GOOD

How I Learned to Hate Transgender People

Be it music, movies, or TV, American culture just can't get enough of mocking transgender people. Here's why that needs to stop.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSPtSEIlp8A

The first time I openly laughed at a transgender person I was 12 years old. It was February, but I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, so the movie theater in which I was seeing Ace Ventura: Pet Detective had the AC on. The laughter helped me shake off the chill.


We, the audience, had just learned that Sean Young's character, Lt. Lois Einhorn, was transgender. Prior to identifying herself as Lois Einhorn, she'd been the pro football player Ray Finkle, who everyone thought was an at-large criminal. "Einhorn is Finkle!" screamed Jim Carrey, cracking the case before our very eyes. "Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a man!" Then, more to himself: "Einhorn is a man?" Then he went to vomit.

The joke, if you can call it that, rested upon an earlier scene in which Carrey kissed Lt. Einhorn. "Your gun is digging into my hip," he'd told her as they made out. Now the memory of kissing a transgender woman was forcing Carrey to puke profusely, burn his clothes, and weep. In the background played Boy George's "The Crying Game," the hit song from two years earlier that had soundtracked a dramatic film with a prominent transgender character.

Looking back, I'm ashamed at how much I guffawed at Carrey's revulsion. We all know what the real joke was—it was disgusting to kiss Einhorn because there's something weird and gross about transgender people. The mockery gets especially debased when Carrey forcefully strips Einhorn down in front of an army of police officers in order to expose her tucked-away penis. Everyone dry heaves when they see the bulge. Carrey eventually tells someone to "read it its rights."

The laughter at transgender people's expense didn't end there, either. One month after Ace Ventura premiered I saw Naked Gun 33 1/3, the hit comedy in which Anna Nicole Smith's character does a sexy silhouette striptease that ends up revealing a penis. Once again, her former suitors are appalled. Then there's the famous Tone Loc frat anthem "Funky Cold Medina," the second verse of which finds Loc talking about a girl he meets named Sheena. After the two flirt, Loc takes Sheena home, where it's revealed that she's transgender. The rapper, who you might remember also co-starred in Ace Ventura, throws Sheena out of his house, saying, "I don't fool around with no Oscar Mayer wiener." Even in supposedly queer-friendly movies like 1991's Soapdish you'll find characters disgusted by transgender people, like when Robert Downey Jr. gags after having a romantic interlude with a trans woman.

Repugnance is a common theme in the trans-people-as-jokes canon. But more prevalent is the element of deceit. Time and again in both comedic and dramatic films, transgender people are cast as deviant tricksters out to fool innocent victims into sleeping with them. This narrative plays upon two of America's deepest fears: sexual vulnerability and humiliation. Not only is your sex partner "lying" about their gender, victims who "fall for it" are then forced to grapple with the embarrassment of being had, of being seen as gay. Men "tricked" into sleeping with another man are embarrassed by the threat to their masculinity. So much culture has taught us that transgender people aren't just sexual aliens, they're also predatory liars.

In reality, we know the real predators are straight people afraid of transgender interlopers. Transgender men and women have been raped, beaten, and killed, often with impunity, throughout history, but only recently have we been keeping count. In 1993 Brandon Teena was raped by two former friends after they discovered he was born a woman. Teena reported the rape, but his local sheriff, who called Teena "it," refused to arrest the attackers. Five days after assaulting him, they returned and murdered him. Similarly, in 2002, four acquaintances of Gwen Araujo, a 17-year-old girl in California, beat and strangled her to death after discovering she was transgender. In all, the Human Rights Campaign estimates one out of every 1,000 murders a year are transgender hate crimes.

More recent cultural depictions of transgender characters are less reactionary, but they're still not very humanizing. A character on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia did date a transgender woman, but they concentrated most of the jokes around his girlfriend's big penis. And in the recent hit sequel The Hangover 2, Ed Helms has sex with a transgender prostitute who may or may not have taken advantage of him when he was too drunk to function (once again, trans folks are portrayed as predatory). We have made some progress, sure, but tell that to the transgender woman who was beaten into a seizure in Baltimore in April. We've still got a long way to go.

In the years since I laughed along with Ace Ventura, I've grown up and stopped getting a kick out of LGBT people—you could say I've gotten better. I've also started to consider what I was laughing at in the first place. I'm willing to agree that society is improved if we grant some leeway to comedians and artists to push the limits. But when pushing the limits becomes debasing an entire group of people as twisted quasi-rapists, we cross the line from comedy to bigotry. When I was laughing at Ace Ventura I was laughing because I was uncomfortable with a biological man living as a woman. I have to wonder if Brandon Teena's killers laughed, too.

Articles
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less
promo-homepage

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics