ASOC 262 Final Portfolio
by Sunny Tsao
Factors of Trans Movement Perceptions Within the Digital Media
Everyday, news media influences our disposition consciously and subconsciously. It alters the way we see, interpret, and share information. The news media is exploitative, as well as glorifying of various institutions and people. The debate over whether or not the news media depicts its subjects fairly and accurately is a hot one, especially for those who are transgendered. It seems as though a great deal of progress is yet to be made for the transgendered community.
According to GLAAD, who has been cataloguing hundreds of episodes containing transgendered characters since 2002––transgender characters were cast in a “victim” role at least 40 percent of the time and were cast as killers or villains in at least 21 percent of the catalogued episodes and storylines. That being said, most depictions of transgender characters on regular television is defamatory, with the exception of a few positive portraits like Degrassi and Ugly Betty.
The way the transgender experience is depicted on the news, is also different for individuals who don’t live within the lime light. It seems now being transgender is trendy, heroic and glamorous if you’re famous. However if you’re not famous, you either appear as depraved, a villain, or a victim. The news media’s influence on this dichotomy is tough. It gives viewers the idea that we ought to develop different impressions for say, reality television transgender individuals, as opposed to transgendered individuals we hear rumors about in town, school, the local paper, etc. Take for example, Caitlyn Jenner’s big 2015 reveal. Jenner was lauded by the internet, the press, and all of pop culture as an icon. Her Vanity Fair cover shot was glossy and glamourous. This occurs while there are less fortunate transgendered women all over the country, being bullied and harassed. Around the same time in 2015, TIME Magazine also published an online article titled, “Why Transgender People Are Being Murdered at a Historic Rate.” The article highlights that transgendered individuals are more vulnerable, they’re more marginalized economically and educationally. It is safe to assume that people like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner do not currently face. Additionally, according to Planet Transgender, a trans woman is murdered every 29 hours. This is a heinous figure as trans women make up only about 1% of the world’s population alone (source).
Not only does the media portray non-celebrity transgendered people in a different light than celebrity transgender people, it becomes an intersectional issue in some ways when we look at the statistics of transgender suicide and crime victims on the news––based on ethnic background. This makes the depictions of transgendered individuals an all-around issue in that it brings our attention to a specific race of a specific kind (ex: a black transgender woman, a white transgender male). This subconsciously shapes our experience and depictions on that specific race in question, or that specific side of the transgender community.
This analysis will showcase the challenges transgendered individuals face and how the digital news media blasts those struggles, focusing on each case’s level and status of fame and wealth. It will illustrate how transgender celebrities come to terms and deal with their new identity differently than non-celebrity transgender people. It will also include the challenges and experiences of transgendered people belonging to different races and backgrounds––and how those are depicted by the digital news media. All in all, this analysis will include individuals that are celebrity, non-celebrity, rich, poor, black, white, trans man, trans woman, etc., summating how digital news media and broadcasting affects the masses opinion of everyone of these categories, singularly or as a collective–as well as how the respective groups experience their condition differently.
The ABCNews video above begins by remarking Caitlyn Jenner as “a fashion influence, a vivid representation of inner strength, and late-in-life confidence.” The video reviews the exclusive interview between Jenner and journalist, Diane Sawyer. Jenner discusses her sexuality and orientation, shrugging it off to imply that she’s fluid. She further explains her definition of sexuality and sexual identity, as something that’s deep “within the soul.”
The appearance made by transgender supermodel Andreja Pejic, is a substantive one in that it exemplifies the success and perspectives of another, already grounded transgender celebrity. Though Andrea is a white transgender woman, she highlights that even though she’s happier now than she was before her transition, there are still inherent struggles that come with being a woman, which Caitlyn now has to deal with. These struggles include the pressure to conform to female beauty standards on all spectrums, the expectations of caregiving, and the gender wage gap just to name a few.
Here, transgender Orange Is The New Black star, Laverne Cox speaks with TIME Magazine behind the scene during her cover shoot about supporting transgenderism and how it is a social justice issue. She begins by saying that it’s all about listening to the transgender community and making sure that their voices are heard.
Cox further goes onto say that when we see discrimination upon transgender folks, there tends to be a trend correlating to race and class. Amongst all of the crimes targeted towards transgendered people, the most victimized are transgendered women of color. This makes gender discrimination and violence an intersectional issue as an individual’s race crosses their gender.
The efforts taken by the LGBTQ to stop bullying and improve the unemployment rate need to be looked at through lens that take race and class into consideration.
The video above is from supermodel Andreja Pejic’s interview with New York Times T Magazine. Pejic has started her own campaign called Andrej(a), hosts TEDx talks, and is a public activist and icon for the trans movement.
In the video above, Pejic discusses how she defines beauty. According to Pejic, as a model she considers it a huge part of her job to pay attention to outside, physical beauty. This perception may correlate to what we learned about advertisements and the co-optation of feminism. In relation to the infamous Dove #RealBeauty campaign, supermodels weren’t use. Instead, “real women” were used. Pejic is noting that her beauty is highly poignant to her profession. After all, being a supermodel is selling one’s looks.
Another transgender hate crime ensued when Michael Volz, a transgender man was leaving a fundraiser for the Orlando Massacre as a Caucasian approached him outside the Wild Rose lesbian bar and said “Happy Pride.” The man then began to punch and choke Volz while spewing hate slurs. According to The Daily Dot, that the perpetrator said, “Show me your tits you tranny cunt,” while committing the assault.
Trans woman, Corey Rae from New Jersey, opens up about her sexuality and sexual identity in her blog post, “Allow Me To Introduce Myself.” There, Rae reveals publicly that she’s a transgender woman, something that not many people in Rae’s life knew. Rae had sex reassignment surgery before attending college at Hofstra University in Long Island, where she only disclosed her true self to “choice friends, family, and lovers.”
Although a non-celebrity, Rae has given herself a “stealth” and smooth transition in order to feel more like and be seen as a “normal girl.”
Rae has worked as a hostess at an upscale New York City nightclub, The Box.
In the cover above, Caitlyn Jenner is lauded as brave and heroic for being “comfortable in her own skin.” In this article, Caitlyn Jenner reflects on her life and accolades as Bruce, particularly winning the decathlon and compares it to her life now as Caitlyn. Giving the reader a biological recap of Jenner’s life, it glorifies the struggle and strife of its subject.
This is something that most (if not all) non-famous transgender individuals do not get the chance to revel in.
Ironically, this feature was published by Sports Illustrated magazine, a publication known for its longtime objectivity of women and instilling beauty stereotypes.
A Saturday vigil for Deeniquia Dodds, who was shot in the neck on July 4 and died nine days later. (Petula Dvorak/The Washington Post)
The photo above shows a tribute taking place to mourn the death of transgender 22-year-old sex worker, Dee Dee Dodds. On this past July 4th, Dodds went out to work and never came back. She was shot in the back of the neck and the perpetrator fled. Dodds was on life support for several days before she finally passed. According to The Washington Post article, Dodds struggled to find a socially acceptable job due to her circumstances, therefore aspiring to sex work.
The police have yet to identify the motive and haven’t ruled it as a hate crime. The article’s author closes with a very poignant statement, “It’s not enough to watch Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox on TV. It’s not enough to have offices and officials include the T in all of their logos. It’s not even enough to let transgender children use whatever restroom the child wants. The death of Dee Dee Dodds is proof of that.”
Dodds’s death puts further hinderance on social change in America.
A crime committed during this past week (July 26th), reports a navy sailor accused of committing a hate crime is being charged with the death of a black trans woman in St. Martin, Mississippi.
Navy sailor Dwanya Hickerson was seen leaving the hotel where Dee Whigham is believed to have been stabbed to death.
Whigham is a recently graduated registered nurse. She is believed to have been stabbed to death at a Best Western hotel, but investigators were waiting for full autopsy results before ruling an official cause of death.
Dwanya Hickerson, 20, has been charged with capital murder in connection with Whigham’s death.
The Guardian notes that, Whigham’s death comes almost three weeks after another black transgender woman, Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds, was shot and killed in Washington DC, just blocks from her home.
“The violence that transgender women of color face is rooted in racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia,” Emily Waters, senior manager of National Research and Policy at NCAVP, told the Guardian. “We need to notice how these biases and violence are present in all of our everyday environments, and then work to change them.”
The video above is taken from the AOL News article of Chaz Bono’s next upcoming feature film clip. In the article, Chaz Bono speaks out about breaking into acting, nepotism and his mother’s support. After turning down several roles to avoid being type casted in the same way transgender actresses are, Bono says that this is his first year as a paid actor. With fame and money, Bono has the resources to go about beginning a fulfilling acting career, whereas less privileged transgender individuals may struggle to find even basic, low wage jobs because of their gender identity––and often resort to sex work, drug dealing, etc.
The article above shows an aggregate of tweets and Instagram posts made by children of the Kardashian/Jenner clan, honoring their father and their newfound way to celebrate Father’s Day. Every post made had thousands of retweets and likes as fans showed their support for Jenner’s new identity.
Kim Mason, pictured, was born a boy but has transitioned and has lived as a woman since 2004. She calls herself the “lost zygote” to reflect how she felt born into the wrong body.
The article above tells the tale of Kim’s hidden identity from her parents, the way she grew up, and the way she came out to her children and mother.
Sharon Shattuck tells Diane Pearl, for People Magazine, what her experiences growing up with a transgender father was like. Her father, Trisha, transitioned from male to female.
The Shattuck family moved during Trisha Shattuck’s transition from a suburb in Chicago to a less diverse town in Northern Michigan. While the children were in high school, there was an unspoken fact about “the crossdresser” in town.
Sharon notes that a big difference between her parents and the Caitlyn Jenner story is that her parents stayed together and were still happily married during her father’s transition. Trisha never received sexual reassignment surgery, still allowing her and Marcia to have a sexual relationship.
“Trisha never watches TV, so when I told her about Caitlyn coming out as trans, she was a bit clueless – but happy. Having someone that high-profile coming out as transgender, it’s changing our culture – it’s great,” Sharon said.
According to the article above by Star Pulse, Angelina Jolie has stated to dress her daughter, Shiloh androgynously, adding that Shiloh “wants to be a boy” and “thinks she’s one of the brothers.” Although it has not been confirmed that Shiloh is transgender, her experience in experimenting with gender fluidity is different than the article featuring Stormi the Girl Scout from Illinois. Unlike Stormi, Shiloh doesn’t need to sell Girl Scouts cookies to make money or join a team to garner a sense of community and reinforce a sense of belonging. Shiloh has the support of her parents, who are iconic movie stars as well as money and resources to go through a transition if that is decided in the future. This also makes her likely to have support from fans of her parents as she grows up.
In a society where fame and fortune and nepotism can buy you a well paying job, a grounded identity, a fan base, and status––trivial jobs such as selling girl scout cookies may garner a non-celebrity transgender individual unwelcomed hate on the next door they knock. A nine-year-old girl scout from Illinois named Stormi got turned away by a man who said, “Nobody wants to buy cookies from a boy in a dress.” Saddened, Stormi retaliated by selling over 3,000 boxes of cookies over the course of the year, in person and using the Girl Scouts’s online portal. Stormi’s coverage and experience is different than that of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s. In spite of the two both being the same age, Stormi is a foster child and is nowhere near as privileged as Shiloh. Transgender celebrities get paid tons easily for advertisements, interviews, publicity, etc. but Stormi ran into an issue raising a few dollars for her scout team because of a transphobic man.
PopSugar’s article above features an aggregate slideshow of transgender celebrities, admiring their beauty and poise. The list being mainly composed of Hollywood entertainers, leaves little room for recognition of beautiful non-celebrity transgender individuals. Transgendered people who don’t live in the limelight don’t often get their beauty recognized through millions of shared posts and clicked links based on digital journalism sites.
The article above reports the story of how transgender 43-year-old, Shauna Smith, born Sean Patrick Smith, was charged for voyeurism in a Target changing room. Smith was caught videotaping a young girl trying on a bathing suit with his iPhone. Smith admits to committing the crime by saying he did what he did for the “same reason men go online to look at pornography.”
At the time of the article and video’s publishing, Carmen Carrera had been denied walking the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, despite the petition that was in favor of her making an appearance. Besides this slip-up, Carrera’s career has been highly successful. She is represented by Elite Models, one of the oldest and largest modeling agencies. She has been featured in publications like Allure Magazine, The New Yorker, Refinery29, MSNBC.com, etc.
According to the Transgender Law Center, a trans woman named Shea applied to be a correctional officer (“C.O.”) at a south western state correctional institution. Shea passed all required exams and fitness tests, and the agency’s recruiters were aware of her transgender identity and encouraged her throughout the process.
However, when it came time for her to enroll in the correctional officer academy however, Shea was informed that she couldn’t enroll because her “anatomy was not clearly male or female.” In other words, because Shea had not yet had a gender affirming surgery (sexual reassignment surgery/SRS), she was prohibited from working as a C.O. in the men’s facility where she was scheduled to start work. She was also prohibited from working as a C.O. at a women’s state prison.
As a result of this, the academy was charged with violating the Title VII law, which makes gender discrimination illegal.
“I shouldn’t be denied a job just because of who I am,” Shea said.
Mikana Milho, who was sentenced to six days of community service for stealing a handbag. According to Milho, her supervisor grabbed her backside and started asking for sexual favors, so when the opportunity to expose him online arose, she took advantage of it. Milo went on to turn on Facebook Live to catch her supervisor in the act.
Here, Milho is using social media as a voice, just like trans woman Corey Rae, who uses her blogging and social media as a voice and reaching out.
The powerful video featured in an article by the Huffington Post, shows advocate and actress Laverne Cox telling a story a time she dealt with street harassment. She turns this experience into a lesson on how transphobia, racism, and classism must be intertwined and considered in the ways we view transgendered individuals. She notes that the trans experience is different based on race and class, that white trans women do not get victimized as much statistically than trans women of color.
A final note
As a society we should try to combat the famous-transgender-hero versus the-victimized-or-villainous-local transgender individual. This can begin by educating and learning about the various ways in which the news media portray these types of people, by taking note and recognizing a moment whenever we see an incidence on television of a local transgender slain, or an Access Hollywood feature on Laverne Cox.
Those of higher status are regarded by the digital media in a different light, when they overstep the boundary of gender rules and ways in which they “do” their gender. Though it may help locals by seeing their icons as more relatable, it further denies those who aren’t lucky enough to have the same privileges. Consequently, we as a society need to consider all intersections of the transgender movement. White trans people have a different experience than colored trans people, but every experience is different with relevant factors. No two people are alike, using the two paramount transgender icons in society today, Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner as examples: both are celebrities in their own right, middle aged, and have become advocates for speaking about transgender issues. Their experiences are not the same because no two people’s experiences mirror one another, regardless of gender, race, etc.
In the first three visuals, we see three stunning and famed trans women talking about their experiences on video. Magazines and advertisements have lauded the beauty and commercial success of these women so much to even call them heroes. Their beauty is highly regarded and their looks have been altered and feminized so much that it renders their new gender identity unquestionable. Transgendered individuals who aren’t famous nor wealthy, do not have access to such procedures. Their efforts appear more cheap, more street––making them more vulnerable to discrimination and abuse. They account for most, if not all of the sad stories we hear and see.
Trans sex worker, Dee Dee Dodds and up-and-coming trans blogger, Corey Rae are placed in comparison as they are both male-to-female transgendered individuals, in their early twenties. Intersectionality and classism are called into play when discussing the vastly different experiences these two women have. First, we learned of Dodd’s existence through the news when she was shot. We learned of Rae’s life story through the Yahoo BEAUTY section, after Rae posted her first blog entry, revealing to the world she is transgender. Both the death and reveal happened during the summer of 2016. The story of Dodd’s death had themes of mourn and sorrow, closing with a dismal look on social progress. The story noted how Dodds struggled to have a real education and a real job due to her circumstances, rendering her as a person to be pitied. Meanwhile, Corey Rae from New Jersey had just recently graduated college, traveled to Amsterdam. The writer of the Yahoo BEAUTY article, lauds Corey for “making history” for being the first trans prom queen, calling her brave, and promoting her blog. Although Rae is transgender, her new identity is akin to the American standard of beauty: blonde, white, with blue eyes. Two different media outlets publish two different portrayals of two transwoman that are within the same age demographic. As Laverne Cox asserts, we need to look at trans women and transgender people in general through a multifaceted lens which includes race and class.
The two children featured in this analysis are Stormi from Illinois and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Both children are nine-year-olds. However, Stormi is a foster child and Shiloh is an adopted child of an A-List family. Stormi’s story was that she experienced a transphobic customer whilst selling girl scout cookies. The man opened the door saying, “nobody wants cookies from a boy in a dress.” In retaliation Stormi started her own movement by selling thousands of cookies and even being published on Buzzfeed. Consequently, Shiloh’s experimentation with her own gender as a child is well received and largely within the public eye due to her parent’s status. It’s common sense to safely assume that Shiloh would not likely run into the situation where she would be denied make a sale for Girl Scout cookies. Because of nepotism and belonging to a well-off family, Shiloh does not need to raise money in order for material or monetary reward, because she already has plenty of it. Although both digital media sites have commended both the children, Stormi’s voice and reward is short-lived. Shiloh’s voice and reward will follow her as long as her family stays famous.
The first Father’s Day Caitlyn Jenner celebrated surely must have been an interesting one. It was interesting for Kim Mason (formerly known as Tim Mason) as well. According to The Dalles Chronicle, Kim’s transition wasn’t easy. It was sneaky. She kept the secret of her child’s existence and the secret of her own gender identity for years. When she finally came out, although her child and mother were accepting, her brother disowned her. As a society, when we read this article, we feel an impact that this person (Kim) has been through a lot and is lucky to have everyone there for her. According to the article containing the series of tweets and Instagram photos on Caitlyn Jenner’s Father’s Day celebration, we as a society see this Kardashian/Jenner clan as novelty and entertainment. Famous for being famous. Except now, they have a cause. Mason is a small town story that seemingly deserves an applause and a tear, while Jenner’s story is glamorizing the father’s situation.
Carmen Carrera’s denial from the Victoria’s Secret runway show could have been seen a deterrent when the media portrayed her discussing her rejection on the big screen, but does not hesitate to follow it with a montage of her other commercial successes, such as RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her interview ends with the host telling her she is still gorgeous no matter what. Carmen’s rejection could be starkly compared with Shea who applied to work in a correctional facility, but was denied because her identity did not match her anatomy. Being that that article was extracted from a pro-transgender publication, it lauds Shea for her courage and perseverance. However, the two women’s job denials are vastly different in that Carmen has spent enough time in the limelight to be regarded and still considered very beautiful and redeeming of her rejection. Meanwhile, Shea is a small town person searching for a job. Her looks were evidently not redeeming enough for her to be promised that she’d excel elsewhere, even though she ended up winning the case.
Transgender people who are not celebrities use their voice. Many of them don’t even have voices. Mikana Milho, a transwoman from Hawaii, recorded herself being harassed by the supervisor during her community service. Milho released that recorded on Facebook Live, garnering her attention. Digital and social media is an outlet for minorities like transgender people to have their own voice, hoping they can reach as far as possible. This kind of voice applies for Stormi the Girl Scout as well when she sold her cookies.
All in all, experiences amid the trans community depends vastly on individuality, place of origin, circumstance, class, family, and race. The way we as a society perceive these “anomalies” is challenged by the media. Every individual is different, but they can be portrayed by a larger entity like the media in any, which way.