Monday, March 15, 2010

Transform Me

Update January 2016: Someone recently linked to this post on Twitter, pushing it back into my consciousness as I read through my analytics.

Oi. Let me just say there is so much wrong here, even down to how I type "transwoman" over and over instead of "trans woman." And then there's me...little cis 25 year old me, at the time, so heavily weighing in on this, which wasn't really my place. I'm not going to amend what I wrote because I won't pretend that I didn't say these things (holding myself accountable) but I will just add now that I'm SO GLAD I've continued to learn and grow and this was only the start of my learning about how to be a (hopefully better) trans ally.

So there's been a lot of feminist speculation about VH1's new show Transform Me. The premise of the show is that three transwomen makeover cisgendered women. So far the feminist speculation has been that the show will essentially exploit the transwomen. However, as it is just now airing, all of the speculation thus far as been just that: speculation.

I'm watching the premiere right now. There are a few things that I like about the show. The main make over-er, Laverne, eloquently articulated her experience as a transwoman (in the few seconds they devoted to this...) Also, the show wasn't set up so that the make over-ers don't have a big reveal at the end like "SURPIRSE! You were made over by a transwoman!" Unfortunately, there is a reveal of sorts, but it's at the very beginning and it's brief and not the point of the show, at least. They also throw one of those "for more information about what it means to be transgendered" messages, so maybe this will raise awareness?

There is a lot more, however, that is problematic about the show, as expected...for one, it highlights the "transformation" aspect of the trans experience over the actual personhood of the individuals involved. I've read quite a bit about how transpeople are seen as forever in transition instead of being accepted for who they are. I feel like this is present here.

Also, some of the language (even used by the transwomen themselves) is problematic. At one point Jamie makes some comment about how she knows about making big changes because she "changed her gender." I feel like this wording could be taken to confirm the misinformation that transwomen really are men, but they just make an arbitrary change to become women.

The show also definitely displays the stereotype of the hyper femninity of transwomen and plays with that whole terrible idea of "if they can go from MEN to being this fabulous, then you too can be hot and sexy!"

And of course, it plays into the stereotypical depiction of women in general where appearance is everything and empowerment comes through focusing on your looks. It's the same old tired message that if you get a haircut and put on some eyeshadow and generally glamorize yourself, you'll automatically feel better about everything...When the truth is more likely that you probably feel like shit because you've been focusing too much on fruitlessly comparing yourself to the unrealistic media ideal.

HOWEVER, having said all this, I will note that like many of the linked commenters and the blog writer Jill, I am still in favor of the imperfect depiction of transpeople in the media rather than their complete exclusion and invisibility. I would love to get to a place where transpeople are represented in the media in honest and nonstereotypical ways. We are not there yet...and Transform Me is certainly not a realistic depiction, but I'm still happy to see three transwomen on television. I can't remember seeing any on television 10 years ago, except perhaps on shows like Maury with the title "I'm Hiding Something" where they were totally the object of scorn and disgust.

To wrap up my thoughts on it all, I'll leave it to a commentor on the linked blog above, Aliem:
As much as I’d like to say that this is awful and exploitative (which it is) and
probably going to create a lot of BS stereotypes about transwomen (which it
will), I’m still a fan of the idea of this show for one huge reason: being
thought of as a fashion maven (which I’m not) beats the hell out of being
either pitied or fear-mongered about (which I am!)

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