From Abomination to Indifference: A Visual Analysis of Transgender Stereotypes in the Media
Paul Martin Lester
A chapter for Transgender Communication Studies: History, Trends and Trajectories
In Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish Pentateuch, and the Old Testament, Moses revealed a long list of laws. More famous for his Ten Commandments, these rules, although not cut in stone, were also part of his constant concern to keep the Israelites in line. Not making it on his top ten list were essentials he thought were needed for a pious life, such as: If you come across an ox on the ground, you must try to pick it up; if you find a bird’s nest, the eggs may be taken, but leave the mother alone. However, another important law for Moses was not related to walking along a road: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God” (22:3-6). Although Moses reportedly lived to the age of 120, it is probably good he did not exist in more recent times to watch the infamous cloak wearer Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931) or the adorable tie and vest sporter Diane Keaton in the eponymous Annie Hall (1977). As a religious fundamentalist, Moses was so disgusted by cross-dressers that he labeled such persons abominations.
This work is not so concerned with actual or fictionalized cross-dressers played with hammy gusto by John Travolta in Hairspray (2007) or with reserved aplomb by Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria (1982). This chapter concentrates on visual messages of persons who were swaddled as babies with a blanket that should have been a different color. Focused on visual communication and through analyses of selected popular culture examples presented in film, on television, and for the Web, this chapter argues that transgender stereotypes that rely on visual messages get their power from the concept of disgust, a basic response to a particular stimulus that, for most persons, has emotional as well as physical reactions. With such powerful responses, it is no wonder that creators of pornographic materials often use disgust as a lure to attract viewers who find the visual messages entertaining. When transpersons are part of storylines that purposely evoke disgust in viewers, whether for dramatic or comedic purposes, the use of disgust becomes another form of pornography while the visual stereotypes shown are difficult for many to erase from their minds.
Images Must Be Analyzed
Mass media function as one primary source of visual stereotypes. Because images—whether in print or on screens—affect a viewer emotionally more than words alone, repeated visual stereotypes often contribute to misinformed perceptions that have the weight of established facts. As Hill and Helmers (2004) explained, “like verbal texts, [images] can be used to prompt an immediate, visceral response, to develop cognitive (though largely unconscious) connection over a sustained period of time, or to prompt conscious analytical thought.” Consequently, visual messages are the best media to “instantiate values and stir up strong emotions” (pp. 5, 11).
The mass media are about the only place where persons regularly and over a long time see members from other cultural groups. Views of the “other” fill the pages of newspapers and magazines, are shown on television, projected within darkened movie theaters, and glow on computer screens. However, when most of those media images are stereotypical, viewers are not challenged to examine the bases for their personal prejudices. For example, media often portray transpersons as needing to “pass” as their chosen gender using outlandish makeup and costumes and dramatizing bizarre behaviors that support preconceived stereotypes. Passing as a concept became necessary when persons considered as “others” wanted to participate in the benefits afforded those of the dominant culture without detection. Passing may be required because of perceived differences in race, class, religion, gender, or another identity among dominant and non-dominant individuals. In dark-skin cultures, it is called “colorism.” For example, those with African and Indian backgrounds have learned that if they have lighter skin they will have a perceived advantage over those darker in hue. Some resort to skin bleaches and other techniques. Think of Michael Jackson’s quest to fool everyone into believing he was Anglo or Elle magazine executives accused of lightening the skin of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Gabby Sidibe (Hilton, n. d.). Other cultural groups have their own forms of passing. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, those without economic means try to blend with the wealthy classes. Religious passing has a more sinister history. For example, the motion picture Europa Europa (1990) tells the story of Jewish men who attempted surgery to restore their foreskins to pass as Gentiles in order to escape the horrors of the Holocaust. Passing then, is a thoroughly visual phenomenon, not only for transpeople, but for other groups as well.
Because images are so powerful, we must take them seriously. Theorists John Berger and Roland Barthes offer field-defining perspectives for thinking carefully about images. Berger is most known for his works About Looking (1980) and Ways of Seeing (1972). In Looking, he wrote that image analysis must be “seen in terms which are simultaneously personal, political, economic, dramatic, everyday and historic” (1980, p. 51). In studying any image—whether still or moving—adequate time and seriousness must be afforded to the analytical process because of the multiple meanings and contexts any image exhibits. Barthes’s Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1981) is considered a classic in the field. For Barthes, certain images that have strong emotional content, from news photographs of disasters to personal snapshots of loved ones, can affect and be remembered by a person until death.
All communication, whether verbal or visual, is composed of two major types of messages: the literal and the symbolic, otherwise known in semiotic terms as denotative and connotative. For Barthes (1981), images that are denotative are similar to the literal concept because they describe actual experience. Literal or denotative messages can cross cultural boundaries for a more global, universally intended meaning. Almost anyone, regardless of group membership, will recognize and understand literal meanings in words and pictures. A traditional toothy smile of a person posing for a snapshot, for example, usually translates well across cultures and is quickly understood. Conversely, symbolic signs often require in-depth analysis in order to discern their meaning or function. Almost all members of the same cultural group will understand connotative communications. That shared meaning is what helps form and bond a group because they have the same history, experiences, language, and so on. Many times, however, symbolic images are a mystery for outsiders because they form their meaning from specific cultures and historical contexts. A close-lipped ironic smile of a death row prisoner may be considered more symbolic than literal.
Barthes (1981) attempted to combine the literal elements of an image into the term he named studium. He then combined the symbolic and connotative terms into another, the punctum. Studium, Latin for “hobby,” stands for an image analysis role that is a long-term, culturally informed, and carefully considered interpretation of the meaning of a picture. The term referred to “a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment” (p. 26).
From the Latin for puncture or wound, the punctum, however, is a raw “hit in the gut” reaction that one sometimes feels when an image is so powerful it resists immediate interpretation because of, perhaps, its disgusting content. For Barthes (1981), the punctum “is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)” and can be an entire image or a detail within a frame. These often shocking pictures can make a person audibly gasp at a first viewing because of their content. They are retained in a person’s long-term memory without a filter or a need of verbal interpretation (pp. 27, 43). For Roland Barthes, portrayals that are meant to shock audience members are examples of punctum; visual messages meant to educate others form his studium concept.
Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl (2007), a seminal work concerned with transpersons and femininity, illustrates the concept of punctum. For Serano, the media usually portray two stereotypical archetypes of transpersons—the deceptive and the pathetic. Deceivers as shown in media productions are usually considered a threat as they successfully pass as women in order to retaliate against men in “an unconscious acknowledgment that both male and heterosexual privilege is threatened by transsexuals” (p. 38). Both of Serano’s archetypes fall into Barthes’s punctum concept—audience members are surprised at the reveal. In the deceivers camp, Serano named the characters Dil (played by Jaye Davidson) in The Crying Game (1992), police lieutenant Lois Einhorn (played by Sean Young) in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the title character in Myra Breckinridge (1970) (played by Rachel Welch), as well as transwomen coming out in television episodes of Jerry Springer and the British reality show, There’s Something About Miriam. Because pathetic characters are almost always included as a kind of humorous diversion, they are not considered a threat and include Mark Shubb (played by Harry Shearer) in The Mighty Wind (2003) and John Cabell “Bunny” Breckinridge (played by Bill Murray) in Ed Wood (1994) (Serano, 2007, pp. 36-40). Such pathetic depictions rely on an audience member aware of the feeble attempt at passing.
The underlying and enduring message inherent in the studium and the emotive power of the punctum combine through the use of metaphors. It is through the human convention known as the metaphor that meaning and a viewer’s experiences are combined. Aristotle wrote in Rhetoric, “It is a great thing, indeed, to make proper use of poetic forms. But the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003, p. 190). The importance of metaphors for human understanding is that they bring the outside in. What is experienced and what is known are shaped and altered by the ways persons describe connections between the outside world and its interpretation in the mind. “Metaphors serve,” wrote Kaplan (1990), “as interpretive frameworks for organizing information about the world and making sense of experiences” (p. 38). Lakoff and Johnson (2003) go further. For them, images are powerful because “no metaphor can ever be comprehended or even adequately represented independently of its experiential basis” (p. 19). Experience matters.
Rozin, Haidt, & McCauley (2008) wrote that North American psychologists, social workers, and others identify nine experiences related to disgust including “food, body products, animals, sexual behaviors, contact with death or corpses, violations of the exterior envelope of the body (including gore and deformity), poor hygiene, interpersonal contamination (contact with unsavory human beings), and certain moral offenses” (p. 757). As the term literally means bad taste, most of the history of research related to disgust involves the contact or consumption of revolting foods. However, there is growing interest in the moral foundations of disgust associated with three of the nine—sexual behaviors, violations of the exterior envelope of the body, and certain moral offenses—as they can be linked to many criticisms of storylines that involve transpersons.
Disgust as an emotional response from a member of the dominant culture can also be exhibited by care professionals who should know better and by some transpersons who should be helped to overcome their repulsion toward their own bodies. As Landau noted (2012), for many older members working in the health fields, “transsexuality was a ‘pathological’ term used to describe people who cross-dressed and/or modified their bodies through sex reassignment surgery” (p. 184). Consequently, medical doctors, psychotherapists, and other professionals often did not receive adequate training to counsel transgender individuals and were “unaware of the therapeutic needs of transgendered [sic] people.” As a result, such clinicians hid their biases and exhibited “a tone of cynicism and disgust” (Lev, 2004, p. 19). Peers, of course, also have a tremendous influence. In a survey of 129 students from an affluent suburban New York high school, Fortuna (2007) discovered that “students were more likely to believe that transgender people are disgusting compared to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people” (p. 37). When therapists and acquaintances feel disgust, it is not surprising that clients and schoolmates can feel the same way about themselves. Califia (1994) attributed self-hatred to such actions as not practicing safe sex and in statements from survey respondents such as “We can’t get rid of all that programming that says we are inferior, filthy, disgusting, godless, and pathological” (p. xxv). In her book, How Sex Changed, Meyerowitz (2004) wrote that doctors reported that their transmen patients had “a sense of humiliation or ‘disgust’ as their breasts developed and menstruation began, and some [transwomen] expressed a feeling of hatred or revulsion toward their genitals” (p. 136).
Disgust has also found its way into the legal system. Cram (2012) described attacks on transpersons by individuals experiencing a “transpanic,” an extreme reaction that often leads to a physical confrontation when passing is not an option. Defense attorneys have used disgust as a legal argument to justify violent outbursts that sometimes lead to death. Cram wrote, “Although there may be a cluster of negative emotions such as animus, rage, or anger that motivate an individual to commit a bias crime, defense pleas that rely upon ‘deception’ or ‘panic’ attempt to legitimize feelings of disgust towards the person(s) attacked” (p. 418). In such crimes of passion, juries can be manipulated. “The logic of the defense,” wrote Cram “rests on mobilizing the collective disgust of potentially sympathetic jurors and public witnesses as a way of exonerating the perpetrator” (p. 420). Of course, disgust as a defense is only as successful as an attorney’s talent at choosing sympathetic jurors who are easily disgusted. Nevertheless, disgust may also help explain why flamboyant transgender stereotypes persist in the media—disgust as entertainment—or perhaps more succinctly—disgust as pornography.
The technical term, qualia, or revulsion, is thought to be the most critical component of disgust. When subjects are asked to reveal when they ever felt disgusted by moral violations, most of the respondents admitted disgust was connected with “betrayal, hypocrisy, and racism” (Rozin et al., 2008, p. 762). Although repulsed, disgust makes one feel superior to those who for example, “have sexual preferences at odds with the majority” (Rozin et al., 2008, p. 766). One of the reasons producers of television and motion picture programs create stereotypes of transpersons is because viewers who feel disgust for a so-called outlandish character can also be amused by such presentations. “The delicate boundary between disgust and pleasure” is often considered socially acceptable when the experience is not personally threatening. However, on the streets, violent behavior can be the result when disgust toward a transperson is linked with hypocrisy, alienation, contempt, and anger (Rozin et al., 2008, pp. 769).
Disgust, Pornography and Visual Images
Even people who have no known acquaintance with a transperson likely hold stereotyped views about transpeople. Where does that knowledge come from? Family, friends, personal experiences, and educational and religious institutions all contribute to what a person believes. However, this chapter is not concerned with those influences. As the most powerful contributors to the formulation of cultural values—negative and positive—the mass media hold a special place in the inculcation of transgender (and almost all other cultural) stereotypes. As McAvan (2011) wrote, “Transsexual and transgendered people have long been a figure of fascination and disgust in our culture, typically being analyzed as pathological in … sensationalist fashion in the media” (p. 24). Meyerowitz (2004) agreed with McAvan when she wrote, “In the popular culture, various media frequently cast transsexuals as ‘freaks’ or ‘perverts’” (p. 11).
In an honest article on the web that described his stereotypical past as a 12-year-old, Jefferson (2011) told of his amusement at seeing the disgust fellow actors exhibited toward transpersons by gagging, vomiting, and telling bad jokes in such shows as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994), Soapdish (1991), and The Hangover Part II (2011). The Internet Movie Database lists about 125 feature films that have a transgender character since the earliest flicker of a celluloid strip moving through a motion picture projector. Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), and Dallas Buyers Club (2013) are notable examples with critics mostly raving about their plots and performances. However, as Nicola Evans’s (1998) analysis of The Crying Game, with its cultural sleight-of-hand in which the female love interest is revealed at the end as a man, made clear, “Drag in contemporary Hollywood cinema gives us a touch of innovation (cross-dressing) in order to sell us some very bland forms of sexism and racism” (p. 214). Critical viewers must always consider the meaning of the symbolism of iconic images presented on the screen as well as, particularly for this discussion, the level of disgust evoked by the ways transpersons are portrayed. As Lacan famously wrote, “Whatever is refused in the symbolic order, reappears in the real” (Miller, 1993, p. 71). That is, an unperceived perception eventually becomes an uninvited mental irritant.
Disgust is certainly in play as a motivating factor compounded by alienation, contempt, and anger in the murder of Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. It is nevertheless difficult for most to understand why anyone would be so enraged as to commit such a crime after it was discovered that a friend hid such a personal secret. While the reason for the behavior of the killers is answered, the tragic consequence of passing unsuccessfully was not the point of the work. As Cooper (2002) noted, the motion picture “has far broader liberatory and societal implications than just contradicting media’s traditionally negative stereotypes of sexual minorities [because it depicts] heteronormativity’s bigotry toward gender transgression and [condemns] the lack of social or political change that could help eradicate such prejudice” (pp. 57-58). The film therefore transcended the storyline of a specific act of brutality when passing was unsuccessful and made a general statement on violence. It was a noble and honest depiction without resorting to stereotypes that elevated the work to Barthe’s studium level of impact. Despite all the good intentions expressed by the director and others, it was a plus that Hillary Swank, a ciswoman who was awarded an Oscar for her performance, was shown in the movie as a handsome young man with dark, close-cropped hair, side-angled, diffused lighting that brought out the bone structure on his face that often brightened with an endearing, infectious smile, and a thin physique casually hidden inside an open-collar shirt and blue jeans. His appearance was designed to be a metaphor for innocence and adventure. Part of the success of the movie was that an audience member, whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or cisgender could therefore feel sympathetic and be allowed to feel a socially acceptable attraction to a transman character.
Directed, written, and acted by John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a tale of an East German transwoman singer who falls in love with an American soldier and elects to have surgery to complete her transformation and please the man she loves. However, the operation goes terribly wrong and leaves a one-inch penis lump. Gay actor Neil Patrick Harris, fresh off his performance as a misogynistic cisman in How I Met Your Mother, played the title role on Broadway for which he won the best actor in a musical Tony in 2014. The film featured ample examples of show-stopping over-the-top theatrical stereotypes that included rooms full of wigs. There was also lively double entendre salad bar banter from the star such as, “When you think of huge openings, many of you will think of me,” an ironic reference given the condition of the maligned inch. With all of Hedwig’s challenges, in the end the story was simply about looking for love and living with choices. Since its first performance as a stage musical in 1997, it has inspired and aided many trans-curious persons and has attracted a cult following (Jones, 2006, p. 465) similar to the success of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) with Dr. Frank-N-Furter played by Tim Curry. Nevertheless, transgender critics of Hedwig have described the musical as disgusting primarily because of its stereotypical storyline. As described by one blogger, the musical features
a transgender woman with botched SRS [sex reassignment surgery] who appears to be completely insane and who in the end of the production is portrayed as a streetwalker, calls herself a misfit and loser, and appears to be incredibly gender-confused [and] portrayed by a gay man with a questionable history regarding transgender sensitivity. It is disgusting, revolting, and disheartening. (Transas City, 2014).
Although not a transgender movie, one of the main characters in Dallas Buyers Club was Rayon, a transwoman played by cisactor Jared Leto who was awarded an Academy Award for his performance. Time magazine writer Steve Friess (2014) expressed the outrage many felt at the shrill stereotype that was Rayon:
What did the writers of Dallas Buyers Club and Leto as her portrayer decide to make Rayon? Why, she’s a sad-sack, clothes-obsessed, constantly flirting transgender drug addict prostitute, of course. There are no stereotypes about transgender women that Leto’s concoction does not tap. She’s an exaggerated, trivialized version of how men who pretend to be women—as opposed to those who feel at their core they are women—behave.
About the popular stereotype of Rayon, one scholar wrote, “Representation is important. And when a flawed version of a community of people wins a prestigious award, it serves as a gateway for flawed understanding and perceptions of that community to arise and persist” (Reddy, 2014, p. 4).
Compared with Brandon in Boys Don’t Cry, Rayon became more obviously an object of pornographic entertainment and an unfortunate model for future characterizations. As Reddy noted, Boys:
treats Brandon as not only a character, but a human in his own right, someone that despite his inherent ‘otherness’ is equal to the surrounding characters. Boys Don’t Cry trusts Brandon and tries to understand him, an integral component of representation and one that is completely absent Rayon. (p. 41)
In addition to movies, television relies upon visual depictions of transgender people that evoke disgust. Talk and reality shows on television are easy targets as their overt purpose is almost always to sensationalize, trivialize, and consumerize. Maury Povich, the discredited journalist turned DNA-obsessed father-finder on many of his confrontational daytime programs, is a master of Barthe’s punctum. He is especially infamous in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community for his “Man or Woman?” episodes in which he surprised his audience members by revealing the sex assigned at birth of his studio guests who were dressed in bathing suits or lingerie. The airings were exploitive and mean-spirited (Fagerberg, 2013).
Special condemnation, however, is reserved for the television personality RuPaul Andre Charles of Atlanta. On his reality show modestly named RuPaul’s Drag Race, he sponsored a competition named “Female or Shemale” in which contestants were asked whether someone pictured was “a biological woman or a psychological woman.” Rooted in transgender pornography and drag queen culture, “shemale” is, according to GLAAD, defamatory and “serves to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used” (Molloy, 2014).
In contrast, programs available to watch through Web sites on computer monitors, tablets, and smart phones seem to show fewer visual stereotypes than their traditional media partners because they are produced by entities run by executives who can afford to take chances. The pressures are not as high to bring in large numbers of viewers. United Kingdom’s Sky Atlantic with show runner Paul Abbott produced only six episodes of Hit or Miss, available on the movie rental company Netflix (n.d.). The show featured the ciswoman ChloĎ Sevigny as an Irish transwoman assassin-for-hire, Mia. The plot became more interesting after she learned of a son she never knew existed and met her extended family with a multitude of challenges. The production was noteworthy for its high quality acting, cinematic visual elements, and a full-frontal nude shower scene in the first episode revealing that Mia had a penis. The shot is acted so casually that Barthes’s punctum is never evoked. The sensitive portrayal of a hardened killer coping with passing as a woman and softened by an inherited family was a credit to the genre.
The Impact of Disgust, Pornography, and Visual Stereotypes
Transgender stereotypes portrayed visually invite negative interpretations by those who have no independent personal experiences for a contrary viewpoint. Consequently, these portrayals invite the inference that all transpersons behave in the same way. The punctum hits the viewer in the gut before the studium can soften the emotion in the mind. Media images of transgender people often rely on prurient, pornographic objectification—a punctum approach—or guide a viewer toward a more reasoned reaction—a studium perspective—mainly through the relative success or failure of an individual’s efforts at visually passing. Positive examples are more studium than punctum—they make viewers think more than they shock. The difference between visual messages that stereotype and are thus vilified by scholars and programs that are admired for the stories they tell has to do with the ways images are analyzed by the audience. They evoke a higher level of consideration by their reliance on symbolism rather than literal portrayals. Finally, they stimulate long-term memories by providing metaphors that help link a spectator with the character’s story. The impersonal becomes personal as objective and casual viewing becomes subjective and engaged learning.
Disgust as an emotional construct that includes hatred is important to consider as it can be linked to the commodification of violence against transpersons as entertainment, a form of visual pornography. Pornography can be understood as any extreme expression of speech, anger, or physical conflict. Any producer of visual messages who shows persons as objects in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture, fifth, or inferiority in a context that makes these conditions voyeuristic is a pornographer. When aggression towards transpersons is shown in mass media presentations for entertainment purposes, the result can be considered a form of pornography. In Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag (2003) wrote, “All images that display the violation of an attractive body are, to a certain degree, pornographic” (p. 85). Visual portrayals that sensationalize transpersons to a level of disgust for audience members would qualify under Sontag’s rubric.
Future Research Topics for Visual Communicators
Looking forward, I contend that future research at the intersection of transgender studies and visual communication would benefit from the implementation of six perspectives for analysis—personal, historical, technical, ethical, cultural, and critical. These lenses for analysis will enable future researchers to analyze past and contemporary transgender representations as well as audience reactions pertaining to disgust and indifference (Lester, 2014, pp. 128-146).
As an initial, subjective opinion, the personal perspective should be employed for studies that determine the before-and-after views of subjects from diverse demographic backgrounds after viewing programs that feature transgender storylines—exploitive, stereotypical, and illustrative. The research should attempt to discover the personal reasons disgust is often tied to dramatic and comical transgender productions.
The historical perspective approach should include in-depth biographies written by researchers that delve deeply into the psyche of producers and actors responsible for transgender presentations. Such work may uncover whether any historical trends have common bonds that need to be broken or strengthen by contemporary creators. Researchers should also conduct content analyses, framing, and gatekeeping studies that reveal the trends in transgender visual stereotypes particularly related to the practice of passing and the concept of disgust as displayed in newspapers, magazines, and advertisements for print and screen media.
As the technical perspective concentrates on the decisions made to create works, future researchers should study production values associated with transgender motion pictures and television shows and discern how technical factors such as hairstyles, makeup, clothing, mannerisms, dialog, lighting, settings, camera angles, and so on affect viewer perceptions of passing while contributing or ameliorating disgust reactions.
Evaluating the choices made by producers is part of the ethical perspective. The role-related responsibility of a maker of visual materials related to the topic of transgender culture should be to educate, rather than to simply entertain, viewers. If such a goal is attempted, then that creator is acting ethically as long as any harm sensed by viewers can be justified. Academics should be invited to oversee the production of programs to make sure fascination with a storyline is not contingent on disgust and revulsion.
The cultural perspective concentrates on the symbolic messages used to tell stories. The popular concept of pornography, with disgust as its chief component, should be expanded to include a critique of non-traditional forms of objectification and abuse as featured by many transgender storylines.
Finally, the critical perspective is employed to take a long-term, thoughtful, and objective viewpoint of the transgender genre as shown by visual presentations. For example, British actor and comedian Eddie Izard was interviewed on NPR ostensibly for his ability to perform his stand-up act in English, French, Spanish, or Arabic, depending on the preference of his audience. Inevitably the conversation turned to his more famous proclivity of dressing as a woman with (usually) a conservative dress, make-up, and heels. Sounding a bit exhausted and perhaps disappointed by the question of why he dons this visual motif, Izard replied with an answer that sums up the future of LGBTQ stereotypes:
If you think about it, gays and lesbians have now got more boring than it was in the ’50s, and ever in history before that. So if you come in and say, I am a plumber, I happen to be gay, you go, OK, well, you any good at plumbing? Yeah, I’m pretty good at plumbing. Fine, I don’t really care if you’re gay or straight or whatever, the plumbing thing is the main thing I hired you for. And that’s what it’s got to get to, you know? That’s where transgender has to get to (NPR Staff, 2014).
Rubin (2006) lamented the often stated and unnecessary divisions that are invariably created when language is used to divide rather than to unite persons. She wrote,
The fact that categories invariably leak and can never contain all relevant ‘existing things’ does not render them useless, only limited.... Instead of fighting for immaculate classifications and impenetrable boundaries, let us strive to maintain a community that understands diversity as a gift, sees anomalies as precious, and treats all basic principles with a hefty dose of skepticism. (p. 479)
When critical evaluations of transgender productions are accomplished by thoughtful writers and researchers whether from academia or popular culture, presentations should be created of transpersons with little regard to birth physicality, with words and images that do not stereotype, and with storylines, actors, and production decisions that promote positive values. It is then possible for the goal of indifference to be realized. In a world where no one questions the gender of any other person is a world where a plumber is judged by the quality of the work rather than the size of her hands.
Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida: Reflections on photography. New York: Hill and Wang.
Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.
Berger, J. (1980). About looking. New York: Pantheon Books.
Califia, P. (1994). Public Sex: The culture of radical sex. Pittsburgh, PA: Cleis.
Cooper, B. (2002). Boys Don’t Cry and female masculinity: Reclaiming a life & dismantling the
politics of normative heterosexuality. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19(1), 44-
Cram, E. D. (2012). “Angie was our sister:” Witnessing the transformation of disgust in the
citizenry of photography. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 98(4), 411-438.
Evans, N. (1998). Games of hide and seek: Race, gender and drag in The Crying Game and The
Birdcage. Text and Performance Quarterly, 18(3), 199-216.
Fagerberg, M. (October 17, 2013). Maury Povich - Man? woman swimsuit segment. YouTube.
Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvqLzYFD2kQ
Fortuna, D. B. (2007). Alone among many: Faculty and student perceptions of harassment and
violence toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer students. Counselor Education
Master’s Thesis. Paper 33. Brockport, NY: The College at Brockport. Retrieved from
Friess, S. (April 22, 2014). Don’t applaud Jared Leto’s transgender “mammy.” Time. Retrieved
Hill, C. A. & Helmers, M. (eds.). (2004). Defining visual rhetorics. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence
Hilton, P. (n.d.). A new skin lightening controversy for Elle! Retrieved from
Hit & Miss. (n.d.) IMDB.com. Retrieved from
Jefferson, C. (June 30, 2011). How I learned to hate transgender people. Good. Retrieved from
Jones, J. (2006). Gender without genitals Hedwig’s six inches. In S. Stryker and S. Whittle
(eds.). The transgender studies reader. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 449-467.
Kaplan, S. J. (1990). Visual metaphors in the representation of communication technology.
Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 7(1), 37-47.
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago
Landau, J. (2012). Reproducing and transgressing masculinity: A rhetorical analysis of women
interacting with digital photographs of Thomas Beatie. Women’s Studies in Communication,
Lester, P. M. (2014). Visual Communication Images with Messages (6th ed.). Boston: Cengage
Lev, A. I. (2004). Transgender emergence: Therapeutic guidelines for working with gender-
variant people and their families. New York: Routledge.
Meyerowitz, J. J. (2004). How sex changed: A history of transsexuality in the United States.
Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
Miller, J-A. (1993). The psychoses, the seminar of Jacques Lacan. (Seminar III, Chapter 1).
Retrieved from http://www.lacanonline.com/index/2010/05/reading-seminar-iii-chapter-i-
Molloy, P. M. (March 18, 2014). RuPaul stokes anger with use of transphobic slur.
Advocate.com. Retrieved from
NPR Staff. (April 28, 2014). Cake Or death? GČteau, s’il vous plaĒt! NPR. Retrieved from
Reddy, M. S. (2014). The rainbow effect: Exploring the implications of queer representation in
film and television on social change. Claremont McKenna College Senior Thesis. Retrieved
Rozin, P., Haidt, J., & McCauley, C. R. Disgust. In Lewis, M., Haviland-Jones, J. M., & Barrett,
Lisa F. (Eds.) (2008). Handbook of emotions. (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press,
Rubin, G. (2006). Of catamites and kings: Reflections on butch, gender, and boundaries. In S.
Stryker and S. Whittle (eds.). The transgender studies reader. New York, NY: Routledge, pp.
Serano, J. (2007). Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of
femininity. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.
Sontag, S. (2003). Regarding the pain of others. London: Penguin.
Transas City. (n.d.). Should transpeople or gay men by happy with Neil Patrick Harris in
Hedwig? Retrieved from http://transascity.org/should-transpeople-or-gay-men-be-happy-