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Trans as “Personal Truth”? Thanks For the Screw Over, Glee

Ryder vs Unique

“No you’re not, you’re a guy” Oh, the words we so love to hear, especially when someone’s gaze at the same time is focused 30 degrees below our chin. Because I managed to go several months now without mentioning ‘Glee’, the writers responded to the doubtless flagging viewership and decided to shove something in there guaranteed to inspire me to write about. Well, probably not, but I’m glad they brought it up anyway as this horribly cold March is leaving me grasping at straws to come up with good topics every three days. For that I thank them.

In case your regular viewing has strayed from quality programming and you spend the time watching shows about people who make duck calls, use coupons, or toss out precociously loveable zingers from double wide trailers, I’ll catch you up. Last week on ‘Glee’ we got to witness a confrontation between Unique, the mega star in the making trans girl, and Ryder, one of the new characters who is catching on as fast as ‘Saved By The Bell, the New Class’. I doubt even Screech could bring out his best. In this episode, Ryder takes the position that Unique is “really a guy” in spite of being told point blank that she is a “proud black woman” and refuses to back down. For the record, the rest of the characters, except for Sue Sylvester, have no trouble understanding Unique for who she is. I was super glad they decided to tackle this. At first.

As usual, I’m going to tangent off to the left for a moment, if for no other reason than to avoid making this a sketchy re-write of the Wikipedia recap of the same. This point hits home for most, if not all, trans people because it speaks to one of our greatest challenges. No matter how we educate those around us, and no matter how we appear, attempting to overcome that lingering mindset that we are “really a…” is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Even those who claim to understand, who want to understand, and may have stood solidly by us the entire time often have trouble wrapping their heads around this.

Very recently, this happened to me yet again. I was explaining to a co-worker, who has been incredible in every respect to my transition, how I had decided to dorm for college because I like to be in total control of my own personal space. This was a little more pressing before I was out, and I’ve since calmed down about it. He replied off the cuff that, “of course you would, like any guy.” My hackles went up immediately. Uh, guy? He attempted to backpedal quickly. “Well, I mean you were a guy at the time.” No, not even then, in spite of appearances. He finally attempted to rectify by comparing me to his daughter who was the same way.

I know there was no deliberate attempt to hurt my feelings. I know he isn’t transphobic, or expressed even the slightest bit of resistance to my change in appearance. What it did though was give me insight into an internal mental space that hadn’t quite made the change over quite yet. Granted, he did know me for a little over ten years as ‘Mike’, but it’s now been 8 months since I have appeared as ‘Mike’ anywhere, much less here at work. I have to wonder how many others still think of me internally as ‘dude’? I clearly have a lot more work ahead of me on a front I fooled myself in thinking was won early on and now a distant memory.

Getting back to ‘Glee’. Well, as glad as I am that they broached the subject and brought it into the mainstream consciousness, I think they flubbed it in the end. After attempting to resolve the issue in the worst possible venue, a sing off, understanding is pushed to Ryder via groupthink. The message? Unique has a different personal truth than Ryder. OK, not what I was hoping to see here. True, in Gleeland a musical mash up usually is enough to win a campaign for hearts and minds, especially when perfectly timed, choreographed, and with shifting changes of venue and wardrobe that may or may not supposed to be really happening. Let’s put that aside and go with the whole ‘personal truth’ thing.

Personal truth is a great concept for disparate opinions that cannot be independently verified. It’s a good compromise along the lines of ‘my orange juice tastes better than yours’ when you have one person calling Jesus the one and only, and another party proclaiming that Buddha is where it’s at. In these cases ‘personal truth’ is a good fallback position to avoid another ‘Taste’s great! Less filling!’ campaign that resorts in untold death, destruction, and still no clear answer like the Great Bud Light War of latter 20th century.

The inherent danger of taking this position is that it all becomes very subjective. Sure you feel you are female, but I feel you are not, and therefore my opinion is equally valid. In most cases of this type, however, both truths are not at all equally valid. If I contend an antibiotic will improve a bacterial infection, and you hold that going to a faith healer is equally valid, I’m reasonably sure the numbers are going to weigh heavily in my favor, no matter what your personal truth is. If the question of trans is handled in the manner of a personal truth, the results are going to be compared to the faith healer by anyone who wants to express doubt for whatever reason.

I would have been much happier if Glee addressed this by pointing to the validation provided by the medical, psychological, and psychiatric communities and the specific reasoning as to why this is nearly universally recognized by scientific bodies as reality. Instead, millions of viewers were left with a very milk toast namby-pamby kind of reasoning that anyone looking to doubt our existence is all too happy to jump on. So glad they brought it up, but really wishing they would have put some more thought into it.

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