Commodifying Transfolk

chaz bono dancing with the stars promo photoI will say right off the bat that I’m not the biggest fan of Dancing with the Stars. I like it enough to watch when someone I like—or greatly dislike—is on the show, much like I’ll watch American Idol on only a spotty basis. I really like dancing as an art form, especially given my total lack of physical grace, because I love to see the human form do things I didn’t know were possible, and then whoa, there’s music and lots of feathers to boot! But DWTS sometimes makes me sad, because the “stars” in question often seem to be scrapping for whatever vestiges of glory they can still obtain, and the whole faded Lola a la Copacobana thing is not my speed.

In short: I will watch Margaret Cho, Ralph Macchio, Jennifer Grey, Joey Fatone, and a whole host of others out of love and interest. I was not a fan of Kate Gosselin, Bristol Palin, or The Situation, but I still kept up with their performances. And that said, I do like how DWTS has included lots of out gay and lesbian personalities, like some of those I just mentioned and other folks like Lance Bass. It was only a matter of time before a trans man was selected for the dancing show. And so we have Chaz Bono, the “most famous” trans man out there. Or is he?

Everyone has forgotten all about little ole Thomas Beatie, known more popularly as “the pregnant man.” Yesterday Beatie took to hyperspace to proclaim that Bono had “stolen his thunder” along with his spot on the show. My initial comment on Facebook was for Beattie to keep it classy. But I suppose we’re beyond that already.

Beatie was most definitely not the first transmasculine or transsexual man to give birth to a baby after a sex change, not by a long shot. He’s just the first person to attempt to commodify it for himself with a book and television talk show appearances. Many transfolk I knew at the time his book was hitting the market were quietly annoyed, in part for his bald media hogginess, which apparently he still espouses, and in part because it’s the first ones to the microphone who dictate the terms of the discussion. Openly trans men everywhere, including myself, now had to field rather invasive questions about how easy it was for us or Beatie to get pregnant, whether we were interested in such things for ourselves, and how the legal system would understand such parenthood. It was like a whole new aggravating world of educating the non-trans.

Some of that isn’t Beatie’s fault, except that none of his statements to the media supported not bothering other trans people. Like I wrote about with regard to Chaz Bono’s first round of media interviews, trans people who put themselves on the national stage—or who have it thrust upon them, as has happened to some extent to Chaz—need to think about the words that come out of their mouths because for better or worse, they’re serving as spokespersons for the rest of us.

Dancing with the Stars is not Beatie’s vehicle to maintain some kind of human interest in his life. And it is even more infuriating that he thinks ABC should have selected him over Bono because his body is in such better shape. To that I give a resounding “Screw you, Beatie.” Fat people can dance. Chubby people still have moves, if not evidenced by my ACL-snapping pivot move to “Billie Jean” during my wedding reception.

Also, people work on their health, and projects, and family life all the frigging time with no oohs and ahs from a studio audience. They do these things because they’re important in and of themselves. Being transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, or gender nonconforming isn’t a commodity one should market like one’s haircutting license. It’s a necessary state of being that, if people like Beattie will only try to remember, was our only option for continuing to walk this planet. The way Beattie insists on marketing his gender only adds fuel to nasty ideas about transfolk. I have a whole lot more sympathy for trans artists, writers, intellectuals, and activists who prioritize community building and empowerment than self-serving accolades.

Beatie should have cheered for Bono’s selection, even if he wanted a spot himself. The world is certainly large enough for there to be many, many trans-identified people known in their fields. If we’re going to celebrate Beatie’s ability to have three children, then let’s put our hands together for the thousands of transfolk who parent and parent well every single day.

Also, let’s stop calling Beatie “the pregnant man.” I’m all for switching this to “the spoilsport.”

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Categories: LGBT Civil Rights, Pop Culture

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14 Comments on “Commodifying Transfolk”

  1. September 1, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know what Thomas Beattie’s name was. Then again, I don’t know that he’s defined himself as anything other than “the pregnant man.” It’s not like this is the old, “But do they call me Paddy The Bridge Builder?” joke, here.

    • evmaroon
      September 1, 2011 at 9:18 am #

      I have a hard time remembering his name, too. I suppose if I ever make it as a writer, I’ll be known as “that fat trans guy who isn’t Chaz.” This is because I can no longer be called “The lesbian Sedaris.” Damn, damn, damn.

  2. September 1, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    It’s not like this is going to be the final season of DWTS. Beattie can hop on that train in a future year. But I think the real issue here is being first, and the fact that Chaz won that race is the pain that the pregnant man will have to labor with from here on out.

    Of course, after his remarks, I’m guessing his shot at being on a future season is probably out, but again, not being first, he probably wouldn’t want to anyhow.

    • evmaroon
      September 1, 2011 at 9:56 am #

      Exactly right. I think his complaining is enough to steer producers of the show away from him for the forseeable future. Just don’t count out a crappy cable show someday. Maybe he’s jockeying for a kind of “Kate Plus 8″ show on TLC, who knows? I don’t see myself supporting his media moments at this point.

  3. September 1, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    I agree with NYC. Beattie’s probably lost his chance at it, but was that his forum? It’s interesting to watch the media-lovers of any faction of our population as they just can’t do without and get greedy. Like you said, Ev, DWTS is like the gate at the glory graveyard for the famous.

    “Many transfolk I knew at the time his book was hitting the market were quietly annoyed, in part for his bald media hogginess, which apparently he still espouses, and in part because it’s the first ones to the microphone who dictate the terms of the discussion.”

    That is the way it is when groups considered non mainstream become “suddenly discovered” by mainstream (Oprah et al.) media. Even in local communities, I find I have to be the one to educate those around me in terms of my life as a lesbian and a bipolar. We are forced into advocating, though I can’t say I recoil from the role. I also don’t particularly seek it out.

    • evmaroon
      September 1, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      Agreed, people will ask all kinds of questions of anyone in a marginalized group, sometimes with the best intentions, often not. So I think if I’m on say, the Ellen Show or in front of Conan O’Brien, I need to stress that these are just my experiences, and one’s mileage may vary. And certainly I think it’s not hard to answer a question with a, “mind you, don’t ask your local transsexual this,” in giving an answer to something particularly invasive. Some of it might get cut in the editing room, yes, but at least we can start out principled and go from there. I don’t see Kate Bornstein speaking for all trans women when she’s in front of an audience. Just one example. That said, I do know that part of my life walking around as an out trans man is going to include folks inquiring as to my old name, or how much I’ve changed surgically, or whether my wife is staying with me. People have even assumed I’m a man looking to have a sex change to a woman. I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that Beattie is marketing himself as interesting BECAUSE he’s trans, and I wonder about the “freak show” effect of that. So I’m glad DWTS went with Chaz instead of him.

      • September 1, 2011 at 10:27 am #

        Good points, indeed. It has to be recognized that none of us speaks for the whole group much like heteros do not speak for the whole of their community. Yes, who is Beattie without his babies and transmaleness? Great post Ev.

  4. Jay
    September 1, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Beattie seems the classic case of pathological narcissism.

    • evmaroon
      September 1, 2011 at 10:36 am #

      Who can say? He certainly isn’t interested in how his sound bites come off to others.

  5. September 9, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Gah! our local top-40 station has a DWTS spot in the AM show each season during their celebrity gossip segment. So they were making distasteful jokes about Chaz all last week (yah, I know, you’re shocked). Anyway, on the plus side, the AM DJ apparently got a lot of push-back, because this week he had to give one of those Not-pologies.

    I bring this up because during the notpology, DJ brings up that DWTS is certainly NOT having Chaz on to foward trans* causes, they’re doing it for the monies. Which, I’m sure is true. Which, in light of this piece makes me think that maybe that’s the source of Beattie’s *real* ire: by choosing Chaz over him, DWTS producers are in effect saying his money-making-from-the-public-eye stock is down.

  6. September 9, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    very good point irishup! What do they care about furthering trans causes?

    • September 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

      Well, maybe I’m being too cynical. I have no doubt the bottom line is the prime motivator, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that at least 1 producer/decision maker thinks that being more inclusive (for a modest value of inclusivity) is a positive thing in and of itself, or at least is good PR.

      I will be watching with interest (or more likely, reading recaps by evmaroon and others) to see how Chaz winds up being treated, though.

      • September 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

        Yes, I walk with that one-eye open cynicism on a medium day and more arms-open hope on a good day. All it takes to get it started is one decision maker to see some possibility and throw it out there. To keep the momentum, of course, it will take more than DWTS and arguments from Beattie. Yes, it will be interesting to see how things pan out during and after this show.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Who Chaz Bono Is Not | Trans/plant/portation - October 7, 2011

    [...] I’ve had it. I gave Chaz Bono’s interview with The New York Times a tired, jaundiced eye because there was a lot of gender stereotyping going on in his comments, and at the time it reminded me of other problematic things I’ve heard transfolk say when the spotlight is upon them. But I freely admit that a lot  of this is about the questions culturally incompetent people ask (read: I don’t think David Letterman has any training in which questions to avoid asking trans-identified people), and the stress of coming up with responses on the spot. Given the documentary that focused on Chaz’s transition, and Chaz’s gracefulness during the Dancing with the Stars competition—in which people have questioned his manhood, his fitness, and his dance skills—I’d say Chaz is treading more carefully now, repeatedly speaking about listening to his elders in transition/transitude, and more importantly, speaking only for himself. I dare say it’s a level of diplomacy that Thomas Beatie, a.k.a. “the pregnant man” has not shown himself capable. [...]

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