Monday, May 16, 2011

Do your labia look like a starfish?

An anonymous commenter just told me about Trannymal, a decidedly NSFW site that displays images of transgender folks' genitals with googly eyes and other creative props designed to make them look like animals. Here's the gist:

Have you ever wanted to see transgender genitals, but been afraid to ask? Meet Trannymal, a transgender genital with attitude. Yes, you get to look at him – but he looks back!

“Trannymal” is a two minute short that introduces you to a whimsical creature made up of two googley eyes and one genital. Trannymal is the creation of Dylan Vade, co-founder and former co-director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco. Vade says: “At the Transgender Law Center, I found transgender genitals to be quite a serious subject. People are denied drivers licenses, health insurance, employment – and even murdered, because someone else has a rigid idea of what genitals are supposed to look like. Its absurd to me, to withhold rights based on genital shape. I want to change people’s minds and open their hearts, and humor can do that.”

Trannymal, who himself morphs from a snuffaluffagus to a starfish, believes in a grand multiplicity of bodies. “There are as many different transgender genitals as there are birds that fly,” says Trannymal. Abe Bernard, Trannymal’s still photographer, says “Trannymal is about respecting and honoring all bodies, starting with your own.”

“I love watching people’s reaction to Trannymal,” says Chrys Curtis-Fawley, the director of the short. “Often, there is a nervousness. But right underneath that, I see relief. A relief that this unspoken subject is moving from shame to openness and celebration.” Director of the New School of Erotic Touch, Joseph Kramer, says: “Trannymal gives you permission, permission to be fully, openly, and unapologetically yourself.” Trannymal invites you to curiosity, playfulness, kindness, and boldness.

Some people may find the idea of these images problematic, and as a cis woman, I would not attempt to gainsay any trans individual who feels so. As for my own opinion (coming from a position of cis privilege) I think that trans individuals who are able and willing to address people's curiosity are doing a valuable service for their whole community. Should they have to? Of course not. Does it help when they do? Absolutely.

In her book, Mindfulness, Professor Ellen Langer writes: “People stare at novel stimuli. When the novel stimulus is a person, however, it is culturally unacceptable to stare. Therefore, we reasoned, people may avoid those who are different in an effort to avoid the conflict between wanting to stare and feeling it inappropriate to do so.”

She tested this hypothesis by setting up a study that partnered a subject with a woman who was either pregnant, in a leg brace, or visually unexceptional. Some subjects were given the opportunity to discreetly watch this partner before meeting her. These subjects were then able to work comfortably together when introduced to her. Other subjects were immediately introduced to the partner.

The results: “Those who did not view the partner before meeting her acted more distant when she was either in a leg brace or pregnant. For example, they chose to sit farther away from her than from the 'normal' partner . . . People tend to avoid people who are 'deviant.' In contrast, however, when subjects viewed the person ahead of time and sated their curiosity, they did not sit away from the pregnant or disabled person or show other signs of avoidance. This rather straightforward experiment suggest many ways in which  encounters with people seen as different (for instance, in schools where handicapped children are 'mainstreamed') can be enhanced by providing an outlet for mindful curiosity." (pp 153-170)

This is also why many of us feel that a transgender character on Glee would be wonderful. I appreciated one comment there in particular:

I live in England, I’m 14 years old and I’m pretty sheltered. Glee has actually taught me a lot. I am a HUGE klaine supporter, but two years ago, ask me to write “slash” fanfiction, I would be unwilling and(I REALLY hate to admit it)a little repulsed. Now, it’s no big deal. Also, until several years ago, “queer” was a word used to describe the a place in my favourite book (The Secret Garden). I didn’t get why other people looked shocked or embarrased when I tried using it to describe something – it was just a piece of vocabulary I’d picked up from a classic book. I hadn’t heard the word “tranny” until under a year ago, and only through reading these posts have I realised it can be an offensive term – it was just a word some of my friends used.
What I’m trying to say is there’s a LOT of uneducated people – like me – out there, and having a transgendered person join Glee would be invaluble. it would help people actually ACSEPT them, rather than just know that you SHOULD.

The work the QLGTB movement does has made it safe to have gay characters and their stories prominently featured on popular TV shows like Glee. Hopefully the work that people like the folks at Trannymal do will make it safer to feature trans characters as well.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the Trannymal link. I've been curious ever since a cousin of mine told me he identifies as transgender but I wasn't sure how comfortable he'd feel answering my questions. That website has some great information! :-)