Sunday 12 January 2014

A new datum?

How do you judge a baseline level of understanding?  It's totally audience-specific and we should all do our best to adjust our conversation to our audience.  I'm getting a sneaky suspicion though, that not everyone's got the message regarding transgender people, that the baseline has moved on a tad.

Actually, it probably hasn't for everyone (know your audience), but I think most people who have a passing interest in how wonderfully diverse humanity is, have got the most basic message about what being trans is all about.  Frankly, if they've not (and there's no reason why that's a bad thing per se) then there's plenty of good information out there for them to perform the briefest of Google searches to bring themselves up to speed.

It's why it's immensely frustrating to still see the same line of questioning repeating itself during interviews even today.  I am so proud to witness the recent wave of highly successful and unapologetically trans people hitting mainstream media.  Off the top of my head: Janet Mock; Laverne Cox; Lana Wachowski; Chaz Bono; Cate McGregor; Isis King; Paris Lees; Kristin Beck... Plus so many more who remain outside the public spotlight.  All immensely diverse professionally, but every one a fantastic role model (or, "possibility model" as beautifully coined by Laverne Cox) who prove that being trans is just a single component of life.

Brilliant - all power to them and those they inspire.

Janet Mock recently wrote a piece following an interview of Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera on Katie Couric's ABC talk show.  During the interview, Couric twice asks about her guests private parts.  Both times she was gracefully told that such prurient questioning is not only deeply personal, but constantly diverts attention from the actual lived experience of trans people around the world. I genuinely thank them for that response.

Dignity doesn't always mean maintaining ultimate privacy

I don't really blame Katie Couric or any of the multitude of journalists who default to the same narrative and level of questioning.  There's a definite positivity to the reporting at the moment and it feels like each reporter sees it as their duty to educate their audience as though from scratch.  While their intent is commendable, it results in repeatedly dissecting a trans person in the style of a How Stuff Works article; time and column inches which could and should be used to talk about stuff that matters, while we are coldly broken down into a checklist of medical, surgical and emotional events.  Dehumanised just a bit.

It's tiresome for all of us (seriously, I will bore the tits off you if you really do want the gory details of my transition) and I think there is definite need to move the conversation far beyond that public dissection.  That would be a good starting point at least, but even that is probably too simplistic...

In all honesty, there are still people who don't know How Stuff Works, and many journos I've met have all the best intentions of breaking the perceived ignorance around all stuff trans.  We need these allies, and don't underestimate the positive influence they have.  There's a very fine line to tread between privacy/dignity and transparency/secrecy.

Often I feel there is a subconscious but inherent mistrust of trans people, based on the idea that we're maintaining a charade or otherwise have something to hide.  (In fact, the law here in the UK is firmly based on the concept of keeping one's gender history confidential, once a Gender Recognition Certificate is issued - More thoughts on that in a later article).  One way to overcome this is being totally open about feelings, relationships and the more nuts and bolts elements (pun intended) from a very human perspective.  This actually helps to prove the point that there is no charade beyond the life we tried to live before transition.

So yes, there's absolutely is a place for asking me about my nuts and bolts.  But understand that it would very much be a personal choice of mine to share that information and if you open with that, expect a curt response!  Would it be any different asking anyone else about the same stuff?  As with so many things... it's pretty straightforward if you apply just a hint of empathy.  It's about knowing just how personal such a conversation is and I am pretty sure this is the element that is overlooked when the question is casually asked on a daytime talk show or in a women's magazine.

Assume a new baseline understanding

Now's definitely the time to step up the conversation.  Can we assume that the audience knows about hormone therapy?  They've probably got some idea about the types of surgeries involved.  They get that names may have been changed and that people probably look different now (no need for a 'before' photo to prove the case, is there?).  Lets go crazy and even assume that they have an inkling that not all of these things are wanted or needed by an individual who identifies as being transgender.

While we're at it, we must stop talking in terms of 'used to be' and 'is now'.  Doing so is most often incorrect and quite misleading.  Taking myself as an example; I didn't 'used to be' anything or anyone other than who I am right now... what changed was external perception and an internal radiance of a genuine self.  Simplifying it into neat gender binaries of 'one day was this and the next day was this' is both misleading and harmful to an overall understanding; of the sincerity that is inexorably linked to transition.

So stop it!

Between us, we need to force the conversation somewhat and assume a new baseline in understanding.  If there are gaps in knowledge, I for one am more than happy to help explain; or otherwise we can safely assume that Google and Wikipedia have that covered.  If a person in the audience (both metaphorically and practically) gets the feeling that they're lagging behind a bit, they're welcome to catch up.

Then... only then... can we talk about the stuff that really matters with any impact.

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