Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Cumulative Effect of Negative Comments

After class tonight, I was hungry so I decided to go to the Golden Arches drive thru for a quick bite. I paid at the first window and picked up my food at the second window. As I took the bag, a young, male employee standing behind the person who gave me my food exlaimed "Aw, hell no!" and quickly turned to hide his laughter. I just took my food and drove away.

Most transgender women (and men) have experienced situations like this. I know it was far from the first for me. At this point, individual comments like this one don't upset me that much. They're like water off a duck's back. I differentiate all the little comments and strange looks and laughter from the more direct attacks and challenges to my identity as a transgender woman. But all of these comments still have an effect. The effect is just more cumulative.

I think Michel Foucault can help us better understand the cumulative effect of these negative comments. In Volume One of The History of Sexuality, he argues that secrecy in regards to sex is part of the working of power against sexual expression. "Not only because power imposes secrecy on those whom it dominates, but because it is perhaps just as indispensable to the latter: would they accept it if they did not see it as a mere limit placed on their desire, leaving a measure of freedom - however slight - intact? Power as a pure limit set on freedom is, at least in our society, the general form of its acceptability" (86). For Foucault, power is created through discourse and the discourse surrounding sex is generally one of taboo and prohibition.

The negative comments directed toward trans women are a manifestation of this discourse of power. The negative comments are meant to have the effect of making trans women feel that being transgender is wrong or worry about their ability to pass. These comments are also meant to push trans women who are out back into the closet, to make them be more secretive about their trans identity.

I argue that the effect of this discourse is cumulative because one comment alone is usually not enough to have an impact but dealing with almost daily looks and comments can begin to have the intended repressive effect. Most transgender women downplay the effect of these types of comments and as I said, individually they don't have much effect. But we need to begin to pay more attention to this type of discourse because it is the most frequent form of repression transgender people encounter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Transgender Women and Body Image

Transgender women, and other transgender individuals, face intense pressure from society about their non-binary gender identity. Many trans women internalize the feeling that being transgender is wrong, and it takes a lot of time and effort to overcome this feelling and be comfortable with who you are. But this is far from the only pressure trans women face.

I know from personal experience that one of the other major barriers to a trans woman being comfortable with who she is in public is the feeling that you could never "pass" or even look decent as a woman. I did not pursue living as a woman for many years because I belived I could never look like a woman. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was a man in a dress.

As I've discussed in previous posts, I've reached the point where I feel like a woman and see myself as a woman but seeing myself as a "man in a dress" hasn't entirely disappeared. When I catch my reflection in the mirror at a certain angle or see a picture of myself, sometimes all I can see are the parts of myself that scream "man!" I know many other trans women have felt the same way. We also worry about our weight, whether or not our feet look too big in a certain pair of shoes, if our hair and makeup look okay, etc.

To me, these are the same concerns with body image that all women share. There's nothing different from a trans woman and a "real" woman looking at herself in the mirror, taking note of the flaws she sees in herself and debating if it was really worth spending $50 on a new dress "because it just makes me look fat anyway."

We've all internalized society's standards of beauty, whether you were born a woman or just learning to be the woman you are. And thinking that trans women somehow escaped this pressue to fit into certain standards for body image because they weren't born women is ridiculous. There is currently no acceptable trans body image, no place in-between male and female. To be trans is to try to fit into society's standards for that sex. Some through trial and error develop the self-confidence to be who they are. Some, particularly genderqueer individuals, actively challenge society's standards. And some never leave their houses.

Trans women need to recognize society's body image standards for what they are: socially constructed standards. Every woman is a unique individual; very few people fit into the supermodel/Barbie standard that society has established for women. If you fit into this category, great! But most people don't. Trans women need to learn to see themselves as the unique individuals that they are. So what if we don't all fit into society's image of women! It would be a boring place if we were all the same. Be confident in who you are as a woman, not what someone else expects you to be!

I know this is a lesson I'm still trying to learn myself.

Friday, April 16, 2010

U.S. Manga Sales Down 20% in 2009

The pop culture business website ICv2 reports that manga sales in the U.S. were down 20% in 2009 from $175 million to $140 million. This is after a drop from a high of $210 million in 2007. To put this in perspective, the movie industry made over $10 billion in 2009.

I will be the first to admit that I didn't buy as much manga last year as I have in years past. As I looked at the pile of unread manga volumes on my desk, I couldn't quite down to the local bookstore and buy more when I knew they were just going to sit there for months as I focused on my grad school reading. Now I buy manga more in bunches; when I get a break, I'll read through the manga I have and then go buy some more.

It's interesting to note that the author of the ICv2 article points out the female fans as a factor in the decline in manga sales. Manga has long been one of the few pop culture forms that specifically targeted female fans and these fans can be rightly credited with the manga boom in the U.S. For many of the geek fandoms in the U.S., having female fans is just an added benefit, not a group to try to specifically appeal to. Now that these fans are in their late 20s/early 30s, the article argues, the shoujo (girls' comics) manga that led to the boom is not as appealing and the josei (women's comics) manga titles that have come out haven't caught on at the same level.

It will be interesting to see if the U.S. manga industry can find a way to keep these older fans interested in manga or find ways to appeal to a new generation of female fans. I just hope they will continue to bring titles to the U.S. that appeal to female readers and don't decide, like every other fandom, that the only way to survive is to try to be more appealing to males.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Be Yourself!

Last week, a friend and I went to see the new film "How to Train Your Dragon: from Dreamworks Animation. The film itself was very good a features a younng Viking boy who struggles to find his place in his warrior culture. The film got me thinking about a prominent feature of many animated films.

The message of many of these films is "Be yourself!" Many animated films feature characters who don't fit in in their society. Po in "Kung Fu Panda" struggles to find his place in his father's noodle shop and in the dojo of the Furious Five. Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" is ostracized by the people in her community because she is interested in reading and seeing the world instead of marrying Gaston. "The Little Mermaid," "Shrek," "Lilo & Stitch," "Mulan" and many other films feature this message.

This is obviously a lesson that we as a society have decided is important and is something that we should be teaching our children. As a transgender woman I can't help but note the disparity between the message of these films and the way trans people are treated. It seems that we want our children to learn to be themselves, but only to a certain point.