Rebecca Juro

Transphobia In Mainstream Media: Are The Right-Wingers The Real Problem?

Filed By Rebecca Juro | January 14, 2010 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Keith Olbermann, media, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, tranny bashing, transphobia

It seems like all too often when you tune your radio or television to mainstream news and talk shows these days, there's good reason to be at minimum pretty annoyed, and sometimes even genuinely pissed off and angry if you're a transgender person or ally. Despite decades of progress made in the area of LGBT acceptance and representation in mainstream media, the problem of transphobia in mainstream media remains pervasive and seemingly virtually unchecked in some quarters, even in media specifically directed toward politically progressive and left-leaning audiences.

While there are probably few on either the left or the right who'd find it unusual for pundits and their guests on Fox News or similar media to enthusiastically bash transgender and gender-variant people, it amazes me how this kind of thing is all but completely ignored by just about everyone when it happens on a show popularly considered to be liberal and/or left-wing.

Let's take "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" as an example. On a broadcast last year that took place shortly after the incident, Keith's guest, author and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, was humorously bashing Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean for her negative response to pageant judge Perez Hilton when asked if she supported same-sex marriage. Toward the end of the segment, Musto jokingly offered that in addition to her breast enhancements, the Miss USA pageant officials also paid for Prejean to "cut off her penis, sand her Adam's apple, and get a head-to-toe waxing," along with other transphobic insults. Olbermann's reaction, as far as I could tell, was to simply chuckle right along along with Musto's transphobic jokes.

No one I'm aware of in our community media or our advocacy organizations, mainstream or otherwise, took any notice of Musto's transphobic spewings on Countdown that night. As a loyal Countdown viewer myself, I suspect that many did what I did when I saw the original broadcast live, which was to think to myself "Michael Musto is sooo last century. Why can't Olbermann have someone good on, at least someone who doesn't look and sound like he just time-warped in from 1985?" Unfortunately, that's all I did. I didn't write about it, I didn't call it out, I didn't use my platform here at the Bilerico Project to make people aware of it. I just acknowledged my disapproval of Musto's blatant transphobia internally and moved on. I was wrong. I should have done more.

Then there was the hate crimes bill, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. When Rachel Maddow reported on its passage on her show, she mentioned that the bill covered gender identity, but she never mentioned that this meant that transgender and gender-variant citizens were protected as well. In fact, a viewer who was hearing about these issues for the first time on that show would have learned that this new law would cover gays and lesbians in the event of a hate crime, but nothing about anyone one else. In fact, the only thing in the entire segment to even allude to the inclusion of transgender and gender-variant Americans in the protections of this new law was a quote from Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese who used the word "inclusive" to describe it.

This, of course, is a very different issue than the one with Countdown. On that show, Musto's transphobia was blatant, intentional, and not only unchecked but even validated and encouraged by Olbermann's laughing along. In the case of The Rachel Maddow Show, however, we're really talking about a sin of omission. Still bad, and still worthy of challenge, but also unquestionably not as transphobic or as potentially damaging to the public image of transgender and gender-variant people as Musto's bigoted and unchallenged diatribe on Countdown. What we saw on Countdown was transphobia, pure and simple, as well as open disregard and disdain for transgender and gender-variant people and the way we live our lives, presented to Countdown's audience as acceptable humor by Michael Musto and promoted and validated as such by Keith Olbermann. It's frankly amazing to me that a man who delivered one of the best commentaries I've ever heard in favor of same-sex marriage could be so utterly insensitive when it comes to topics and issues affecting transgender and gender-variant people.

What happened months later, in the aftermath of these incidents, is instructive as well.

When Olbermann hosted Michael Musto on "Countdown" again, he brandished a hotel-style desk bell and warned Musto he'd ring it if he went over the line. While this may or may not have been inspired by Musto's transphobic jokes during his previous appearance, Olbermann's turning the situation into an on-air joke for his viewers certainly sent a pretty clear message about what he thinks of the problems some of us have with Musto and his on-air behavior. Interestingly, the bell remained silent as Musto joked this time that one of Carrie Prejean's goals was to "prevent Chastity Bono from transitioning".

"The Rachel Maddow Show" was a different story entirely. Rachel covered President Obama's appointment of transwoman Amanda Simpson to a position at the Department of Commerce recently, and it was everything we could have hoped for. Rachel's commentary was brilliant, striking right to the heart of the issue and skewering those who actually deserve it, those on the right who are up in arms over Ms. Simpson's appointment because she's a transwoman, despite the fact that she's supremely qualified for the position she was appointed to.

To me this dichotomy is nothing short of stunning. I'm a loyal viewer of both shows, but how they've dealt with trans-relevant topics and issues on their shows are so diametrically opposed to each other that if someone wrote a book on the topic they could define those differences as "The Right Way" and "The Wrong Way".

Does it matter that Rachel Maddow is a gender-variant lesbian in her thirties and Keith Olbermann is a middle-aged straight guy? My bet is that it does, at least a little.

When Rachel's show essentially erased transgender people from a segment about the hate crimes law, I (and I'd bet many others) wrote to her and let her know that we weren't happy. We sent her stories to cover (I personally sent her the piece about Amanda Simpson from ABC's website that she used in the segment, as I'm sure many did), and we told her why it mattered to us. When the opportunity presented itself, Rachel rose to the occasion and gave us a terrific segment, not only on Amanda Simpson but also on the new anti-discrimination regulations protecting gender identity and expression in federal employment recently put into place by the Obama Administration.

My guess is that many like myself were moved to write to Rachel, far more than probably wrote to Keith Olbermann about Musto, in the expectation that she'd understand because she's family. I believe it very likely that many LGBT viewers who enjoy "The Rachel Maddow Show" on its own merits also feel a connection to Rachel and want to cheer her on and support her because she's one of us. I know that for me at least, Rachel being who she is certainly made it seem worth the effort to write her in the hopes of better transgender coverage. Olbermann on the other hand, didn't inspire me with the same kind of confidence, not because he's straight or traditionally-gendered but because of his laughing along with Musto. In short, while what I know about Rachel Maddow inspired me to contact her and express my views, what I saw from Olbermann during the Musto segment said to me that it wasn't worth the bother. I probably should have written him anyway, but it was just hard to see a point to it. I strongly suspect I wasn't the only one who felt this way.

As far as I can detect from simply watching Countdown, Olbermann still doesn't seem to realize that there's a real problem here. Musto's appearances on Countdown have the feel of two middle-aged white guys wisecracking and denigrating whatever doesn't fit into their own limited worldviews. I find this especially striking and hard to accept because as regular viewers know, Keith Olbermann is a true progressive liberal, the kind of person who puts both his money and his media influence where his mouth is to help accomplish good works such as the health care fairs funded by donations from Countdown viewers and promoted on his show. He presents compelling progressively and liberally-oriented commentaries on a variety of important issues, including our own.

Yet it seems that for Keith Olbermann, while gays and lesbians such as Michael Musto and Rachel Maddow can and should be protected from discrimination and are a cause worthy of speaking out on behalf of, transgender and gender-variant people are still appropriate objects of humor and derision on his show, and it's also still acceptable to publicly denigrate an object of liberal and progressive distaste and disgust such as Carrie Prejean by defining her as a transsexual.

This is where the real problem lies. Everyone expects the right-wingers to bash progressive and liberal causes. No one's shocked when Matt Labash calls Rachel Maddow a man on Tucker Carlson's new website, but when Michael Musto bashes transgender people on Countdown with Keith Olbermann snickering along it's a very different story. Those paying attention to Carlson, Beck, Limbaugh, and other right-wing pundits probably aren't going to be in our corner politically anyway, but when someone like Keith Olbermann presents and validates transphobia on his show it can have a much greater and far more damaging impact because it's the people watching his show who are the ones we're going to have to depend on to support us and our equal rights politically when the time comes.

Personally, I believe we have the right to expect, and in fact to demand, that those who define themselves as liberal and progressive pundits in mainstream media actually practice what they preach, at least during the time they're actually on the air. If it's wrong and, as Olbermann put it in his Special Comment on the topic, "horrible" to pass a law taking away the right of gay and lesbian citizens to marry in California, it's just as wrong and just as horrible to present disgusting, offensive jokes about transpeople by defining an anti-gay beauty queen detested and vilified by those on the left as a transsexual. It reeks of a sad time in our nation's history when when political figures and others of note were often defamed by their opposition in the media of the time by accusing them of having Negro ancestry. Such attacks not only define the target as unworthy of equal rights and fair treatment, but also reinforce the idea that the minority group the target is accused of belonging to isn't worthy of such considerations either.

Understand that I'm not saying that I believe that Keith Olbermann is transphobic or personally responsible for Michael Musto's transphobic outburst on his show. As an online pundit and Internet radio host myself, I know there have been many times when a guest has said something on one of my shows that's just made me cringe. The difference here is that not only did Olbermann let Musto continue spewing his transphobia unchallenged, but he also chuckled right along as he did so. As liberals, as progressives, as those on the loyal left who make up a significant part of his audience, I think we have the right to expect better than this, both from a pundit with the progressive and liberal credibility of someone like Keith Olbermann, and from a cable network with the liberal constituency MSNBC boasts.

Also, I want to make it clear that this isn't about bashing Keith Olbermann, Countdown, or MSNBC. Just as in the case of Greg Grunberg, I believe that Olbermann simply didn't realize that Musto's comments would be seen as truly offensive by some of his viewers until after the fact, and honestly, there's still no real evidence that might lead us to conclude that he understands this even now. My issue with Keith Olbermann centers mainly around the fact that someone as demonstrably tuned in, knowledgeable, and staunchly liberal and progressive as he is would not only laugh along with Musto's comments in first place, but then would later mock the concerns of those of his viewers who have been offended by Musto by turning them into minor comedy skit on his show, complete with prop and sound effect.

What this is about is asking the kind of questions that need to be asked every time we see something like this in the mainstream media, and particularly when it concerns pundits speaking to the political left: Why doesn't Keith Olbermann know better? Why doesn't he see the positive, progressive, and inclusive political values he represents on his show as applying to transgender people as well? Most importantly, why should we, as loyal Countdown viewers and part of the show's audience, be willing to silently accept it when it happens just because Olbermann speaks to the political left instead of the right?

The answer, of course, is that we shouldn't stand for it. It's time we started calling out stuff like this publicly, every time we see it, on the blogs, on Twitter, all over online media, no matter what network it happens on or who the host happens to be. It's time we put the mainstream networks on notice that when they allow unchallenged bigotry like this on their shows, we're going to make sure politically-conscious LGBT's and our allies know about it just as quickly as when a politician says something stupid in front of a video camera and it ends up on one of their shows.

The truth is I don't like having to write this. I'm a fan, a loyal Countdown viewer, and I watch the show just about every weeknight. Yet, at the same time, I also have to ask if we can't even get shows on the political left in mainstream media like "Countdown" and hosts as left-wing as Olbermann to treat us and our issues decently, how is it reasonable for us to expect Congress to do it?

We can no longer sit and wait quietly, hoping this will finally be the year that the networks figure this stuff out on their own. With Twitter, the blogs, and so many other ways to communicate and interact with each other online, and with the participation and promotion of GLAAD and other like-minded organizations and activists involved in these efforts, we'll finally have what we need to make our voices heard at a level of reach and impact that's never been possible before now.

It's time to start leveraging the power of our community and what we can accomplish when we join together to make it happen. It's time to stop simply asking for positive change in our mainstream media and start demanding it. It's time to use the tools at our disposal to force the issue and make it one the networks can no longer avoid or ignore. We need to start calling out those on the left when they fail us just as eagerly and as enthusiastically as we do those on the right. Nobody on the right or the left is going to care much if Glen Beck is popularly seen as transphobic, nor probably even Michael Musto, but I doubt the same can be said for Keith Olbermann.

Nobody (I know of) really wants to attack media pundits who they enjoy watching or listening to and agree with the vast majority of the time, but just as we can't hesitate to call out Democrats who fail their constituencies, the same must be equally true here. Just as we may speak out about problems we have on some issues with politicians who nonetheless still get our votes at election time, so must we also be willing to call out our favorite shows and pundits when they fail to measure up. We may not like having to do it, but it's only by calling these things out publicly and doing it consistently, regardless of the source, that we can be even reasonably assured that any success we may have in the short-term will have a chance of evolving into a long-term policy of respect for and fair representation of transgender and gender-variant people in mainstream media.

While we've obviously gotten through loud and clear to some, others have not yet demonstrated that they too understand that you can't really call yourself liberal or progressive when you're facilitating and promoting what essentially amounts to transphobic hatespeech on your show, even if you personally find it funny. There's a lot more work to do here, and it's up to us to do it.

Turn on the TV and fire up the Twitter. Our basic civil rights are on the table this year, and it's time to get serious about this.

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Interesting place to post this.

Just saying, and leaving it at that.

I would say the same thing about this comment: interesting place to put it; for those who live in an ahistorical space, you were a valued contributor to this website for how long?

This comment, as well as your resignation, hardly bears comment.

Transphobia condoned by or unchallenged by allies isn't "the real problem," although it certainly doesn't do anything to facilitate change, and does leave people open to a whole lot of feeling betrayed, depending on how often it happens or how it's justified.

But I see this the way I see all trans activism. If people want to support us, that's great, but we can't depend on them to make the change. Challenge the transphobia, challenge the silence, and while we're at it, examine some of our own prejudices when we find them (one possible of many:

Just keep going. Many miles ahead.

I disagree, Mercedes. In the case of mainstream media in particular, transphobia presented and validated on a show considered to be left-wing and liberal can do far more damage than when it comes from pundits on the right.

We now have the technological tools we need to have a real impact when something like this happens, and it's time we started using them. They worked well with Greg Grunberg and I see no reason not to use similar tactics in a case like this and to keep using them as long as they continue to have the desired effect.

The fact is that we simply can't afford the political cost of this kind of thing anymore, particularly when ENDA may be on the table again in as little as a month. It's time we forced the issue and keep forcing it until we get the results we want and need.

Part of the problem (and someone like Musto... who's been a transphobe for years) is believing anyone who's LGBT gets a free ticket to speak for or reference parts of the community of which they aren't members. Musto is a bad example of it, but so is Ron Gold and so are some of the posts by cispeople on trans issues on this site. Another bad example would be the recent offensive essay by Mandy Van Deven on Briarpatch Magazines' online site: where she upbraids transpeople for being unusually classist... as though feminists or lesbians aren't.

Inclusiveness and broad coalitions have a lot of complications, one of which is people who are way on the outskirts or even really outside a community suddenly feeling they have a right to comment about issues they know nothing about or pretend familiarity (and b.s. solidarity) with groups they, in fact, are hostile to or ignorant of. Another example of this is use of the term "tranny" which LGBT members fling around as though they been given a pass and right to use it at will, much less use it to ridicule transwomen. It's an issue which needs to be much more extensively addressed before real equality within the LGBT umbrella can be reached.

Part of the problem (and someone like Musto... who's been a transphobe for years) is believing anyone who's LGBT gets a free ticket to speak for or reference parts of the community of which they aren't members.

I don't think that was a problem, at least for KO. I don't think he realized that what Musto was saying was hurtful to a group of people, and didn't even think of his joke as being "about" a group of people.

Musto, on the other hand, may or may not have made the same joke had he not been gay. That we'll never know.

Just my opinion.

Good post, Becky. We ought to be paying more attention instead of just thinking, "It's someone else's problem to respond."

Alex, Musto has been making transphobic remarks for nearly 25 years. He basically thinks of all transwomen as drag queens and since he views himself Mr. Gay Club Party Boy (in his own mind, anyway) he thinks it's his right to mouth off about trans issues. Basically, he's a lightweight version of Jim Fouratt, someone he knows well from the NYC club scene. I think Olbermann wants someone, anyone from the "LGBT" community who can crack a joke and talk about gay stuff. He very likely considers Amanda Simpson "gay stuff" just like Musto does. I agree with Rebecca how "progressives" mouthing off transphobia (such as many old school feminists) create a lot more harm and problems for transpeople than, say, a right wingnut saying it. It's taken as a legitimate opinion by a lot of people (although I suspect most people think Musto is the tedious idiot he always seems to be).

I'll admit to not knowing much about Musto, and his motivations are most likely more than mere ignorance, but since he was there commenting on Carrie Prejean, he really was commenting on "gay stuff." Although I do have to question why a serious news show would want to devote an entire segment to someone like Miss California-USA.....

Has KO himself ever done commentary on trans issues, does anyone know?

Not that I'm personally aware of, Alex, and I've been watching Olbermann nightly for a few years now. I've long since lost track of how many times he's had Musto on the show, though.

Not only does Olbermann never comment about gender issues, but I'm certain that her mention of Amanda Simpson was Maddow's first mention of such issues. I do agree with some of what Jessica says... if LGBT is supposedly one big family, and the vaguely defined "transgender" umbrella is one big family, then are all members of the family somehow "insiders" when it comes to commenting on the other parts of the family? Is someone who crossdresses one weekend a year "family" if he says something homophobic and therefore, somehow get a pass that he isn't being discriminatory? From Musto's history of transphobic commentary, he seems to believe "since I'm a gay man, and transsexuals are gay, therefore I can comment on them any way I want and, since I'm an insider, it'll be okay (or taken with a wink)."

Family membership comes with both burdens and privileges. The burdens are possible discrimination (although, let's face it, some family members get it a LOT worse than others). But being in the family also means you get a "key" to talk smack about other family members. The more (in my mind) overarchingly inclusive the family gets, the more vaguely defined, the more issues like this the family will have (and members will feel like breaking off from the family). To bring it back to a personal level, I increasingly don't want people who know squat about my life and experience speaking for me, either in an attempt to explain who I am, what I should be doing or to make jokes at my expense.

Gina, I think you're right that this is Rachel's first stab at trans issues too, but look at the difference here.

In Rachel's case, at first she stumbled a bit (with the erasure of trans identities from the hate crimes segment), but then recovered brilliantly. In Olbermann's case, he and Musto dove right over the edge and kept going, completely (as far as I can tell) unrepentant and unapologetic, even enthusiastic.

There's a very big difference here between the two shows and the way they handle these issues on-air, and it needs to be defined and explained, which I've tried to do here.

I also agree that Olbermann and Musto probably think that just because Musto is gay that gives him license to bash transfolks with impunity whenever and wherever he likes. Personally, I think it's time they learned that those days are long over, and that we can and will fight back when attacked, no matter who's responsible.

That's a misrepresentation. Van Deven writes: "Would-be transgender activists must often favour their own material conditions above collective advocacy in order to simply survive – a position working-class feminists and feminists of colour have been arguing for decades regarding their place in the movement for women’s liberation."

Among other ideas ginasf is quite correct when she points to the pass certain privileged members of LGBt populations are given: the white, middle-class, middle-age, or older, gay men.

Whether its Ron Gold on this site, or Michael Musto on Countdown, why would anyone criticize them from the mainstream? Those who do are themselves criticized as not supporting their family, as it was put in your piece, Rebecca, when you write of Rachel Maddow. I'm not sure how a gender-variant lesbian is implicated in a repeated item that speaks of

cut off his penis and sanded his Adam's Apple?

When all is said and done there is no one left but transsexual women. Where was GLAAD in this? It was all over David Letterman. I emailed Countdown--of course, I didn't receive a reply.

This is, apparently, a bias of some, maybe many, gay men, so, it must be tolerated as the price for our admission into their community and media?

I simply cannot think of a comparable slur transsexual women might use as freely, and publicized as widely, as either Gold's article on this site, or Musto's joke on Countdown.

Nor do I believe that stretching out the only apparent population offended to include transgender and gender-variant people--such as Maddow herself, apparently--gains any headway or does anything more than dilute those directly attacked into nothing more than erasure.

Does Gold's delusion and mutilation include non-op and simply gender-variant people such as Maddow? Does Musto's joke include Maddow, either?

I doubt it, though if we're all transgender how do we differentiate between those transgender who are targeted by penis cutting and Adam's apple sanding?

What is the value of words that are so elastic they really don't mean anything?

This past week, one of my instructors at Carleton University dressed up as Karl Marx; the interesting thing is that she is a cissexual, cisgender woman. Is this performance deluded and mutilated?

Is she a target of Musto's joke?

Given the elasticity of the term transgender and the vehemence of its ideological supporters, she must be. . . ?!?

At the end of the day, I am the target of both these gay men, not my instructor, not Rachel Maddow. Where is the family?

See, this is what happens when you scan a piece but don't read the whole thing.

Musto's transphobic comments were directed toward Carrie Prejean, not Rachel.

I did read your entire piece, Rebecca, it is that I take issue with what I read to be an attempt to dilute what was a slur to transsexual women--women with surgical history--to, somehow, be a slur against transgender and gender-variant people who have no intention of ever having their penis cut off and their Adam's Apple sanded.

You declared Maddow a gender-variant lesbian and that that, somehow, makes her family for women of surgical history.

I emailed Maddow about her focus on gay marriage to the exclusion of the lives and struggles of transsexual people; she has been as silent as Olberman.

I suppose we should, as Alex seems to suggest, give a pass to people who we attribute naivety in regards to the effect of their prejudice--though, as ginasf points out, Musto has been saying this sort of thing for a long time. Maybe, because he's a gay celebrity we should give him a pass, too?

If this is, as demonstrated by Ron Glass, also, a prejudice common among some gay men, not just progressive talk show hosts, shouldn't it be challenged by such enlightened places as Bilerico? Among other venues?

I'm not sure when such magnanimity is granted to transsexual people, or, for that matter, to straight people who make offensive statements about gay people. Remember, Musto made this particular comment in the context of taking retribution on Prejean for making inappropriate comments on gay marriage--does this make such prejudice OK?

When will offence to transsexual people, regardless from where it comes, be challenged, head on, for what it exactly is, not an offence against gender-variant people, regardless of sexual orientation, not transgender people who have no intention of surgery, but, precisely, for those who have their penis cut off and their Adam's Apple sanded?

Where is GLAAD in all this?

Where are all the indignant comments from our family in all this?

I declared nothing of the sort, Jessica. When I said Rachel is family, I was referring to our greater LGBT family, not transpeople specifically nor any trans subgroup. Anything more than that is not what I wrote or intended to say, and exists only in your own perceptions.

Another thing: It's extremely rare that you'll get a response to anything you write directly to a mainstream show or host on a national network. Do you have any idea how much email these people get? There simply aren't enough hours in the day for any show or host to reliably offer you the kind of response you seem to expect here.

That said, I can tell you with certainty that anything you send to a show on a major network will be read by someone at that network. Whether action is taken as a result is another story, but I do know for a fact that networks take viewer comments very seriously, particularly when many write in saying the same things.

And as far as GLAAD goes, they were instrumental in the Greg Grunberg effort, and I can tell you for a fact that they are aware of this issue, and of this posting. Of course, I can't speak to what actions they may take on this issue, but I can say that they were there for us last time, and I expect the same to be true this time as well. Remember this is still brand-new. Give these folks a little time to come up with a plan of action before you condemn them for not doing anything.

Who is Ron Glass? Never heard of him. Is he a host, an activist, what? Links please.

I remember when Musto was on Countdown. I didn't think to write to KO, because I didn't feel like he was responsible for Mr. Musto's material. I did go to Mr. Musto's blog, and email a comment to him. I've never received any sort of reply, or even an acknowledgment. Smarmy bastard.

Sue Lefkowitz | January 15, 2010 9:32 AM

I disagree. The type of people who are watching KO and MSNBC are not the people who attack us in the street. I think transphobia coming from the "Right" is more dangerous.

I disagree Sue. Those who watch Olbermann are the people we have to depend on to support and vote in favor of our basic civil rights when they're on the table. To my way of thinking, that's why the damage done by seeing transphobia on "Countdown" can be far more impactful to our community and our struggle for equality than when similar things happen on networks like Fox.

So, let me understand this:

Our concern is not to be with those who say these vile things, whether Musto or Glass--who seem to share enough demographic characteristics to be considered part of the same population, or maybe, community or even family--but with those media, KO/MSNBC, and Bilerico for granting them a platform for what they say?

I suppose education of these parts of our community or family is out of the realm of possibility.

I don't believe other members of our community or family would be let off so easily.

Sauce for the goose is definitely not sauce for the gander.

Again I have to ask if you actually read the article Jessica. I ripped Musto and Olbermann pretty well in the piece for what they did, and nowhere did I say or infer they should be let off the hook.

Ah, I think I know who you mean now by your mention of Bilerico in this latest comment. Assuming I'm correct, the person you're actually referencing is Ron GOLD, the man who authored the transphobic post that got so much attention over recent weeks.

Y'know, Jessica, it's really best to do your homework and actually know and understand who and what you're talking about before you start typing.

I missed the episode where Musto had made the original comments, but I have sent Olbermann emails in the past for transphobic stuff -- I especially remember one skit (yes, skit) where they had a man in a dress 'reenact' an angry outburst a woman had made. The Musto comments are *not* an isolated incident for that show, and I've gotten to where I can't watch Keith very often. (The transphobia was the last straw, but not the main reason.)

But I never miss Rachel. She doesn't seem to have much background in trans stuff, but she does seem to 'get it' when things are explained to her. I think that eventually she will end up being an important ally.

I'm with Phoebe. I stopped watching Olbermann about a year ago. Way too strident. I never miss Rachel. Anyway, they all seem to have the same stories on, and she says it so much better than he.

I was just about to post the same thing - in response to a woman getting upset at being referred to by a name she preferred not to use (I think she was an Elizabeth who hated being called Liz or something) Countdown did a skit that put a man in a wig and a pink pant suit and mocked her for being shrewish and bitchy.

I interned there for a while and just knowing the make up of the staff, I can tell you getting that particular guy to be the woman in that skit was likely deliberate and not just a matter of "OH WHO'S WILLING TO DO THIS!"

I think I remember one blog mentioning it and that was it. I hate Keith for a lot of reasons, but that stupid little segment really made me cry.

Sue Lefkowitz | January 15, 2010 6:16 PM

Having worked in HIV/AIDS prevention, I met lots of Gay men as clients and co-workers. Very feminine Gay men like Michael Musto think that they can be in touch with their feminine side without "mutilating themselves" or denying their birth gender. They think TG people are Gay men in denial. If that works for them ,cool. I think they are TG's in denial.

Angela Brightfeather | January 16, 2010 1:52 AM


I did write Olberman that evening and asked him why he would air something like that and let Musto get away with such transphobic remarks on his program.

But I was ready for it also. I knew fair well that when it was uncovered that Carrie Prejean had surgery to enhance her breasts and the way that she looked in that contest, lines would be coming from somewhere that she was surgically altered and then the next step would be to imply that she is a TS. I was a bit surprised that it came from Olberman's show, but hey, it was a telegraphed punch as far as I was concerned and along the exact same lines as the many TS comments made constantly about Ann Coulter. If I wrote to every pundit who joked about Coulter being TS, I would be pounding the key 24/7.

But I guess what I am saying here is that there are times when you just know that the transpobia is coming. It's as predictable as the sun setting and rising every day. In fact, the one time that I have really been wrong on predicting transphobia that I thought might be a sure thing has been with Palin. Most of the time though, I can sense when it's coming and I know that so do many Trans people that pay attention.

It would be nice if we had some way to voice these instincts before they actually happen, or some way to get a uniform community response to such things, but that may be asking to much.

But the truth is that we will never be able to actually stop transphobic humor on the right or the left. It's going to happen and the more we get politically active, the more it will probably happen.

Angela, I agree that it's gotten to the point where this kind of transphobia is often predictable in mainstream media, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable. The only way it's going to change anytime soon is if we keep calling it out publicly every time it happens.

In addition, we not only have to call this stuff out, we have to do it as loudly and proudly as possible because it's our only hope of being able to counter the far greater media reach and influence of a popular left-wing show like "Countdown" and a network like MSNBC.

The fact that yes, transphobia is so widespread in our mainstream media that it's apparently acceptable to MSNBC to broadcast transphobic hatespeech on their shows and call it comedy. It's our job to teach them that it's not only morally reprehensible, but also that it may cost them dearly in the court of (liberal) public opinion.

We've tried the diplomatic route, but it only works with some, not with others. It's now time to load up our weapons with the most powerful ammunition we have (the ability to get our message out over the Internet with a much more significant and effective reach and impact than ever before), and place that weapon directly against their collective heads, pull back the trigger, and say "Start treating us right or else.".

It's not the way I'd like to go about this, but it's only when we cause a major public stir that these people pull their heads out of the sand enough to even acknowledge that there's a problem. That's why I say that we have to make this an enough of a public issue and do enough damage to the public images of these people and their media platforms (turnabout is fair play, after all) that they simply can't afford to ignore it anymore.

Remember, for the networks it's all about money. It's time to teach MSNBC and others who allow their airwaves to be used to promote bigotry and hatespeech against persecuted minorities that such irresponsibility will come at a price, a price which is as steep as we can possibly make it.

If NBC thinks they're getting raked over the coals now in the media over Conan O'Brian, they ain't seen nothing yet.

Sadly even when I pointed some of this out recently to a few Transgendered on a Yahoo group many of them took offense for my doing so. I ended up withdrawing from that group. I feel until we press this matter we will not get any rights or respect in any quarter. Just as it took over 100 years for Afro-Americans to get the rights they should have, if we do not band together we will likely not see the rights we should have as well at least until we wise up and make it known we will not accept second class treatment any longer.

The existence of transphobia among allies and in the greater queer community is a vitally important issue to address. Has anyone forgotten how easily Barney Frank and the HRC rationalized dropping transgendered people from ENDA?

Too many allies and gays/lesbians/bi's think "trannies" are just men play acting forgetting that probably half the transgendered people in the world are biological females. Not only does transphobia from withing the community virtually erase half the TG community but it dismisses the entire community as nothing more than fetishists.

ShipofFools | January 27, 2010 4:38 AM

I am not from the US, so I don't know the shows that you referred to. But the general idea that left-wingers might be a bigger problem than right-wingers resonated with me.

I have made the frightening experience that I got the strongest transphobia from leftist people, and I have been told about the same by other transpeople.
On the other hand, I have witnessed that out transpeople were treated with respect in environments that are traditionally right-wing over here, like the military or the police.
Conservative relatives are often much more ok with trans children than are leftist relatives and so on.

Is it that, because we seem to "prove" the realness of biological genders, they like us and the left-wingers don't? Also there is an unchallenged tradition of transphobia in leftist politics that equates trans-ness with unnaturalness. Just recently, a successful French film in the tradition of Eat the Rich staged an ftm/mtf couple, and seemed to say that the characters transitioned because they were so poor and oppressed (trans as symbol of the deformations that capitalism causes reminds me a lot of the 1960s when gender transgression and homosexuality was associated with capitalist depravity). All this despite the fact that the trans poeple were the heroes of that film. But in the end they return to their "natural" roles and have a child.
Recently, on Torchwood, a gay/bi TV show, Jack Harkness made a transphobic comment- which was deeply disturbing, because he usually is doing that "I'm from the future where we have millions of genders and everybody is bonking everybody" routine. In the first episode, he even referred to his own past pregnancy. It's often this blend of "gender hipness" and transphobia that makes it so difficult to challenge leftist people.

So either we get used for conservative gender politics to prove the "naturalness" of tranditional gender roles, or we get shunned because we are somehow "unnatural", by people who believe in gender equality.

It all gives me the creeps.

I think we need to take a stand on both fronts.

Thank you for this article. I'm guessing you've Olbermann's recent transphobic commentary about Ann Coulter from just a few days back?

As a trans woman working on awareness and social justice work, it can get increasingly frustrating when the people who seem to carry some of the most transphobic attitudes are those who claim alignment with the left.

I would almost rather they come out as openly prejudiced and bigoted, because at least I would have a sense of who my true allies are and know where were to spend my time and energy.