Troubling guilty-pleasure reality TV

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Hi All,

So great to meet you all today! I am very much looking forward to this class! Our discussion about reality TV today reminded me of this recent article I saw about the new show "Conveyor Belt of Love." Transman Scott Turner Schofield was a contestant without any mention of his gender-identity. The show is hilariously terrible, and Scott is both endearing and fascinating to watch as he explains that he's on a tour to promote his book about masculinity, without ever disclosing. It's worth watching! (PS: Scott speaks on college campuses about being FTM, so this was not revealed as a scandal....its just that he's well known in queer and trans communities, and he was recognized on the show, hence the blog link below):

http://tqnation.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/trans-man-on-abc-dating-show/

So obviously questions about discourse on passing-as-trouble emerge from this example. Judith Halberstam's IN A QUEER TIME AND PLACE addresses how transgenderism is often discussed as trickery and deception. How can we re-articulate passing in a way that does not criminalize transfolk?

6 Comments

Thanks for posting this example and your comments. I think you raise a great question about passing and passing-as-trouble. What sort of trouble does passing cause and for whom/by whom? What are the different ways that trouble (as an adjective, verb, noun) functions in this specific example and in passing in general?

Also, I would love to hear more of your thoughts (and other people's thoughts) about what it might mean to re-articulate passing in a way that doesn't criminalize transfolk? What would that look like? Is this re-articulation connected (or should it be disconnected) from virtuous/effective/productive forms of making trouble?

I'm really interested in this question of passing and criminalizing transfolk (although I'm not sure I'm 100% clear on what you mean by "criminalization" - I'm taking it to refer to the labeling of passing as deception or trickery, although I'm not sure if "criminalization" is the word I'd use).

It seems to me that there are two kinds of discourse involved with passing, with two very different goals. One - perhaps more concerned with a personal level - is about slipping seamlessly into mainstream society, with feeling accepted as a certain gender. On this level, we have to think about physical and psychological safety, and there are clear reasons why it would be important to "de-criminalize" passing.

On the other hand, passing for some transpeople is a political act, as well as a personal one. In that case it might be worth thinking about this "criminalization" of passing as a productive form of troublemaking which invites re-examination of gender stereotypes and traditional binaries. This might be achieved through the ways in which a transperson might -not- pass, or might pass incompletely, leading us to question what makes a man or a woman.

Going back to the "Conveyor Belt" example, Scott's trans status was completely un-discussed, unnoticed, and un-criminalized. I'd guess that many (most?) viewers had no idea that he was trans at all. This might be exactly what Scott wanted; on the other hand, calling attention to (though I wouldn't say "criminalizing") the fact that he's trans might have provoked an interesting dialogue about attraction and sexuality.

Which is probably exactly what ABC wanted to avoid.

This does lead me to wonder: is it necessarily to call attention to something in order to de-stigmatize it? By having a transman appear on a dating show and not mentioning his gender identity, are we doing anything to further awareness & equality for transfolk? And does this even matter: at what point is it unfair for us to ask transfolk (or members of any other minority group) to be constant political representatives of a community which may only encompass a part of their identities?

Whew, sorry, that was a little longer than I'd planned!

Oh, look at me blogging! I feel very savvy.

So, I too am really interested in the perception of passing as an act of transgression/violation. And I fully agree with Sophie that this is likely in part a function of Western culture's discomfort with the idea that people can exist outside of prescribed gender roles. I would also add that I think it speaks to anxiety about queerness; if I can't read someone's gender, I risk being sexually attracted to someone of my own gender. This kind of "accidental queerness" points to the fluidity of sexuality, a threatening concept for a culture that relies so heavily on rigid binaries.

I think there might also be a connection to Julie Rak's point about our assumption that bloggers MUST tell the truth about themselves. We can trust bloggers, this logic says, because they have disclosed their identity. Having established certain facts about the blogger, readers can then supposedly predict what they will see on a given blog.

Perhaps another element of the discomfort with non-gendernormative persons (and particularly visually androgynous persons) is that if we can't readily identify and categorize someone, we can't use our assumptions about gender roles to predict their behavior. Interacting with them requires more risk, vulnerability, and attentiveness (in theory) than with a cisgendered person. Granted, any person who defies gender norms would pose the same problem-- but this is not always visible on the body in the same way that it might be with a person who is trans or transitioning. For a person like myself who is (usually) identifiable as the gender I identify with, you have to actually TALK to me before you can get whigged out by my gender politics!

I shall stop rambling here, and simply end with a video from feministing.com which takes on some of the issues we're discussing here. It's in response to a transphobic joke about Amanda Simpson, the first known trans appointee of the Obama administration. Check it out:

http://www.feministing.com/archives/019634.html

this is a great conversation! and there are several levels of thought here. very exciting. my first thought is where does intentionality sit in troublemaking?

i think its important to note as i think you did sophie that many many times, transpeople have no intention of "causing trouble" by passing. indeed they are after the exact opposite response. like sophie said " slipping seamlessly into mainstream society." when trouble arises, it is not because the transperson wants to cause it. so it seems to me this is a different kind of troublemaking. with the intention absent, or even the intention being "not to cause trouble" what kind of troublemaking is this?

on the other hand, transpeople who identify as genderqueer are intentionally calling into question the harmful, homophobic, nonsense of the gender binary. this is obviously intentional troublemaking for a specific aim. which is quite quite different than the first "kind" of transperson described above.

this leaves gender non-normative people in a "damned if you do, damned if you dont" position. either way if someone "finds out what you really are" you've made trouble intentionally or unintentionally. passing or not passing the troublemaking in these situations boils down to essentializing notions that have a stronghold on society. not the transperson themselves, but society is causing/making the trouble. so for me, this question ends up being a much more existential one. who gets to decide, what gets called into question, and how is it determined "who you REALLY are."

in response to the end of your post sophie, great question! i think its perfectly reasonable for a transperson's trans identity not to be included or discussed. again i think it breaks down into two different "kinds" of transpeople (simplified i know) those who identify as trans, and those who identify as the gender they transitioned into. one person of course can go back and forth depending on the situation they find themselves in. perhaps in this moment, on this show, scott wanted to be read, treated, understood, and participating as a male person. not as a transperson. perhaps it was ABC not wanting to open up the complicated discussion about sexuality that his trans identity might have brought forward. or perhaps scott, simply wanted to be seen as male. of course its the transpersons decision in every moment how they want to occupy the space they are in. and its reasonable for scott or any trans person to want to just exist, without "making trouble" unintentionally. on the other hand, had scott wanted to be seen as trans he should have been given that options. i suppose we will never know if it was scott or ABC that framed the show in this way.

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