Alex Blaze

Like a bad game of Telephone

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 01, 2010 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Delaware, police, rehoboth beach, shirtless, topless, transgender

I read lots of LGBT news, both in LGBT and straight media. And lots of times the way stories about transgender people in straight media are covered makes it impossible to know what's going on. One would think that out of mere respect for the English language and their readership these people would like to get their pronouns straight, but apparently not.

Anyway, here's a good example of what I'm talking about:


Rehoboth Beach lifeguards summoned police assistance late Saturday afternoon for a group of transgender men who had their breasts exposed.

The incident happened near the surf off Queen Street around 4:45 p.m. "We have like a bit of an odd problem," the lifeguard reported over the radio. "There are girls on our beach without tops," he continued. "Well there apparently they are transgender and they have female breasts and a [incomplete sentence]. We tried to tell them to put shirts on and they told us they are transgender so that it's illegal to discriminate and I just had a problem with it and that's where we're at right now," he added.

So here I was thinking the story was another instance of trans men being told to cover up, wondering if they had had top surgery and were being treated unfairly or if they were just really cool dudes who don't care what other people think.

Well, read on:

A member of the beach patrol reported the incident to a passing police officer who radioed other officers who responded to Queen Street.

The beach patrol and police insisted the group was not in compliance with city ordinances. One police source says at least two of the men have partially completed the transgender process. He said it appeared they had breast implants but still had the male sex organ.

A beach patrol official backed by four police officers convinced them to cover their breasts.

No arrests were made or citations issued.

So they're transgender women. That changes, really, the entire story.

I personally don't really care if either men or women go topless on the beach. Women and men go topless in Europe on the beach and no little kids get scarred for life, no one dies, and people don't break out into spontaneous orgies. If anything, people out here cover up a lot more than Americans do, year-round, except for on the beach where men wear tiny swimsuits and women sometimes go topless.

But this story is from Delaware and in the US generally women have to cover their nipples and men don't. It's not particularly fair, one could call it "discrimination," but most everyone has come to accept that as the way it is.

Now I'd say that this story doesn't read as complete. It's unlikely that a group of transgender women would be on the beach topless, and, when told to cover up as cisgender women would be told, say that "they are transgender so that it's illegal to discriminate." That's just not discrimination on the basis of trans history, and I'd imagine a group of trans women would know that. It's discrimination on the basis of sex, since men are allowed to go shirtless on the beach, but the way the police officer constructed his sentence that's not what's implied.

So the story already doesn't seem like it went down that way, because the words of the trans people on the beach were relayed over the radio by a police officer who wasn't up to speed on the language, and then put online by a local blogger. It's a game of telephone where no one speaks the same language, so they're playing it by ear and the last person doesn't really know what happened. Language is meant to transmit ideas, and journalists and writers and bloggers are supposed to have enough respect for the craft to be able to get basic facts across.

The story then got picked up by a rightwing radio show, which produced a hate-filled segment replete with callers saying they want to beat up the trans women in question, the host insisting that he doesn't know or understand anything in this story other than that they should have been arrested (how are these the pro-freedom people?), and any caller who didn't say he was disgusted getting cut off. (So don't click the link if you don't need to hear that.)

It's not a huge story, but I was really thinking that the story was completely different for the first few paragraphs. I don't know if this is the case of a local writer not knowing which pronoun to use or intentionally mis-gendering to advance an agenda, but either way it was a lack of craft that got in the way of comprehension.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

polargirl360 | June 1, 2010 3:30 PM

If they are legally male in every aspect by the government which I believe that they are in Delaware, than they should have insisted on exercising their legal rights as men and go topless in public.

This would be a great way for pre and non op transsexual women to draw attention to the paradox of not giving female gender recognition to pre and non op transgender women.

Transgender women should protest the cruel paradox with topless demonstrations in states that they are legally recognized as “fully male”. It is legal for a male to go topless in public, even in front of children. The female breast theory would be a losing prosecution theory since men with gynomastia are legally “fully male” and can go topless even in front of children as well.

I bet the “FULLY MALE” legal recognition of transgender women would change a lot faster than what the incrementalists have been telling the transgender community that more favorable gender recognition will take to achieve if such demonstrations were held, especially in front of children.

Remember that feminists did things just as lewd such as bra burning and in front of children to draw attention to the hypocritical laws men imposed upon them when they didn't have a legal right to go topless.


Inclusion (or not) of the letters "wo," is the only issue relevant to reasonable comprehension of the article.

There's no mystery beyond that. A journalist can't anticipate every flavor of poorly-informed readership, nor anticipate every source of potential confusion.

Sounds accurate to me. The moreso because the account so very clearly implies the women's stance, without indicating the author has any awareness of it.

‘BELIEVE IT OR NOT’ ….Sea Stories from Key West…

So there I was stationed in Key West. As a AT3 I had been sent over to attend a school at the Truman Annex. Typically we would skip lunch and end the day early and go over to Smathers Beach and eat a sandwich and watch the girls play volleyball. Sometimes, European girls would go topless. One day the local Florida Highway Patrolman stopped to chat with us… (he like to set up a speed trap there some days and have his lunch)…
Um… I’m Intersexed and part of that for me means that as a ‘guy’ I have C cup breasts and have had them since I was 10. I don’t take off my shirts ever. 140f in the shade? My shirt stays on and I sweat. A few girls were topless and the office got out of his car and talked to them and told them to cover up since Smathers Beach is a family beach.
It wasn’t unusual for us to bet a buck or two on silly stuff. One of the guys that I had worked with for over a year and had gone thru Navy A school was wondering if I would get a ticket if I went topless.

When the officer came back my coworker asked the Officer if I was topless would he give me a ticket. The officer (who we all knew from him attending our safety briefings every quarter) said “It depends, let me see what we’re talking about”…
Now, I am SHY and I would rather fry than go topless. But both the guys and the Officer were curious …and really so was I. So, I pulled up my t-shirt and the Officer said “Put the shirt down or I’ll have to fine ya.”

Of course that’s Florida and its laws are different. Essentially, if the Officer in ‘good faith’ makes the judgment that the person’s breast’s are obvious its considered an infraction of the law so long as they have a law that does pertain to obscene display, public nudity or topless women. If they do have a law that only pertains to ‘topless women’, even then a man with gynecomastia is considered to be covered under that law since they have breasts [and we all know only women can have breasts] [I blame the national lack of good biology classes since ALL mammals have mammary glands]
Here’s the crappy part. If a guy with gynecomastia wears a bikini top that can be construed as an obscene display. In my experience, if you’re a guy with boobs, keep them covered if you’re at the beach.

polargirl360 | June 1, 2010 6:19 PM

Obscene is almost completely subjective and arbitrary. Prosecuting on those grounds would only aid the transgender and intersex cause further.

The officer probably was ill informed of the law in your situation, especially if he presumed you were a cissexual male. No man with gynomastia has ever been convicted of obscenity for going topless that I've ever heard of. Topless women laws are irrelevant when transgender women are legally considered men and public nudity laws are not applicable to topless men as well.

This is an aspect of transgender rights where sex workers can actually be politically beneficial to the general transgender population while making a buck and passively advertising their services.

This paradox situation is like the married lesbian couple in Texas that is embarrassing the hell out of the attorney general there.

A group of us who were denied recognition of our target sex did threaten to go topless in Parliament House here in Australia. They caved.

polargirl360 | June 2, 2010 2:38 AM

Who caved; parliament or the TGI group?

If enough of these demonstrations occurred, some law(s) would obviously have to be enacted quickly to stop the disorder it would cause.

The USA has a lot more transgender women than Australia. Topless demonstrations could work here if they are persistent. The relative sexual immaturity of American men makes the demonstrations all the more effective.

From a transman's perspective: Pre-op, Post-op, I don't care. As long as transsexual and cisgender women cannot go topless, transmen and cisgender men should not go topless. It is unequal treatment and I find it offensive that women's breasts are so scandalous that they must be covered, lest men go crazy and start sucking on them in public.

Another episode of trans-gender idiocy.

polargirl360 | June 2, 2010 12:10 PM

Why is it smart for lesbian feminists to burn their bras and go topless to protest inequality yet stupid for transgender women to do the same minus the bra burning?

We all know how the tasteful, “we are just like you", incrementalist approach worked for queers. {Sarcasm}

DADT actually made military service WORSE for queer service people. Immediately prior to DADT, if a service person was discovered to be queer, they were discharged with all ties to the military severed without further obligation to the military. Now, if a military service member's most discrete and confidential admission to being queer even to civilians in the civilian world, they broke the tell clause of DADT and are now legally liable for financially compensating the military for all education and training received that they weren’t before DADT.

I bet you are one of those "smart" lesbians that thinks DADT was a compromise. LOL

This post is something to keep in mind when you can't understand why transgender people would rather see ENDA defeated than passed with the Barney Frank bathroom provisions attached to it.

Over on Feministe, they're saying that this story is so completely fucked up that they actually got the gender of the trans people in question *completely* confused. These weren't male-to-female transsexuals. They're female-to-male transsexuals and/or genderqueers on the transmasculine spectrum! The surgical breast enhancement? Breast REMOVAL.

The telephone game gets even worse.