Chaz Bono Doesn’t Speak for Me: Reluctance About “The Reluctant Transgender Role Model”

photo by Kevin Scanlon for The New York Times

I was, perhaps naively, excited to see a big bold headline on the cover of the Sunday Times Style Section: “The Reluctant Transgender Role Model.” The piece is a profile of Chaz Bono, and a preview of the documentary, “Becoming Chaz,” which premiered on OWN this week. Now I haven’t seen the documentary, or read his new memoir. This is in response to the Times piece — which turned out to be a sloppy piece of journalism, written flippantly and insensitively, that generalized one man’s perspective as if it were representative of all trans people’s experiences. It certainly doesn’t represent mine.

The article, first of all, is inexplicably narrated through the reporter’s transphobias. Cintra Wilson makes sure we know she’s with it by telling us she’s “a lifelong liberal from San Francisco and friendly with a number of transgender people.” (She even includes a quote from Rosie O’Donnell that validates her by writing that O’Donnell “too had to pave some inner potholes en route to accepting gender transitioning.”)

Wilson also makes several classic trans-reporting mistakes. She uses female pronouns to describe Chaz before his transition, and then switches to male pronouns for the rest. The photos printed with the piece play into the trite “before and after” narrative that people seem to be obsessed with when it comes to transgender people. Wilson also rushes to the “what’s in the pants” question by addressing bottom surgery early on. Nick Krieger has written persuasively about why this topic shouldn’t always be so taboo, but for this particular piece and audience, it’s not the most appropriate—or important—matter at hand.

No doubt the weirdest part of the article was this paragraph of uninhibited speculation about the “root” of Chaz being transgender:

Could it be possible that the fact that Chaz is now a man is somehow Cher’s fault? Did the toxic culture of celebrity damage Chastity/Chaz’s gender identity? Did Cher’s almost drag-queenlike hyper-female persona somehow devour Chastity’s emerging femininity? Could Chaz’s transition have been motivated by gender-bent Oedipal revenge? Is he reclaiming the childhood attention his superstar mother always diverted?

I had to ask: It is remotely possible that he needed to make the transition because his mom is Cher?

I don’t even know where to start with this. Everything about it is just ridiculous

Most problematic though, is that the article relies on the same, hackneyed trans-suffering narrative. On the film’s depiction of Chaz’ top surgery, Wilson writes:

[Y]ou come away with a palpable understanding of how unendurably he must be suffering in his body to want to have his own sex characteristics amputated.

I in no way want to invalidate Chaz’ suffering, or the suffering of any trans person for that matter, but I take issue with the insinuation that our lives are unendurable. There is suffering, yes, but why must that always be the throughline? There’s such a lack of nuance here—it’s not always that neat equation of once I was suffering, but now life is perfect.

But Wilson’s writing wasn’t the only reason the article unsettled me so much – it was also Chaz’ own narrative. Take, for example, this explanation from Chaz of the trans-condition:

“There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is. It’s not complicated, it’s not a neurosis. It’s a mix-up. It’s a birth defect, like a cleft palate.”

Mismatched is socks, is plaid with pinstripe. Chaz’ definition of what it means to be trans does not resonate for me at all. The piece goes on:

Being in-between genders, Chaz said, was far more difficult than becoming a man. He was a misfit. Now, he said, he is treated much better by people, especially men.

That’s a damaging oversimplification of gender and how many of us embody it. There aren’t only two options; gender is complicated—and while there are days that I hate that, most days I love it and am delighted by the endless surprises it brings me

He’s right that it’s not easy, not as easy as it should be perhaps, but the matter-of-fact way in which he paints being in-between as inferior to his post-transition manhood invalidates the experience of everyone who does live outside the binary—the genderqueers, gender ninjas, intersexed folks of the world, the alphabet soup, two spirits, third genders—the people for whom that feels like home in the same way maleness does to Chaz.

Chaz Bono is entitled to his own story, yes. But as a public figure, he has the mic, and it worries me when that voice, and the storytellers filtering it, are painting such an incomplete picture. He does not speak for me, even though inevitably many of the article’s readers will perceive this article as being objective truth about transgender experience, as though we’re all the same, as though his story is all one needs to know. It’s not.

Oliver Bendorf is a poet who lives in Washington, DC. He tweets @ohbendorf.

 

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Oliver is a poet who lives in Washington, DC and tweets @ohbendorf.

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102 Comments

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    I agree that this may lead to generalization, especially since it’s such a high profile case. But this may be the highest profile transman willing to speak about his life and experiences we’ve had so far, and it is only the beginning of more voices. Though down here the dialogue and the exchange of ideas between many transpeoples’ rich experiences is alive and well, out there in the world this is just the beginning.

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    out there in the world? hmm…’the beginning’ was a looong time ago, folks need to catch up. i look up to chaz but some of those words hurt people like me, and the way people talk about us (“gender-bent Oedipal revenge”, also i’m starting a band so i can name it this)is wack.

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    This is a smart, incisive, critique of the Bono article. And speaks very much to me personally. I think one of the great challenges of writing about trans people is that writing hinges on identifying/relating/connecting with an audience and how they perceive the world. Because trans people throw a huge wrench into how most people perceive the world, it’s really hard for an outsider to explain/share a trans existence without relying on the standard gender framework.

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      Ditto what Nick said. It’s so hard for people who buy into the binary to report about trans issues, let alone get close to explaining those issues to an audience of people who also buy into the binary.

      Great article, Oliver. Your critique is really thoughtful.

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        Thanks to you both. And I very much agree with what you’re saying — it’s at the heart of an important question for any writer, which is, whose stories are we allowed to tell? I attended a panel at AWP this year that featured Eileen Myles and a few others, talking about teaching queer writing, and part of the conversation was about how having a piece of writing be “relatable” is often not enough– not rigorous enough of an evaluation– because “relatable” is so often a stand-in for “normal,” and we all know whose normal that does and doesn’t refer to. (I blogged about that panel, and others, at the following link if anyone’s interested: http://www.ilsebendorf.com/2011/02/09/awp-2011-recap/)

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    Wonderfully put with great insight on the NYT Bono piece. Gender is complicated and messy and cannot be simplified by becoming either male or female. Everybody is entitled to their own feelings and experiences regarding their gender, but what about those gender ninjas who perfectly embody both male and female? Are they neurotic or mismatched? It is a big step for Chaz Bono to speak out, but I hope this is just the beginning of trans issues in the media as his picture of gender isn’t the only one out there.

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    yes yes yes. great article. the nytimes is still flubbing terribly, but at least they’re making baby steps? not quite as horrifying as this article from 2006: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/fashion/20gender.html?pagewanted=all

    wilson’s flippant ‘oh i’m transphobic? oops!’ is definitely not the ideal stance for a trans* article by a cis person, but it’s almost a relief after vitello’s outright disrespectful, misinformed reporting in his 2006 article, which was just so much wtf. he clearly had no clue. 5 years, small improvements. i used to think better of the nytimes but i guess i’m getting cynical :(

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      If acknowledged that they are baby steps, I’m all for baby steps over no steps at all. The fact that half of my Mother’s Day dinner conversation was about the film Becoming Chaz and Chaz Bono, and that my Republican, voted-for-Bush-twice (but, to her credit, warmhearted and generally socially liberal albeit naive/ignorant) mother used correct pronouns and vocabulary throughout the entire thing was heartening. If that’s a baby step, I’ll take it. (checking privilege as a queer male partnered white cislady with a straight white cismom, I know it’s not ENOUGH. But I can quietly celebrate a something.)

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        yay for your mom! my mom and i had a great convo about chaz bono as well. he may not be the ideal spokesperson, but he seems to be having a great effect on moms (making them think through things they wouldn’t have otherwise etc.) which is awesome : D

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          Agreed. Thank you Caitlin and Romana. Small town midwesterner here, and can appreciate any public acknowledgement that this exists in more than just myself – the one and only transperson in our town at the time. I had to break all the barriers myself, and it only came with compassion for people who didn’t even know ftm’s existed. The only concept people know is the ‘freaky transsexuals’ who are either chicks with dicks they laugh at in porn or the funny guy that wears dresses and wants his dick cut off. Baby steps indeed. They’re like children in this game, but worse, because they are stone-set in their preconceived understanding. I know gay men in Seattle (trans-central these days) who are still calling female waitstaff ‘Honey.’ We have to start teaching from the ground up when the window of opportunity comes open.

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          as an autostraddle reader i like reading about lots of different points of view. i think transmen’s perspectives are thoroughly relevant here, and ditto for transwomen (of whom one writes a regular column here in autostraddle). i would even read what a straight dude had to say on here if it was interesting and well-written and relevant to my interests (my interests being cats and lady gaga, mostly).

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          hey, that’s cool. but i think it’s dangerous having a trans man contributor on what is ostensibly a website for queer women, due to the fact that there’s been a standard in the queer women’s (and feminist) community for a long time that privileges trans men’s voices over trans women’s. it’s not like this is the first time i’m feeling that on here, and occasionally it grates on me.

          but hey! maybe i’m the only one feeling that here. i dunno. it was my knee-jerk reaction.

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          i wonder what (if anything) that phenomenon has to do with cismale privilege. or maybe it stems from somewhere completely different. it is something i have noticed in the queer lady community as a whole, though not specifically on this site.

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          can you clarify what you mean here with “cismale privilege”? don’t wanna respond without knowing exactly what you mean.

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          i can’t reply to your post apparently because we’ve had too many replies or something. but i mean the concept of male (more specifically white male) privilege in general. do queer ladies (disclaimer: sometimes, and i’m not speaking for or about all queer ladies) unconsciously privilege transmen’s voices over transwomen’s as some kind of accidental reflection of how societies at large privilege men’s voices over women’s?

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          “do queer ladies (disclaimer: sometimes, and i’m not speaking for or about all queer ladies) unconsciously privilege transmen’s voices over transwomen’s as some kind of accidental reflection of how societies at large privilege men’s voices over women’s?”

          Nah, I think it’s simpler and even more disrespectful than that: I think it boils down to gender essentialism. Transmen were born with vaginas, so lesbians like them better. It’s completely ridic.

          I agree with you though, in that I don’t notice that on this site.

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          Autostraddle has featured articles from both trans men and trans women, quite recently actually! One of the things I love most about this site is the varying points of view it is able to bring together and the insightful, intelligent discourse it creates.

          What exactly is offensive to you about this post?

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          Well there’s the fact that trans men go virtually unnoticed by the media at large. I’ve known trans women existed from a very young age, even though they were largely exoticized. But I first heard of ftms much, much later. And yeah, queer media brought them to my attention a lot. I think that’s what it’s supposed to do: make us more aware of our brothers and sisters within the community.

          I’m a cisgender bisexual femme woman. I get tons of privilege I wasn’t even aware of before reading these articles.

          I don’t feel like Autostraddle has especially favored trans men’s voices over trans women’s. Annika is one of the best bloggers I’ve ever come to read, and I’m very thankful she was given an outlet here. But Sebastian has also made very thought-provoking pieces, especially about male privilege. We’re here to discuss gender, sexual orientation, feminism [...], why reject such significant contributions to the debate?

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          autostraddle also has a trans woman blogger, in case you weren’t paying attention.

          i am a queer woman and longtime autostraddle reader. this year my genderqueer, female assigned at birth partner has been transitioning to male. the presence of trans bloggers on autostraddle has been really meaningful to me. trans issues are relevant to our community, and education and awareness among cis queer women on trans ppl of whatever gender identification is a great thing. i wish i had encountered these bloggers earlier–it would have better prepared me to be an ally to my bf at the beginning of his transition. the LGBTQIA needs more unity. unfortunately small minded people like you keep trying to rip us apart. don’t be a jerk. thanks.

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          your perspective is welcome here too and i definitely mean that. hope you don’t feel jumped on, and my apologies if you do.

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          you responded to someone sharing really personal stuff with “haha ok”? ffs, i don’t care what your perpsective is on transmen, but that is just plain rude.

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          she shared personal stuff but in kind of a combative way, at least at the end. i think it was admirable not to take the bait.

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          For some reason I can’t reply to your comment, so I’ll reply to mine and hope you see it. Hmm, I read both communications differently. I think it’s not worth arguing about though, so I think I am going to step away from this comment thread.

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          for all its benefits, the internet will always have that flaw, of reading other’s words through our own brains and lenses.

          i too am going to back away.

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          She called her small-minded, said “people like her rip the community apart”, and then ended with “don’t be a jerk” (also inferring that she’s a jerk).

          I think “haha ok” was the best one could expect from a comment like that :P

          I actually do see, within the lesbian community, a greater acceptance of trans men than trans women, and definitely a greater incidence of “fetishization” of trans men than of trans women. Though I don’t think Autostraddle plays to this particularly, it was an interesting point to bring up in general I suppose.

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          I don’t understand how trying to diversify the people and the different perspectives being represented on this website could possibly be considered “fetishizing”. I guess I’m just confused overall about what is upsetting you.

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          i think it’s important to respect the agency of the trans writer to judge for himself where he feels comfortable and where he might feel “fetishized.” As this article points out, we need more trans voices in the conversations currently dominated by cisgender people telling trans people how they feel and what they should feel and when they should feel oppressed.

          Regardless, we have a trans woman writer as well, so this whole thing is sort of a moot point, but it’s interesting how quick people are to make assumptions, which do us all a disservice.

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      Trans men as well as trans women have taken part in the discussion. I’m hoping that in the future, genderqueer individuals, gay men and plenty of other people could too. I know for a fact some straight cigendered men read autostraddle.

      We all experience gender and sexuality (not to mention exclusion, being a minority etc) in different ways, and all opinions are valid / enlightening. It benefits us all to share them, and segregating ourselves will only hurt us in the long run.

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          I agree with Janis’ line of reasoning on this. Just because this blog has a lesbian focus does not mean that we can’t read diverse opinions from other parts of the queer community.

          As far as I’ve seen, including posts from transmen does not fetishize them or deny them their male identity – it simply adds to the discussion, in the same way that a cis-man’s post might also add to the discussion. Transwomen are also very much part of this community, as has been noted by others already.

          I think it’s done in the spirit of trying to be open-minded and diverse + not secluding ourselves to a woman only space that draws arbitrary boundaries based on gender that are not necessary.

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        nope, i just used it as shorthand to refer to the queer women’s community, mostly because of discussions i’ve seen on here.

        i’m not a lesbian and i haven’t ided as one for a while. that’s not what i’m saying.

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          If that’s the case, it seems that we’re at a fundamental disagreement on the relevance of a queer separatist movement.

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          Why are you calling everyone “brah” and “man” if you’re against the “denial of trans women’s womanhood?” For all you know the commenters could be trans* women. At the very least, none of them are presenting as male.

          Troll is doing it wrong.

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          i can’t speak for audiodoll but i don’t think she’s a troll.
          and, again i can’t speak for her, but i too am guilty of calling people dude and man and whatnot all the time. those words aren’t really gendered for me in that context anymore but i do see how they would be for someone else and will be more careful in the future.

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          oh nooo i’m definitely not as awesome or as nice as him. haha. but we do talk sometimes, as i’m “the other skylark,” so i’ll let him know he’s got some fans. :)

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      i beleive that a similar questioning/discussion to this took place in the comments to sebastian’s first post for AS. not that it can’t here too, just that i think it was more hashed out there, and the editors chimed in.

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          Riese’s comment on this was particularly insightful:

          http://www.autostraddle.com/trans-xxboy-meets-world-74847/#comment-81314

          “We’re not “choosing a trans man to educate us about gender” or be The Only Voice for re-conceptualizing gender. Everyone here is that voice, and everyone approaches the material from their own entirely specific gender identity and everyone is a unique special snowflake, including the gay and straight men who’ve written for us. The main “goal” here, if any, is just more inclusiveness, and uncensored representation of underrepresented queer voices. Taking that statement out of the context of the post and imposing your own pre-conceived ideas about how all lesbians feel about all transmen onto it is dangerous and ultimately counterproductive. Every human, regardless of gender identity, is entitled to choose for themselves which varying communities they engage with — even you!”

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      I share your concerns about the denial of trans women’s voices in the queer community especially re: older feminists. That’s not what’s happening on Autostraddle. Presenting trans male or genderqueer perspectives is not the same thing as denying others’.

      Queer women aren’t an exclusive community. We live and work and socialize in environments where there are multiple gender perspectives and sexualities, and our media should reflect that. There are also many queer women whose friends or partners are trans (men or women) or genderqueer. Not to mention, FTMs are often associated or enmeshed with our communities because, like Chaz Bono, they may spend a portion of their lives identifying as lesbians or as partners of queer women. To pretend this doesn’t happen or is not relevant to us is to bury our heads in the sand. It is also a different form of relevance than trans lesbians’ visibility and participation in our communities. Framing this as a competition between FTMs and MTFs is a false dichotomy.

      In any case, as long as someone has something interesting to say, I’m all for hearing their POV. I valued this post because I read the NYT article in question and found its perspective transphobic and offensive, and this is the place where I read all the LGBTQ news that’s fit to print. So thumbs up from me.

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    “‘Being in-between genders, Chaz said, was far more difficult than becoming a man. He was a misfit. Now, he said, he is treated much better by people, especially men.’

    That’s a damaging oversimplification of gender and how many of us embody it. There aren’t only two options; gender is complicated—and while there are days that I hate that, most days I love it and am delighted by the endless surprises it brings me.

    He’s right that it’s not easy, not as easy as it should be perhaps, but the matter-of-fact way in which he paints being in-between as inferior to his post-transition manhood invalidates the experience of everyone who does live outside the binary—the genderqueers, gender ninjas, intersexed folks of the world, the alphabet soup, two spirits, third genders—the people for whom that feels like home in the same way maleness does to Chaz.”

    I don’t know if I get the same reading on that Chaz quote that you do, Oliver. I think we can infer that he felt it was difficult for HIM, and thus HE needed to transition. Perhaps it was inferior for HIM. There is absolutely space in the world (I hope!) to not fit in the binary, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who feel comfortable in those predetermined places.

    Additionally, I think we can all agree that it’s really hard to be anywhere outside of the gender binary, as you mentioned. However, I don’t think that Chaz is attempting to speak as one of those people or to devalue their existence. If that’s they way his commentary is being spun by the article, I would argue that that’s probably based on the ignorance of the reporter rather than his attempting to speak for everyone in a gender minority.

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      THIS to your last paragraph. Even direct quotes can be spun around (I’ve experienced this and I’m not some super famous celebrity) – so take what Chaz supposedly said with a grain of salt. Not that he’s lying, but that his words likely went through a filter, and judging by the rest of the article it’s not a very trans-safe filter at that.

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    Thank you for this. It was a really great and thoughtful response to the NYT article. I think it was good for the NYT author to be up-front with the fact that she still has her own struggle with trying to understand/accept trans people, but I thought the way she expressed that sentiment was really terrible. It was as if she thought that by admitting her transphobia it would be okay to ask any ridiculous and insensitive questions she could think of. “Could it be possible that the fact that Chaz is now a man is somehow Cher’s fault? Did the toxic culture of celebrity damage Chastity/Chaz’s gender identity?” etc. And then after everyone told her no, she was wrong, she still felt the need to put all that crap in the article. Yes, definitely sloppy and insensitive journalism.

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    “Wilson also makes several classic trans-reporting mistakes. She uses female pronouns to describe Chaz before his transition, and then switches to male pronouns for the rest.”

    I’m not clear on why this is a problem.

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      Hey Nell, here’s how the GLAAD trans styleguide explains it:

      “Avoid pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition. It is usually best to report on transgender people’s stories from the present day instead of narrating them from some point or multiple points in the past, thus avoiding confusion and potentially disrespectful use of incorrect pronouns.”

      I hope that illuminates. Thanks for reading my piece,
      Oliver

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      (I didn’t find that excerpt from the GLAAD styleguide specially illuminating – no offense intended, Oliver – so:) What I have understood from my reading and conversations is that some/many/most trans people don’t feel that they used to be one gender and now they are another – they were always the gender that they are. So you would say of Chaz “when he was living as a woman, he…” rather than “When he was a girl she …” or “when she…” Obviously this is not true of genderqueer people, etc.

      Disclaimer: I am no authority on trans issues, could be completely wrong, and always appreciate being corrected.

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    Oliver – this is not really related – but I just went and read your poem “catch a body” and i love it.

    i hope you write a lot more for autostraddle.

    and a lot more poems!

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      Thanks for the great article! Your critique was well-constructed and articulate, I do not have much background with trans issues, and I am always grateful when AS publishes something like this that expands my horizons and makes me think about others’ experience.

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    Hi, Oliver!

    I’d really like to know what your definition of “transgendered.” I have a lot of trans friends and, oddly enough, each one has a distinct viewpoint on what it means to be transgendered.

    I really liked your article :).

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    As somebody who’s just learning and trying to avoid being accidentally insensitive, Autostraddle’s numerous articles and dialogues on the topic are absolutely wonderful and an invaluable resource.

    Growing up in a small town was difficult, but when I came out, my friends were accepting, and the backlash I was expecting from the conservative rural community just didn’t happen at the level for which I was prepared. I had my hackles up, and everybody was sort of fine with me being a lesbian. What upsets me is the fact that transphobia is still rampant: even my lone gay friend, also trapped in these backwoods lands with me, has used the word “he-she” in front of me. I was repulsed, and immediately set about informing him of his error; although he was understanding, I sensed discomfort, which doubly frustrated me. I feel like societally ingrained ideas of gender are killing the gender-relevant letters in “LGBTQIA.”

    I’m glad that Chaz’s story is being publicized, but at the same time, I’m frustrated that it’s being done so by a media comprised of primarily ignorant journalists.

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    Trans woman, here.

    Cintra Wilson seemed to be pointing out her own ignorance, and at one point talked about the transphobia she had. She brings up that _stupid_ transphobic theory of hers, but seems like she’s saying that she knows now it was stupid, and goes out of her way to show quotes countering it. She talks about being a liberal with transgender friends to point out that she was complacent and thought she knew everything. And she talks about Rosie O’Donnell to make the point, again, that even LGB people can be ignorant about T, and often are the most obnoxious because they assume they’re enlightened and stuff.

    Chaz is binary-identified and transsexual, so it makes since that he was miserable being in-between genders, but he really should only be speaking for binary-identified transsexual people. Unfortunately, “transgender” has come to be synonymous with “transsexual” in the minds of many, and that means that non-transsexual transgender people can often get left out.

    Overall, I think he’s helping a lot, due to his visibility. Even if he sometimes says things that make me cringe, and even though I’m frustrated that “reluctant” people are usually our highest-profile representatives, I think the average cis person wouldn’t even get all the subtle nuances if he tried to explain things better. Not yet. They’re still getting over the “Huh, whuh, transgender isn’t just another word for gay?” thing. I think they need to be saturated with simplistic stuff before they can start understanding the complex stuff.

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      this. i was actually kind of relieved when i read the article, because it’s a lot better and more respectful than the nytimes’ coverage of trans* stuff in the past which was just downright bizarre. at least she acknowledged her transphobia rather than being totally unaware of it. baby steps!

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      Reading everything on AS has really expanded my sensitivity and knowledge about trans issues, but I’d just like a proper clarification between transsexual and transgender. Is the former someone who actually undergoes surgical procedures while the latter doesn’t, or am I missing something?

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    “Did Cher’s almost drag-queenlike hyper-female persona somehow devour Chastity’s emerging femininity?”

    Great. Reading that just gave me a rage nose-bleed. Thanks ST!

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      Ikr – I can’t believe she devoted a WHOLE paragraph to positing fucked up and misguided speculation like it was a legitimate line of inquiry. I also can’t believe it got past an editor like that. It just goes to show how far society has to go in relating to trans experience.

      When it got to the bit where it says:

      “I had to ask: It is remotely possible that he needed to make the transition because his mom is Cher?

      He gave me a warm and genuine smile.”

      I pretty much wanted to award Chaz sainthood for his patient and graceful response. If someone asked me that, I would have wanted to punch them in the face, not give them a nice smile and a friendly reply.

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        That’s exactly what I was thinking! Props to him for having to deal with that, among the many other things he’s been doing recently. As having Cher as a mom wasn’t bad enough, everyone has to be reminding you all the time…haha.

        Actually, the first time I saw Mermaid I think I fantasized about Cher being my mother. Yikes.

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          “Actually, the first time I saw Mermaid I think I fantasized about Cher being my mother. Yikes.”

          Cintra Wilson and the NYT would like to ask you whether you’ll be announcing your transition soon ;)

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    A few points about Chaz:

    1) The article about him and quotes attributed to him are all filtered through the cis-fail of Cintra Wilson, who has written other insulting pieces about trans people in past. The NY Times has poor track record of covering trans issues, and all virtually all their coverage is done by non-trans people instead of allowing us to speak for ourselves. Quotes are dangerous things… they can be edited and manipulated at will to mean almost anything. I can honestly say that if you ask virtually any trans person who’s been profiled in mainstream media, they will tell you their quotes have been misrepresented to the will of the person covering the story.

    2) Chaz is still a relatively recent transitioner. Sadly, most media outlets (in some ways including Autostraddle) seem more interested in trans people who are actively in the process of transition than those who’ve lived their transitioned lives for a long time. Yes, it is a curiosity into the transition process which is understandable, but leaves out people who’ve really fully processed their transition and the changes in their lives. In my experience, many new transitioners, in the act of processing their big life shifts, have a tendency to make very blanket statements about themselves and about being trans without totally taking into account the breadth of trans experiences. From what I’ve read of Chaz before, he’s actually very thoughtful about a lot of issues in the trans community… but he’s NO EXPERT, he’s just one person and he’s not the “main representative” of the trans community just because Oprah says so.

    I truly wish we could be supportive of him without slapping him with the usual celeb backlash. The important thing is, trans people CANNOT allow cis-people or anointed trans spokespeople to speak for us. Our own identities and history are each too unique for that.

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    Although that is not the point of this article, may we discuss how problematically essentialist some of Chaz’s comments on this article are?

    It’s kind of gross…

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      ESC, are you in his body? Have you lived his life? Did he ever once claim he was speaking for Oliver, you or anyone else? Did he even write the piece in the Times or was it written by someone who clearly has pretty fragmented, objectified and fucked ideas about trans experiences? You want to know what’s “problematically essentialist”… having a bunch of people, many of whom aren’t even trans, criticizing someone who is, who they don’t even know, based on a few quotes which are very possibly fragments of larger statements he’s made. That’s gross.

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        Wow, calm down. I should have been more specific (rereading my comment, I realized that I was being pretty vague about my concerns), but I was referring to his pretty offensively misogynistic comments (“I never really understood women before, to be honest, but I had a tolerance for women that I don’t have now”), some of which are very biologically essential comments to make (“I’ve learned that the differences between men and women are so biological. I think if people realized that, it would be easier.”) I can’t imagine a context in which these words wouldn’t be misogynistic, to be quite honest.

        All I’m saying is that being trans shouldn’t be an excuse for misogyny. Nothing is not a get out of criticism free card. Yes, the article and the writer are messed up, but so is this, and it’s not wrong for me to acknowledge all the upsetting aspects of this article. Misogyny from transmen is not an unheard of phenomenon, and that it’s so prevalent makes it a topic worthy of much discussion.

        (And it absolutely should not matter the slightest, but before I get asked to prove my credentials, yes I do identify as genderqueer.)

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          Oops, got sucked into my own void of negativity: “Nothing is a get out of criticism free card.” is what I meant to say.

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    Your last paragraph resonates so clearly with my concerns–thanks for writing this Oliver! Great!! Happy to have come across your writing.
    Also, everyone, *awesome* discussion, thank you for speaking your truths and your minds! :)

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    “He’s right that it’s not easy, not as easy as it should be perhaps, but the matter-of-fact way in which he paints being in-between as inferior to his post-transition manhood invalidates the experience of everyone who does live outside the binary—the genderqueers, gender ninjas, intersexed folks of the world, the alphabet soup, two spirits, third genders—the people for whom that feels like home in the same way maleness does to Chaz.”

    For what it’s worth, Bono addresses this to some extent in his book “Transition.” He very explicitly states that it really sucks that people who live (and are comfortable living) in the “in-between” get a raw deal. He says he didn’t realize just how shabbily people were treating him when HE was visibly gender variant until he transitioned and was no longer visibly gender variant. The chapter doesn’t at all suggest that being non-binary or gender variant is inferior to being binary-identified or gender normative.

    Which isn’t to say that people can’t have problems with Chaz Bono or critique him–but I do think his book has a lot more nuance and less gender essentialism than some of the articles and news shows have suggested.

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