UPDATE: Jody and Buck have ended Transgasm before it even started, due to pushback from the trans communities. On their site they now call people with critiques full of “hate.” My question is, if Transgasm couldn’t last one week under pressure, what was this project really about?
Somewhere between the endless Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, health care reform, and frequent trans community infighting, it had to happen. I mean, it couldn’t go on forever that the huge disparity in supply and demand for gender identity-related surgeries didn’t motivate someone to come up with a scheme touted as the solution to all of our troubles. Yes, there have been top surgery parties for years, and the swath of crowdsourcing applications seems to continue unabated, but these are at the initiative of the person seeking a surgical procedure. On Friday last week, Buck Angel and Jody Rose launched Transgasm.org, which sounds like a porn venture, but has nothing to do with the “gasm” spectrum.
Transgasm markets itself as a positivist campaign to fund trans-related surgeries. From their site:
Transgasm.org is an organization that will fully fund surgeries in the FTM and MTF transsexual communities and help to create income for the transsexual community, its supporters, and for anyone else who identifies the way they choose to identify.
Putting aside the conflict and issues with definitions like “transsexual” and “the way they choose to identify,” there are some clear points in the sentence. Things like “fully fund” and “organization” are specific terms, even if “anyone” and “create income” are not. And the vagueness in the FAQ for the site, which is supposed to be the page where questions are clarified, winds up being real cause for concern. Here are the issues I have with Transgasm.org:
1. It’s a pyramid scheme—As eloquently described by Emi Koyama, the paying-it-forward nature of Transgasm means that there needs to be an ever-expanding group of people paying into the scheme to keep the money flowing. Read Emi’s post to get a lot more detail on that.
2. It asks people on the margins to contribute creative projects to the site for free—There’s a lot of touting on Transgasm.org that they ask for no fee from people seeking funds for surgery. Well, of course they don’t. They’re asking for original artwork, ebooks, video, and other digital content that they can sell on the site to generate capital for these surgeries. If the works are high quality, then that is a crappy thing to do to someone who worked hard on their art and who will not be able to publish it anywhere reputable after they publish it on the Transgasm site. Artists and writers should be paid, even nominally, for their work. If the works are mediocre or poor, then who is going to buy more than a few copies of them?
3. Its system for identifying content producers is non-transparent and full of meaningless jargon—To get your surgery funded, you need to “attend” Transgasm University. To “attend,” you need to sign up on the site, and then hope you’re selected by Buck and Jody. How this selection process works, nobody knows. How any selection process funds the entire FTM and MTF communities, I also don’t know. Why have a selection process other than first come, first served, if the point is to revolutionize funding for surgeries? But furthermore, why do individuals have to sit through a seminar? Is it to share the “new skills” in the “law of attraction” and “thought science”? Also, isn’t sitting through a seminar the fast track to a time share in Boca Raton?
4. It’s devoid of the rapid changes in health care coverage and the political push for trans-related health care coverage—As we speak, trans people are signing up for health care insurance. More and more employers are ending the trans-related exceptions in their insurance policies, and covering preventive care (like PAP smears for men with cervixes and prostate exams for women with prostates), and surgical procedures. After all, what makes a system like Transgasm even possible is a market that for decades has refused to serve the trans community. What if more people put their energies into changing that market, and say, using the leverage contained in the Affordable Care Act to do so? Oh, what’s that? That’s already happening? Great! So why are we going to give all kinds of content free to these two guys?
5. It’s had zero trans women involved—If this were really a system dedicated to both trans women and men, would the emphasis be so much on Buck and Jody’s physiques? Or their tips for bodybuilding? Or not have any input from even one single token trans woman? It’s not just a surface issue of representation, either. Trans women and trans men seek rather different medical and surgical procedures, which come at ridiculously different price points. Average cost for a bilateral mastectomy and chest reconstruction: $8,500. Average cost for a vaginoplasty: $20,000. Yes, some surgeries requested by trans men will be more expensive than those requested by trans women (e.g., phalloplasty versus larynx shaving), but my point here is surgery =/= surgery. If my ebook sells on Transgasm.org for $20, I’ll need a lot more of them to sell if I’m looking to cover a $20,000 procedure. Involvement from trans women could have, I don’t know, pointed this out to them before they slapped up their web site.
6. The math doesn’t work—Let’s go back to my $20 book. So according to Buck and Jody, if I sell a copy of my book on their site, $10 will go into my account for my personal Idaho—I mean, surgery—$5 will go to 7 other people and their surgery funds (I’m sure they’re grateful for my 71 cents), and $5 will go to administering the site “to make sure it can continue to do this important work.” If my surgery costs $8,500, I will need to sell 850 copies of my ebook, and in the process I’ll have “donated” $4,250, or $607, to each of those 7 other surgeries. It’s a huge number of sales needed for a much smaller return to anyone else in the stream. Not to mention that again, with no known editorial process, no distribution or marketing other than what happens on the site, the likelihood of selling 850 copies is miniscule. So disparities in how much a procedure costs can echo in terms of how long or how much effort needs to go into funding some of these surgeries.
7. It’s poorly defined—The phrase, “and for anyone else who identifies the way they choose to identify,” actually means everyone. We all choose to identify with some gender identity, even those of us who identify with no gender. That’s still an identity. So if the funding scheme here is for the FTM and MTF communities AND all of those other humans, then who is this funding scheme supposed to support again? The laughable logic here is that if any funding scheme were to attempt to fund everybody, we could all go back to funding only ourselves. Or say, pushing for political change so that trans people don’t need cockamamie ideas for getting needed procedures done. And by the way, I know Buck and Jody don’t really mean “everyone,” I just think it’s evidence that they haven’t thought through their idea here.
I’m not here to argue with Buck or Jody of their rippling muscles, or marvel at their copious YouTube videos. I’m here to tell fellow transfolk that their energies will be better spent elsewhere. If the web site that is supposed to change funding trans surgeries “forever” can’t even explain how their business model works, and if they use finding $160 in the street as an example of how that business model functions, then it is time to close the tab on that experiment. Because what we don’t need any more of around these parts are bad ideas.