experience and personal stories. When it comes to questions about trans people, I can't speak from personal experience.

Maybe it's a copout, but I think trans people should in general speak for themselves. That said, since "G" and "T" are part of what has become the GLBTQ movement, none of us benefits from remaining clueless about the experiences of the people who fall into categories outside the one (or two) in which we place ourselves.

By coincidence, last week I was given a copy of a profoundly moving documentary about trans people called Southern Comfort. I'm guessing that it's a documentary that's familiar to trans people (it was released in 2000), but I'd never heard of it before.

Here's how the film is described in the promotional copy:

With a masterful eye for emotional detail, award-winning filmmaker Kate Davis takes us to the back hills of Georgia and into the world of Robert Eads, a 52-year-old wise-cracking cowboy, warm and gregarious, who was born female and later transitioned into living as a man after bearing two sons. The film finds Robert fifteen years later, during the extraordinary last year of his life, as he falls headlong into a passionate romance with Lola, a vivacious and magnetic woman who was born male.

There is still much that I don't understand about the experiences of people who change genders, but Southern Comfort goes a long way toward demystifying the lives of the people we meet in this eye-opening and compelling film.

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Reformed Ascetic | November 30, 2008 11:00 AM

People who can access this on DVD get to see more of Robert Eads in the extras section.

It is on NetFlix. There are two movies by this name. Read the descriptions or you'll be in for a disappointment if you order the wrong one.

Eric - 'Southern Comfort' is shown frequently on the cable channel Logo. It seems to me that anyone who wants to keep abreast of lgbtq issues/cultures should keep an eye on Logo. It saya a lot about us, for better or worse.

Okay tristam, stop rubbing it in... We can't get Logo! :(

But I admit, I've never seen the movie. Netflix here I come!

Personally, I liked the 'Southern Comfort' with Powers Booth and that Carradine kid(don't recall which, but not David) better, but hey, I am an action movie kind of girl. Robert's story is just too depressing.

Back when I started transition, I was given a copy of that, Normal, and some other things. this was back at a time when you could still get me to watch things on trans issues. Now a days, well most of it is too depressing because, hey, I have lived it, I don't need to be reminded about what a raw deal many transgrrls get in this life.

Day of Rememberence, sorry I am almost out of Effexor and do not have the money for more, if I want to get depressed and kill myself, I will just give in to my Bi-Polar. For me, avoidance is a mental health issue.

And just for informations sake Eric, I like being called Elle, Ms, or Ma'am. Calling someone by what they are, rather than who just seems rude to me.

Otherwise I am a post-operative transwoman. Anything else might get you hexed.

Claire Jennifer | December 1, 2008 10:31 AM

Dear Eric,


I keep hearing this. I heard it at our TDoR a lot, yet there were over 100 people attending, so I do think we do a pretty good job of getting out, and speaking out.

Some of us are open and out, but understandably not all are, because all we really want is to live out our gender roles, in peace.

We also have the obvious fears of violence, unemployment, loss of family and friends etc to deal with, especially if we come out.

I think that for all trans people to speak out would take an awful lot of courage. We do, on occasion, have trans marches, attend pride parades etc. but most choose to live either stealthy lives, or come out only in safe spaces, with like minded people.

I live in so called "red-neck-country", but at least it is in California, and my transition has gone without incident, so far, fingers crossed. Every single person I have come out to has been understanding, compassionate and supportive.

Having come out to my family, friends, co-workers and neigbors I realise that there is a great deal of tolerance in my world. I am lucky, but education on the subject of gender transition is sadly lacking, i.e. there are a lot of ignorant people out there. But believe me they all have questions, and they ask them.

So I do agree with you that we trans-people need to speak up for ourselves more, because society still considers us to be freaks or perverts, and it is usually because of this ignorance.

I also want you to know that a large number of people are already speaking out.

Just like any discriminated body of people we are not all blessed with the courage, or opportunity to educate others, but those who can do.


Eric, don't feel bad. I'm trans myself and I don't always know what trans people think.

Eric, I don't think it's a cop out to say that trans folks should speak for themselves. I think much of the controversy here on the site about the HRC's TDOR videos shows that this is exactly what the trans community expects - to speak for themselves.

The problem isn't "speaking out"'s those who do don't acknowledge those who disagree with them. But what do I know?....I'm the anti-trans.

Monica, It has come to the attention of the editors that you frequently use the phrase "So say the Ori" to tag Cathryn's comments. While your (plural) presence is valuable on Bilerico, I am asking you both to please refrain from sniping. Please note that I'm making no judgement about the right or wrong nature of your (plural) words, but because feelings are needlessly hurt by them, why not consider refraining from commentary on each other for awhile? You are both articulate and have ample room to express yourselves in separate rings of this circus tent -or - be really big and privately contact each other and construct a mutually acceptable way to interact. (And, please pardon my intrusion, but I've been deputized.)

Sorry, Sheriff, but I fergot ta check in my guns as I wandered inta town. My mistake. I'll just mosey on over to the Pink Belle Saloon and order me up some sasperella, heavy on the "sas." They still got that lesbian strip poker game goin' on?

Dear Monica, that lesbian strip poker game is still going, but if you get to the Pinke Belle by 10PM, you can catch my first set. I'll be opening with the Rosemary Clooney number from White Christmas: "Oh Love, You didn't do right by me". Cathryn and Maura will be there as well, and if you all interrupt my song, watch out, cuz I'm packin heat.

I have heard of yer singin' when I was in Tombstone. The Earp brothers said you looked pretty damn good in that can-can dress. I hears that the drunk cowpokes like it too. I think I'll just stick to my sasperella. I like knowin' who I'm wakin' up with the next day. You're packin'

Cathryn Platine and I have a mutual friend who belongs to the same Pagan religious group that Cathryn does.

I find it offensive, as a Pagan, when your efer to another Pagan by the title of a villanous fictional group characterised by fundementalist and extremist views.

Can we not be free from religious slurs here on Bilerco?
I would remind you that it is generally the Christians blocking trans-rights and saying the most outrageous things about them. As a rule, Pagans are very LGBT supportive.

You have used this clearly anti-Pagan line of attack and slur a few time here Monica. Please have the decency to stop it. Many Lesbian activist are Pagan and they might get the wrong idea...

You are really stretching on this one. Father Tony gave me shit about commenting (which in my opinion should not have been public, since others have not been.) You had no business adding to it. My beef with Cathy has nothing to do with religion, and to say it does is nothing but crap. Her religion is not my concern. Her attitude is, as is yours.

My attitude, Monica?
I simply asked you to stop using a reference to a reprehensible religious group as a method of an attack upon a Pagan,

Is that is what getting to know trans people is about? I am sure that this is not what you wish the Lesbian community to come away with.
You and I have pulled together on issues Monica. We may not agree upon everythign, but our areas of agreement are far greater than our areas of disagreement.

I am saying that using a noxious fictitional religious organisation as a term of insult to a Pagan might be thought of as an attack upon Pagans and our beliefs in general.

What I am asking of you is not outrageous Monica, and dovetails nicely with the thematic flow of the article.

And, Monica, as a Pagan and as a Lesbian activist who can see fallout from this sort of thing, and given the existence of a document known as the first amendment, yes, I do have a right to jump in so long as I stay polite and on topic. And this is certainly part of the topic...the other components of the LGBT community's relationship to and knowledge of trans-individuals or individuals of operative hstory howsoever they identify, and how they relate to us.

What I was seeing here is creating a situation where you came up with an excuse for being angry based on something you thought existed, then created it out of thin air. You took a reference to fictitious characters, created from the imagination of writers who write for a science fiction television show that has no bases in reality. I think a grip on reality is important.

I can take all kinds of things you said and create a situation where I can show anger. Example: I am a published science fiction writer and have a deep love of the genre. I see your comments as offensive to my love of sci-fi.

I had a girlfriend who physically abused me and her name was "Maura." So, your name offends me.

I am a Christian and you used the word "Pegan" in your comment. That offends me.

I have seen this thousands of times, where a group takes a simple statement by LGBT person and they twist it around to have an excuse to be angry or to scare others. It comes from the Religious Right. I didn't think I'd see it here.

I have no concern for what Cathy's religious is. The fact that she is a Pegan is probably the most sensible part of her life, and she has done good because of it. So, let's try to avoid reading things between the lines that don't exist, especially when it was just one line.

Eric and Serena,I may be a contrarian, but I welcome allies who speak on our behalf -- and realistically that you and others may situations where you need to do so anyway. (Much as I'm asked occasionally to answer questions about gay/lesbian cultures.)

That said, there's a big difference between speaking for someone else and speaking on behalf of them.

The latter implies being upfront that you're speaking about someone else's experiences and that you may have imperfect and incomplete knowledge about them. But I think one can still make a good faith effort at explaining -- much in the way you've outlined Eric -- but I also think it's OK to relate what you've been told or heard from trans people.

The key is speaking on other's behalf with humility and deference.

The absence is part of what has a number of trans people livid about HRC's TDOR. That is was probably done more out of oblivious rather than malice doesn't really matter. The other issue driving the anger is obviously HRC's track record. I'm sure people would've been as upset had it come from another LGBT organization -- although there still would've been annoyance if the video had been produced without any input from the trans communities (just as I'm sure gays and lesbians would be annoyed if the situation were reversed.)

FWIW, as far as the "what do trans people prefer to be called question," here's a few suggestions from my outreach speaking engagements. I find it can be useful to talk about descriptions first and then mention labels later. E.g. along the trans spectrum there are people who primarily feel body dysphoria, some whose discomfort is more around the social aspects of gender, and some who feel both. Some people feel the needs to live full-time as another gender, some people would like to be can't due to circumstances and some people find that part-time satisfies their needs.

Once you get to labels, one can talk the more commonly used ones -- as well as ones that there's general agreement to avoid -- but point out that there's different POVs within the trans communities (e.g. just as gays and lesbians have different POVs about "queer') and that these labels are evolving. So that it's also best to ask a particular person what they'd like to be called.

Great Post! I can not talk about other T- People's thoughts, Only my own! Today I went to Staples to buy some suplies. I know big Deal! I was dressed in my male mode. Why does that matter? Because out of 5 people that talked to me and had conversations with me, 4 called me Mame, Lady or other female pronouns! I was in Heaven!!!!! I hate being called SIR! A little old lady and I had a 10 min conversation about a computer device I happen to have. She went to her husband and and said to Him " That nice lady over there has one of these, and she uses it in her business. She said It works good and she likes it! Lets buy It!" a 25 min shopping visit to Staples changed my mood from OMG Monday, Its raining, Bad mood into - Wow, Its not raining much, the sun is coming out! What a Nice day!

I would never dare to tell anyone what a Gay person feels, acts, or defines themselves as, it is not my place! I can not speak for anyone else, only me!

Do I have Gay friends?
Yep! I also have straight friends!

Do I think same sex marriages should be legal?
Yes! Absolutely! No Question!

Do I think HRC represents T-people?
NO! They should not say they are at all!
HRC does not understand how bad their own history of treating T-People as a third or worse class of people is so blatant and offensive!

The best label that almost everyone likes is "FRIEND" said with a smile in your voice! You do not have to mess around with Pronouns that your unsure of!

Dawn Storrud | December 1, 2008 10:44 PM

How much you need for efex and where to send it

Thanks for your post. I like: I'm Transsexual and my name is "Robin". How are you and how do you live? That's as far into the controversy I'm willing to go, to busy transitioning.