Tobi Hill-Meyer

The Advocate Thinks I'm Brianna Freeman

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | June 20, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: brianna freeman, denny's, LGBT, nondiscrimination, sloppy journalism, The Advocate

Last week a story a story went around the blogosphere of Brianna tobipic.jpgFreeman, a 45 year old trans woman in Maine, who was suing Denny's after a manager refused to let her use the restroom. The Advocate ran the story last Friday and - apparently figuring that one trans woman's picture was as good as another - they posted my picture along with a caption indicating that I was Brianna Freeman.

I might have laughed it off as a stupid mistake, but glancing down at the comments I can't help but notice that Advocate readers, being the advocates for equality that they are, took the opportunity to pick apart my appearance, judge me based on whether or not I met their definition of a real woman, and discuss how scared they would be to see me in the bathroom.

First, they used a photo of the original photo on display, which was zoomed, cropped, and focused specifically to highlight some peach fuzz chin hairs that I had, so it's not surprising that some Advocate readers who scrutinized the picture noticed and started calling it a "beard." It seems that 99% of the people who look at the original don't notice any facial hair, but that once people are told that it's a picture of a trans woman they are more likely to pick it out.

He looks like a guy wearing a wig. Of course a straight woman is going to freak out when she sees that in the bathroom!

--Mike Scott

I keep telling people that the gay community needs to establish some sort of certificate issuing authority to certify real trans girls because transsexualism is WIDE OPEN TO FRAUD. It won't take long for creeps, such as the lightly bearded fellow pictured here, to take advantage of these people. It'll cost money to issue certificates but post-op girls must be able to get these certificate for free for all of the troubles they went through (and also 'cause they're so cute, hehehe)


I see the beard and no make up and I immediately think this is a guy... she needs to get rid of that beard if she wants to enter the ladies restroom.


Of course they feel entitled to judge my entire life from one closely cropped picture taken over a year ago. They assume that it is somehow obvious to everyone that I'm really a guy, but they don't account for the bias that they were told it was a trans woman who's picture they were looking at. Plenty of people have looked at that photo and assumed I was a cis woman. Not to mention there are plenty of cis women out there who would elicit similar responses if their picture was posted online along with a statement that they are trans woman who's getting too uppity.

In reality, I passed just fine even when I let the hairs on my chin grow out a little. They were thin, with little pigment, and took up less than a square inch on my face - most people never noticed them. I never had any problems using public bathrooms. And the only time anyone mentioned my chin hairs was after they found out that I was trans.

And while so many of the commenters were picking apart my appearance, I find it telling that many of them commented on my attractiveness (or lack thereof). "Me," the commenter who wants a regulatory agency to determine who is and isn't a real trans woman specifically to have an official statement that I don't qualify also mentions that he finds trans women - excuse me, trans girls - to be "so cute, hehehe." Ozzy says "And my biggest issue is that she is not ugly, I've seen people in transition that struggle and would love to have her looks." Even one commenter who takes others to task for saying that women with facial hair should not be allowed to use the restroom feels the need to comment "my only objection to her being transgendered is she looks like she was probably a really cute guy ;)"

What does my or other trans women's attractiveness have to do with the ability to file a non-discrimination suit? Unfortunately, more than it should. These commenters parrot the larger discriminatory messages that women's only value is in their looks, and that rights should only be extended to trans women based on their ability to look like a cis woman.

I wish I could say that I'm surprised to see this coming from an LGBT publication, but this is The Advocate we're talking about here. They've stepped on their feet so many times in the past few years, whether they are comparing effeminate men to bigots, using the wrong pronouns for trans women (even after being told to correct them), or making racist statements, they just seem incredibly sloppy and unaware of basic anti-oppression issues.

Their blog simply regurgitates news briefs from elsewhere and apparently they can't even do that right. Unless they are willing to clean house and get a few editors who actually know what they are doing, it's beyond time for them to close their doors. Much more of this and their legacy as a beacon of activism and advocacy will be nothing more than a joke.

Update: For everyone else confused as to how this happened, I think I figured it out. There is a blog which posts trans related news items and a brief about me and the multiracial photo exhibit this picture of me comes from is right next to brief about Brianna Freeman. Anyone paying attention would notice that the news brief about me says "(photo)" at the end and the one about Brianna does not. But apparently The Advocate does the bare minimum of work when the news they are reporting on is about a trans woman.

Further Update: The Advocate has now taken down the picture and put up the statement: "Editor's note: The photo that previously accompanied this article was mistakenly identified as Brianna Freeman. We wish to express our apologies and regret the error." They also deleted any comments referencing the picture itself, whether they were criticisms of my appearance, refutations of the other transphobic comments, or requests to take the picture down.

On one hand, I'm appreciative that such hateful comments were taken down, but on the other hand I do not think they were taken down because they were hateful. If they had been commenting on an actual picture of Brianna Freeman, I doubt the Advocate would have deleted the comments. Instead I can only conclude that they were only taken down because they make the Advocate look bad. And while there is an apology, the advocate doesn't mention what they are apologizing for. They don't say that they are apologizing for exposing a random woman to bigoted and hurtful remarks. They don't chastize their commenters or even state whether or not they disagree. And they even removed my comment and others calling out and explaining why that behavior is inappropriate. Not to mention, I personally called and emailed - leaving my home phone number - to ask for a personal apology and explanation and haven't received anything yet. I'll update further if I do receive any direct communication, but for now this seems more like damage control and/or a cover up rather than a sincere attempt to make the situation right.

Another Update: I received a written apology today and it's pretty clear the accident was not malicious. I do believe that it is indicative of a large pattern of a lack of attention and awareness paid to trans issues and will be posting an open letter response soon.

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Since when is facial hair a foolproof gender marker? I'd like to say that these yahoos are straight right wing trouble makers, but unfortunately I know better. For what it's worth, I'm sorry that you were subjected to this kind of treatment. Cis gay men should know better.

The Advocate has long been a bastion of gay transphobia, but let's not hang it all on them. The same type of comments appear in trans-related posts on Queerty, Joe.My.God, Towleroad, After Elton and anything written by John Avarosis. You should have read what supporters of Ticked Off Trannies with Knives were writing about people protesting the film. And these remarks come from both self-ID'd sissies and straighter gay men. In fact, I've long gotten used to how some of the most transphobic remarks about trans women come from butch lesbians, not femme ones. It's why this is about community bigotry and self-loathing, not just one publication. And whenever it's brought up, we get more invective for doing so.

In my experience, people from practically all sections of the queer community have issues with butchy looking trans women. If you look at virtually all depictions of trans expressing women in queer art, it's about looking female, displaying how they can't do it very well, ridiculing femininity and trying to look as artificial as possible. (ie not threatening). When it gets too real, queers get freaked out. They want their trans women to look plastic and fake.

Isn't that indicative of a wider problem in society? Namely, the stigmatization of femininity in and of itself? Femininity is marked as being "fake" or "artificial" in so many circles that any form of "real" femininity becomes almost threatening. Hell, that's part of the reason that transwomen face noticeably more stigma than transmen (typically, at least).
And ok, so I'm sort of babbling and that's only a half-formed thought but hopefully someone gets where I'm going with it.

Way ahead of ya there, love ^.^ That's pretty much where the spark for my...I dunno "Pro femme" activism is budding from (whatever you wanna name it). That and the constant attacks fired at fem-gay men by their "butch" brethren.

Read Serano for my Feminist Theory course this past semester and it was easily my favorite of the material we read.

Not surprised the Advocate is not exactly inclusive or progressive. I'ved been appalled by their racism and classim so poor coverage of tranfolk doesn't seem beyond them. I think you look cute. As for chin hair, um anyone who knows a woman over 40 knows that chin hair is not uncommon.

I remember seeing that this week and wondering: "Is that Tobi?" But then I was like "Noooooo, the advocate wouldn't make a mistake like that."

And now here we are. I notice they took it down and left a statement:

[Editor's note: The photo that previously accompanied this article was mistakenly identified as Brianna Freeman. We wish to express our apologies and regret the error.]

They also seem to have deleted those comments you posted.

Still, it's not cool for people to tear apart another person's looks, whether they're basing it on one photo or meeting IRL.

Regan DuCasse | June 20, 2010 3:15 PM

Tobi...I love this article. I suppose, even though I am living in the lookism culture that is Hollywood, I take this issue to heart.
I've always had something of androgynous looks myself, in some ways as self defense, in others...because it's just me.

But I personally could never understand why looks should incite any level of cruelty and humiliation. What's so hard about kindness and respect? It's easy to give, it feels good to give OR receive, and it hurts no one.
Amazing more of it isn't dished out all day long, right?

Another transwoman friend and I had a giggle the other day over the fact that since my hysterectomy, and the spontaneous failure of the one ovary I had left...I get a tiny bit of upper lip fuzz, and a single chin hair that's coarse like a man's chin hair.
That little devil must be plucked every other day.
I don't take HRT, so I takes me chances with the vagaries of whatever aesthetics are convenient.

We're in a strange time. Where certain artificial standards of beauty, are getting too much attention, and airbrushing and hyper expectations about what gender is and what it looks like, are making people absolutely nuts.

I think, despite how much we eschew conformity, there are people in control who still want to turn out star bellied Sneeches. Why would anyone think any of us would be MORE recognizable, if we all look the same?

I wish that the requirements, especially for women, didn't involve things that are painful and expensive. Especially shoes that don't make you end up with feet that podiatrists profit from.

That's why I said fuck it, shaved my head twenty years ago and found cowboy boots to be a unisex equalizer.
Tasteful COMFORT should rule. Plain and simple.

Tobi, just so you know, you did add inspiration for the character in my project and I'm almost done. I'm not sure if I can video the staged reading so you can see it, but you'll be getting a first draft very soon. We're talking a few weeks here.
I thank you so much for your input! You WILL be credited.
Now, I have to find people who speak Farsi.

Hugs, will call you very soon.

Oh yes, Regan, that is exciting. I'd love to see video but either way I can't wait.

Regan DuCasse | June 20, 2010 3:25 PM

I have two question:

1. What does 'cis' mean?

2. Didn't the Egyptians, consider a beard, even attached to a woman's chin and mark of her noble stature?

And to look at the statues and paintings from ancient Greece, there was a LOT of attention paid to elaborate curls in the hair and beards of men.
Body hair and make up, has always been gender blended, it pretty much depends on which culture and at which time, we're talking about.

Just thinkin'.


'cis' means someone who is not trans. You could say cis is to heterosexual as trans is to homosexual. The term itself is a latin prefix, just like trans, so while transport would literally mean moving from one port to another, cisport would mean staying in one port. Or a transatlantic flight is one that crosses the Atlantic ocean, and while the term isn't used, cisatlantic flight would mean one that stays on this side of the Atlantic.

Cisgender was developed as a neutral way to say someone who is not transgender, rather than using value laden terms like "biological," "genetic," "normal," or "real."

As for the Egyptions, I didn't know that, but I wouldn't be surprised.

"You could say cis is to heterosexual as trans is to homosexual".

Can you explain what you mean by this comment? If you are equating trans with homosexuality you are doing a grave disservice to a large majority of post-operative men and women.

Sara ...

It's a comparison of word relationship structure that's been used for the SATs. Although I think I messed it up. Perhaps I should have said cis is to trans as heterosexual is to homosexual.

I like to use that example in particular because the history of word creation is very similar. For a while the term homosexual was around but there was no comparable word for heterosexuals. Activists created it as a way to identify both as being equally valid rather than simply having all straight folks solely referred to as "normal" the same way cis folks are currently referred to as "normal" or "bio" or "genetic" which all implies that trans folks are not normal, biological, or genetic beings.

But I'm a bit confused as to what you're saying. Perhaps it's not relevant with my clarification, but what does surgical status have to do with this? If you thought I was saying that all trans people are queer, well that's not true regardless of surgical status. I can't think of any interpretation of my statement that could have been insulting to post op trans folks that wouldn't have also been insulting to all other trans people as well.

Well, FWIW, two thoughts:

(1) As you say, this is the Advocate we're talking about. I dont find them especially racist, just sometimes a little too prone to navel gazing.

(2) Insofar as appearances go... if we must travel that road... you make me wish I were a lesbian. I think you're freaking adorable, and yes I'm happy to base that on one photo. They can just deal.

It's been mentioned before, but I'll go ahead and say it again. You look adorable. ;) I know, that's not the issue at hand, but as I looked at the picture I thought "wait, why are people picking your looks apart? There's not much to pick!"

Then I remembered that transphobia/prejudice turns otherwise nice people into assholes.

Thanks Austen :)

Although, I think that is part of the point. It doesn't matter what a woman looks like, if her picture is next to the word "transgender" there will be some people who will scrutinize every pixel until they can make up things to criticize. Just look at what happens to Lady Gaga, Ann Coulter, and other cis women accused of being trans.

Absolutely. I have enough passing privilege in my daily life to have interesting debates about trans issues without people immediately going on defense. It seems that people are _much_ nicer to our faces than they are behind our backs.

CatherineCC | June 20, 2010 6:14 PM

Oh, quite true. Only a small amount of the trans hating gay men are willing to stand up and actually take ownership of their beliefs in public.
Most, however, are completely willing to badmouth and backstab you and plot behind the scenes.

Sigh... death, taxes and transphobic bullshit from cis gay men.

Heh, try being one of the few gay men who, while not perfect, at least "gets it". You'd be amazed how bigoted the G can be. And not just in terms of trans(phobia)(misogyny). Racism, sexism, even bloody fucking homophobia. And people wonder why I wish I was a lesbian -.- Then again, from what I'm hearing, that's not necessarily better.
....and ok, I'm way off topic at this point so I'm gonna pipe down after one little remark:
The bigotry WITHIN the LGBTQIetc acronym is, to some extent or other, infinitely more damaging than the bigotry that comes from outside the community. Divided we fall and all that.

If you are into women, Tobi, in my book you are a cute dyke :)

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, the one person who should be thrilled by the mistake is Brianna Freeman. After all, everyone is going to think she looks like a cute twenty-something at 45 years of age.

BTW, I'll admit to being an idiot. I saw the picture in The Advocate, and didn't realize it was you, Tobi, even though I've met you in person. Oh, well.

I don't think it would go well for you in a Men's Room.

A trans or bi issue mentioned in The Advocate.... 'nuff said.

Regan DuCasse | June 20, 2010 8:11 PM

Hi Matthew! You definitely have a point about certain kinds of femininity being stigmatized.

I mean, how is being a woman or man, or their relative characteristics defined?
Usually artificially.

And some cultures, take their religious observances of 'modesty' to the point of a person losing their ENTIRE identity in all covering body bags. Which is of course, EXCLUSIVELY the females who have to. How's anyone going to know who is under such a thing?

Even forgoing comfort, and physical safety, sometimes fashion is taken to ridiculous excess.
I have personally thought it's another way of keeping women from being more physically free, fit and agile.
Garments as small prisons, so to speak. But even to reject THAT, meant that designers or anyone else, didn't try to create images, fashions or bodily aesthetics that could be practical AND comfortable and look great.

Do any of you remember a situation that came up with the religious right where a lesbian couple was adopting a little boy (I think he was related to one of them), and the Christian media had a picture of a couple with mullets and striped men's shirts, who were a bit gender ambiguous in the picture?

When in fact, the couple who this adoption was really about, looked like movie stars.
This was a way the anti gay media manipulated the public on what they thought lesbians should look like.
Either way, manipulation is the agenda.

If the Advocate isn't going to do much better at standing up against that, or allow the necessary conversation for transgender interests, then they really have no excuse.

These issues ARE intertwined because at base, it's ALL about gender.

Tobi all I can say is I wish my photo looked so good right name under it or not.

'Brianna' looks pretty damn good for being 45. How anyone could confuse your youthful 'baby-face' as someone 20 years your senior is beyond me!

Hey Tobi,
This sucks! I'm sorry you had to deal with this shitty situation. Thanks for writing about the underlying assumptions about gender, femininity, and attractiveness.

Tobi, we have the same haircut! Weird. I thought it was just an art school thing to have this hair but I guess it's a trans thing too.

The A line or variations of it is a hairstyle I've noticed is common among trans women in particular. However, this is an old picture. Here's what -- Only the red has all faded away by now and it was digitally emphasized in the pic. I'm planning on getting red streaks put back into it soon.

That haircut compliments you very well! I've always been a fan of the pixie cut. I've never fully understood the antiquated notion of femininity being dependent on long hair. Take for instance any number of children's media with an anthropomorphic gang of male characters with the token female. Usually the female will have long flowing hair, even if the animals they are are furried anyways...always confused me as a child.

Not to continue derailing, but just so you can see my own hair:

I am the taller genderqueer in the video. My hair is much shorter nowadays but a couple months ago we had so the same hair.

I apologize for the derail!