My spouse, an ardent follower of celebrity gossip, forwarded me a blind item the other day. By blind I don’t mean the person mentioned was blind, but that the name of the person is currently being withheld by the person writing the story, presumably either for liability or complete fabrication reasons. Anyway, as the story goes, the lead singer from an uber-popular band with a boatload of hits in the 90’s, who is married to a super model/ actress or actress/ model, is undergoing gender transition and making a documentary of it along the way. My immediate reaction was a little sour. Great, now I’m going to be bumped down one to being the 24,753rd most influential trans person. Just fucking wonderful. My chances of getting a Wikipedia entry just became a bit more slim. So, let’s dish about trans celebrities, as I gnaw on my bitter bone of discontent.
I think none of us has failed to notice the sudden rise in individuals of full blown, or at least quasi, celebrity status undergoing gender transition. I mean, sure, it’s not exactly unheard of, what with Alexis Arquette, Calpernia Addams, and Andrea James bouncing around since the late 90’s/ early 00’s, but in spite of some amazing talent in that mix, they weren’t exactly making headlines. Then the teens hit and it’s a full blown eruption. Chaz Bono, Laura Jane Grace, Janet Mock, Lana Wachowski, and Chelsea Manning. OK, the celebrity thing is a stretch with Chelsea, but she was still a household name before she came out after the conviction. It’s a wonderful thing, right? A massive injection of trans awareness into the public sphere; bold inoculation against full blown ignorance and demographic degradation.
Here’s the thing that makes me just a tiny bit nervous. Since 1954, I don’t think one parent ever leaned over to their child looking wide eyed up at the movie screen and said, “See those people up there child? You do whatever you can to find out what they do, and dad-gum, you do the same thing.” Famous people hold our fascination almost completely for the train-wreck factor. The tabloids make billions off of the meltdowns of young starlets and crushing indiscretions. Amanda Bynes will always trump the juicy bit that Ron Pearlman likes to make his own quilts with hand ticking on Friday nights. Nobody cares about the good stuff; just those wacky zany antics. DUIs, domestic assaults, head shavings, gender transitions… I think you see my point.
Now, I’m not saying that the general public is going to suddenly think that being transgender is just another crazy trend sweeping Hollywood. I am worried, however, that people are going to get a bit of a misrepresentation. I’m sure serious practitioners of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism were not super excited when Madonna and other celebs jumped on board and made a very old, deep and rich quest for spiritual understanding look like a fashion trend. Not exactly the same thing, but you get my point. Suddenly years of focused study, prayer and meditation appear to be replaced with slapping on a red string bracelet and everyone is equal.
I’m not saying being transgender is not tremendously difficult for anyone; Hollywood, one-percenters (the rich ones, not the crank fueled hog rider ones), and others. The same crushing fear, emotional difficulties, and painful coming out process definitely applies. The problem is that the general audience doesn’t really see all that. Unlike movies where we get a nice montage set to ominous music when someone is struggling with a seemingly insurmountable issue, the real anguish is off stage and in the back somewhere. In spite of tearful Oprah interviews, the main perception is that so-and-so was a dude and now appears to be a chick. Good for them. Go so-and-so! You can barely tell he… I mean she… used to be a dude! It sure doesn’t hurt to have ample funds, private doctors and surgeons, and at-will time off to manage these huge changes. I pretty much see this ship docking in the port of, “Everyone and their brother is changing genders, Michelle. Doesn’t seem to be a thing to it, so what the hell have you been crabbing about?”
So… yeah. I think it’s good that transgender people who live in the public limelight are demonstrating the tremendous courage it takes to embrace their true selves. They are our sisters and brothers just as all trans people are, and any one of them would be very welcome at one of my meetings; not as a celebrity, but a trans person just like the rest of us seeking community. At the same time I wish they would acknowledge and promote the fact that while their inner difficulties are the same, that it might be just a little harder if they also had to worry about becoming unemployable or unable to fund any of the treatment they need in order to feel like a complete person. They helped the world understand that transgender is a real thing, but now I would love it if they expanded the message that it is also a hard thing.
By the way, I’m very much hoping that the person referenced in the first paragraph turns out to be John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls. He’s official Buffalo NY Royalty and we sure could use him (or her?) on the team. I mean, who could pen a song like ‘Iris’ without a female spirit? Maybe he’d even play at our annual holiday party to his smallest ever audience of 8 to 11 people. I can dream, can’t I?