Building A Culture Instead of Letting Others Portray Us

Many years ago, about the time I got my surgery I bought a camera.  It was a fixed lens rangefinder Yashica with aperture priority, 35mm.  It was the first decent camera I owned that was capable of easy accurate focus and the sort of operation that permitted me to start doing documentary photography.

I was a documentary photographer, photographing the culture of my friends.  Yet it was hard for many to take seriously what I was doing.

When a transsexual or transgender person produces art that reflects the reality that they live many of our sisters castigate us for being “professional trannies”.

Many of our biographies even if they have our name as author are actually ghost written.  Although not all are and even those ghost written are a telling of our stories.

I have a book case full of biographies ranging from the barely literate to some that are wonderfully written by sisters and brothers who have put the effort into learning the craft of writing.

I was inspired by both Lynn Conway and Andrea James’ web sites when I put up this blog.  I try to have it reflect my thinking but I also try to vary the topics as well because there are many things that impact our lives.

I’m bothered by this film “Ticked off…”.  But rather than censoring it or putting all this energy into protesting it I would rather see our energy poured into supporting our own and their art.

We actually have sisters who are musical artists.  We probably have enough to put on a festival of our own.

We have poets…  I think half of us have the souls of poets, filling note books and thinking, “Who would possibly want to hear us read our poetry?”

Who would want to hear our music or see our art.  And if we show it and explain the impact of growing up with transsexualism or transgenderism then is it about our art or about what we grew up with?

That is the dilemma of any artist who is not part of the straight white male dominant culture.  In effect we are minority artists and our art if it has integrity is the art of our life experiences.

I have heard sisters and some brothers too speak dismissively of art produced by us that shows us or reflects our lives.  As though the only way we can be successful is if we are so integrated into the dominant culture our own birth history vanishes.

Rather than just protest I think we need to take a different approach.  I remember the Gay Liberation Front picketing “Boys in the Band”, the Daughters of Bilitis , I think, picketed “The Killing of Sister George”.  And all the other films that garnered more publicity from the protests and became must see films due to the controversy.  It just caused more people to go.

We have a highly praised documentary, “Prodigal Sons” playing the same festival circuit.  Perhaps we should spend at least as much effort pointing out the positive as the negative.  Holding “Prodigal Sons” up as example of something for us and by us that shows the reality of our lives.

We also need to start putting our money where our mouths are.  Buy the CDs of artists like Namoli Brennet and Baby Dee.  We could buy the documentaries and write letters to Sundance Channel, Logo, IFC and Current TV thanking them when they put on a positive show.  Or even one that amuses us because sometimes the trashy and comedic entertain us by and not the straights simply by invoking those in group jokes.

We could actually buy the books of sisters and brothers.  I realize expecting y’all to be supportive of each other instead of trashing each other is asking a lot…  But if all we do is trash talk each other why are we surprised when the dominant culture trash talks us?

Instead of just protesting the negative, even though it needs to be done, perhaps we should put the same amount of energy into supporting the positive.

4 Responses to “Building A Culture Instead of Letting Others Portray Us”

  1. Willow Arune Says:

    I really can’t get all that upset about this film…

    Exploitive? Perhaps. Most films are, in one way or another. as one group in society, we are exploited on screen just as any other group. Women are exploited, Blacks are exploited, gays are exploited, Jews are exploited – heck even white Anglo-Saxon males are exploited in films. In a way, this film would seem to open the door to equality…

    Deep down, I suspect much of the anger comes from the traditional TS complaint – that sex trade workers in some manner “spoil our image”. I have seen that voiced time and time again in TS circles. Instead of reaching out to sisters in”the trade”, the tendency has been to put them down, to try to distance our pure and noble beings from such vulgar types. In a way, that surfaces in the division between those who start early and late into transition. Not tht all who start early turn to the trade, but many do. We forget that many TS children are disowned by parents and forced to the streets at an early age. We forget that for this and other reasons, every city has a special spot for TS street types in the trade. In a very strange manner, as a group we seem to put down the street types until they publish a book – which suddenly makes them a success.

    It is as hypocritical as the ministers who preach against sex but are found with a hooker, as a Republican who is anti-gay but confesses to being gay. Hypocrisy is an equal opportunity sin…

    I have known a goodly number of TS women who, for one reason or another, worked in the trade. Several have become good friends. And some, dammit, had some pretty horrible tales of being beaten up and abused in one way or another. (To be totally true, many of them also used the terrible “T” word as well). I strongly suspect that many if not all of those would be delighted by a “revenge” type film, a la “I Spit on Your Grave”. In fact, I suspect many would want a copy of it to see it again and again.

    So who are we “protecting” by protesting this film? The sex trade workers who are depicted, albeit in a sensational manner? Or our “transsexual purity” which demands that sex – and especially commercial sex – be cut off from the body TS and never mentioned at all? Given the protests I have thus far seen, I suspect much more of the latter than the former. Yes, the linkage of the names of real TS who have been killed is in poor taste. That much I will agree. But the rest of the film seems a rather interesting attempt to show that we too can fight back. That is not a bad message to get across…

    So, no. I am not about to sign a petition or join a protest. I might even get a copy of the film and invite a few friends over to watch it – and I bet we will hoot and holler as we do so. We will not care if the actor is TS, male or female – in our minds, they are one with us. And we will probably cheer when the bad guys get what is coming to them. After that, we will tell all the “normal” people we know how badly the film distorts the real world of transsexual/transgender people. Just like almost every film distorts some group. I guess I just know some very politically incorrect types…

  2. dianakat Says:

    In response to the prior comment …

    When African Americans opposed ubiquitous “Stepin Fetchit” and “Amos and Andy” portrayals of their race, it was not out of hatred for or fear of the least advantaged among their ranks. Rather, it was both because these relentlessly presented and generally inaccurate stereotypes insulted all of their race, and more importantly because they were used as excuses for the worst kinds of discrimination and as defenses to the most heinous crimes against them.

    We face a similar situation today.

    It is the more advantaged among us that can safely afford to have a little viewing party where we can laugh at the drag queen-esque “ticked off trannies.” The less fortunate have difficulty obtaining and holding decent employment and are especially subject to violence precisely because of the popularity of the stereotypes generally reinforced by the media and apparently carried to an extreme by this film.

    And we are now seeing those same stereotypes trotted out as the principal objection to ENDA, legislation that is intended to guarantee equal employment rights for LGBT Americans. If this bill again fails, it will again be because of the hateful anti- “men in dresses” campaign of the right wing, and the (sometimes) unspoken assumption that the term transsexual is almost entirely synonymous with prostitute.

  3. Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives « Emma Leigh Waldron Says:

    […] in some way paved the road for John Singleton and Spike Lee).  Bitch Magazine tips us off on this very healthy attitude from one member of the trans community who, although not happy with Luna’s film, sees a more productive way to deal with […]

  4. Lisa Harney Says:

    I agree with Dianakat’s comment.

    I also agree with Suzan’s sentiment in this – We should be promoting our own culture, and at the very least balance that against the protests and anger.

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