“TrAnnie” will dehumanise and trivialise #Girlslikeus
September 23, 2012 in Australia, Bigotry, Comment Articles, Community, Cross Dressing, Culture, Gender Identity, Identity, LGBT, Member Articles, Society, Trans, Transgender, Transition, Transphobia, Transsexual, Wipe Out Transphobia
Trans women, or #Girlslikeus, deserve better because our lives matter, and our lives should matter to the Sydney Opera House and the writers of “TrAnnie”. You may be asking why I’m referring to trans women as “#girlslikeus”.
This was started by Janet Mock, a trans woman of colour living in the US, who chose to speak up and live visibly due to the regular forms of violence and the many trans women who have been murdered, particularly women of colour. #Girlslikeus are often reminded of our place in the world from the violence we see directed to our sisters and our own personal experiences of violence on a regular basis.
To quote Janet:
“For trans women of color, these murders are constant reminders that who we are falls so outside of the box of what society says is acceptable, that our deaths and even our lives don’t matter. We are in effect disposable. And our entire system validates this belief… These women won’t be able to tell their stories and it is for them and #girlslikeus that I decided to step forward and finally tell my story and own my truth.”
I wish to thank Janet Mock for starting this movement, which although she refers to trans women of colour in the quote, she has invited all trans women to be part of it. It is a movement that talks about how we are degraded, trivialised, dehumanised and mocked. It is a movement to talk about how our identities and lived experiences are referred to as a joke or satire; that we aren’t real women and real people. The upcoming stage show, “TrAnnie”, is not happening in a vacuum; it operates in a political, social and cultural phenomenon that sees trans women as less than and thus acceptable to make derogatory and violent depictions of our lives. This in turn, justifies the violence we receive. “TrAnnie” will justify the violence we receive, whether the writers are doing this intentionally or not is irrelevant.
How I found out about “TrAnnie”
A couple of nights ago, my partner sent me a message about an upcoming show by Trevor Ashley at the Sydney Opera House, called “TrAnnie”. I went on to read the description about the Show on the Sydney Opera House website, with the focus of the show being on the life of a ten-year-old orphan named “Fannie” (who is also played by Trevor Ashley). To quote the Sydney Opera House website:
“His parents left him in a basket on the doorstep of the Sutherland Shire Children’s Orphanage with nothing but a bracelet and a bottle of Stoli. Now he is desperate to get his long-overdue gender reassignment surgery, but there’s so much standing in his way: including that boozy matron Miss Trannigan (Rhonda Burchmore) who has just been listed on the sex-offender registry, and is bitter from years of Logie losses. Thank God Fannie has a bunch of foul mouthed orphans and his/her trusty ex-sniffer dog to help him/her survive.”
The site goes onto describe Fannie’s wish to be adopted by a millionaire and amateur photography. To do so, Fannie must pose for a series of “arty” photo shoots and appear on radio, with no guarantee of what the website ignorantly calls her “sex-change”. A Google search revealed it was already being favourably reviewed by the Sydney gay press, who went along using similar mocking language as the website advertising the show used.
If you haven’t already worked out from my writing, my partner (a cis man 1.) and I (a trans woman) were both shocked to find out the writers of the show had used the popular musical “Annie” in what seems a grossly dehumanising, trivialising and transphobic way to perform a superficial presentation of trans people, specifically trans girls and women, on the stage.
Why the stage show is dehumanising, trivialising and transphobic
To begin with, the very name of the show is offensive. The term trannie/tranny has often been a derogatory term to describe trans people, and almost always, trans women. However, the term tranny actually started in Sydney around the 1960’s, originally as a bond between trans women and drag queens. In the 60s, for a lot of male assigned at birth trans and genderqueer people, transition began with a fabulous drag presentation, with a raw sexuality. Whilst I don’t wish to shame pornography or sexuality, it was the pornography industry that popularised “tranny” and “she-male”, pornography that was as representative of our sexualities as “girl-on-girl” pornography is representative of lesbian and queer women’s sexualities. We also began to hear about the grossly misogynistic “tranny trap” of a straight man being “lured” or “tricked” into having a relationship and sleeping with a “she-male”. Now, tranny has become a violent term directed at trans women and male-assigned-at-birth sex and gender diverse people, often being said alongside an experience of a number of forms of violence that are common experiences for trans women. These forms of violence include: sexual, physical, bodily, emotional, psychological, domestic, partner or family violence. Many of our attackers will justify our violence and murders because of the misogynistic “tranny trap”. Our attackers try to justify their violence against us by saying “they aren’t really gay”, “aren’t attracted to trannys”, “that tranny’s aren’t welcome in their families, friendships or communities”.
It may be because of the earlier history of the term “tranny” that the writer, Trevor Ashley, feels he has a right to claim this term. However, because this term is now mostly directed at trans women through violence, I feel that only trans women have the autonomy over this term and the right to decide whether it can be “reclaimed”. It is not Trevor Ashley’s, or any other cis gay or queer man’s, term to reclaim. It also complicates the lives of trans women, who do live their lives in fabulous drag as well – who Trevor does not represent either. I’m aware that Trevor Ashley does do many drag performances, though I believe there has been a huge separation between cis gay and queer men who perform in drag, and making misogynistic drag performances about trans girls and women. Trevor can only be coming from the later in his portrayal of #girlslikeus in “TrAnnie”.
Then from what it appears in the advertising that the show will rely on the same, usual and un-original cheap jokes and mocks made about trans women and our bodies, the so-called “humour” of men in women’s cloths, usage of the offensive term “trannie”, focus on what genitals trans women have and why trans women aren’t ‘really women’ until we have a “sex change” (a quick search will find the term for this surgery is actually “vaginoplasty”, and has many terms that are more commonly used and acceptable by trans women 2.), “his/her” puns, making puns on popular lyrics to add further injury, like “your son will come out tomorrow”, and usage of incorrect pronouns that many #girlslikeus have begun to expect when we see our lives talked about in the media or trivialised for comedic purposes. For many of these reasons above, the show is also highly exploitative of trans women, as we are such a dis-empowered group that is usually shunned when we speak out when the above is done to us.
When trans women start to express our identities, the people around us, our family, friends, partners, lovers, or employers, administrative systems, doctors, health professionals, and the people much more broadly in society; seem to immediately and obsessively focus on our genitals and our bodies. We are told over and over again that the lack of what they believe to be the genitals that are “required” for us to have a woman’s body; does not mean we are women or have women’s bodies. It ignores how we view our body, which even without what is referred to quite ignorantly as a “sex change”; we don’t interact with our bodies or view our bodies in the same way as men who agree with the gender they were assigned at birth. It is an erasing process, particularly given how inaccessible vaginoplasty is to so many. “TrAnnie” looks set to obsessively focus on a trans girls genitals, and gives the message to young trans girls that they aren’t really girls until they have vaginoplasty. This gives a cruel message to trans girls, who even if they have the funds to have vaginoplasty, cannot under many state laws in Australia access this until they are over 18. If trans girls are being sent the message by “TrAnnie” that they aren’t really girls, this just contributes to what so many do and say to a trans girl to demean and erase her identity. This is disgusting, given the high level of depression and suicidal feelings many trans girls have as a result of receiving many messages, just like what is being sent by “TrAnnie”.
These actions really do erase so many aspects of trans women’s identities, bodies and lives. The language already being used reinforces so much of the language that is so commonly used by the mainstream (i.e. people with more power who are not trans) to silence, joke about, and de-legitimise trans people’s identities, which makes our identity less real or less valid than the identities of non-trans people. Through this erasing process, there is violence in the language, discourses and taken-for-granted assumptions being used about trans people. This process then legitimises so much of the violence directed at trans people – whether socially, administratively, culturally, physically, sexually, and emotionally (and indeed, the descriptions and advertisements do many of these as well).
Furthermore, what seems even more dangerous for the lives of trans people is the joking of Fannie living with a registered sex offender, whose name also makes a pun of trans identities, and the dubious behaviour described of Fannie’s desired adopter, who wishes to take “arty” photos of her. I’m unsure by the short description if the writers are stereotypically suggesting, that Fannie only identifies as a girl from what may be the abuse she received from either of these people. It is also unclear if the description is suggesting the matron sex offender of the orphanage, Miss Trannigan, is a trans women as well and that this trans woman is sexually abusing Fannie. If this is the case, it is relying on the same gross stereotype cast on gay and queer people decades ago; that they were unsafe around children. Today, this same gross stereotype that trans women are unsafe to be around children is not only deeply offensive; it is grossly inaccurate given that 50-60% of trans women who experience rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment at some point in their lives. To add to this, it is usually people who supposedly care for us (family, friends, lovers, and partners); who are sexually violent towards us.
My hopes in the portrayal of trans women
#Girlslikeus deserve better in how we are portrayed in the media, in stage shows, in books, in art, in movies, in songs, and in every other form of art, writings, performances and media; because our lives matter. Currently, so many of the above show us in the lowest common-denominator comic like fashion, which degrades us as girls, women and people. I call on all the above to invite trans women to be part of the formation, writing, planning and presentation of our lives, so we are shown in ways that respect our human worth and dignity. I ask that you present us more sensitively, creatively and purposefully challenge the many forms of violence #girlslikeus experience. I ask that you empower us in the way you report or portray our lives, just the same as you would when wanting to portray all the identities in the LGBTIQ community. I’ve tagged so many people into this article, as I hope that you all can start discussing and writing about what “TrAnnie” does for trans girls and women’s lives. Thank you all for reading this, and thank you to all the #girlslikeus who give me hope and make me believe that I deserve better.
If you wish to find out more about why Janet Mock started #girlslikeus, this is a great read: http://janetmock.com/2012/05/28/twitter-girlslikeus-campaign-for-trans-women/
1. Cis means a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. This is not an offensive term for cis people. Rather, it is term used to show that cis identities are no more normal and just as much performed as trans identities.
2. Terms more commonly expressed and more acceptable for use for “vaginoplasty” is “sex re-assignment surgery”, “gender affirmation surgery”, “genital reconstruction surgery”. “Sex-change” is highly offensive.