SF Weekly Laces Its 2014 Pride Cover Story With Transmisogyny

This year, San Francisco Pride gave Grand Marshal honors to trans woman author and advocate Janet Mock as well as Jewlyes Gutierrez, a young Latina trans woman who was initially given a misdemeanor battery charge for defending herself against ongoing bullying from three cis girls at her Bay Area high school. While those charges were later dropped as she entered a court-ordered restorative justice program, the incident still speaks to systemic violence trans women of color face and the victim blaming our society often employs in support of it. San Francisco Pride also named Chelsea Manning as an Honorary Grand Marshal.

Meanwhile on the other side of the country, actress Laverne Cox, who was recently the first out trans woman to appear on the cover of Time magazine, was named Grand Marshal for NYC Pride.

It was in this context that SF Weekly’s Pride Week issue ran a feature from Rachel Swan on income inequality between women and men in queer communities, and how that has played into forces that are compelling women in traditional queer neighborhoods in the Mission District and Castro to move across the Bay for Oakland and elsewhere. While the feature itself speaks to an important and often overlooked issue facing the lesbian community, the choice for the accompanying cover art was in incredibly poor taste, featuring two crossed arrow signs, one labeled “chicks” and the other labeled “dicks.”

SF pride cover

Even just at a glance, the image comes across as blatantly trans-misogynistic given that the words “chicks” and “dicks” are mostly commonly associated through the phrase “chicks with dicks,” one of numerous slurs commonly employed to degrade trans women and essentialize them according to genitalia. The phrase is also commonly used in a dehumanizing manner in porn.

Beyond this obvious association, even taking the image at face value is still gross and essentializes human beings according to genitalia. This is only emphasized by an unfortunate phrase appearing in the first paragraph of the article itself, which refers to a trans man who previously ran a bar in the Mission back when he was a “biological woman.” This ridiculous, out-dated phrase as it is traditionally employed points to a supposed one-to-one correspondence between chromosomal normative XX bodies and womanhood that doesn’t exist and has never existed. And given how often transphobes use this type of phrasing to paint their bigotry with a false “scientific” veneer, seeing this casually employed in a supposedly queer-positive context is incredibly disappointing. (For a recent example of how these types of narratives are used to degrade trans woman, consider Kevin D. Williamson’s disgusting hit piece on Laverne Cox for the right wing National Review.)

As a woman with a penis, when I see these signs with “chicks” and “dicks” pointing in perpendicular directions, it feels like this falls into the tired narrative in which trans men’s stories are featured (albeit imperfectly) in the lesbian community, while trans women are ignored at best, or even outright belittled and shown the door.

To make a much more general point, given that we would almost certainly never (at least one hopes) see the “opposite” phraseology of referring to men as “studs” while referring to women according to any number of slang terms for a vagina, maybe that’s an indication that this particular way of classifying human beings isn’t really doing anybody any good, no matter how playfully it might have been intended.

Given the reality in which last November a trans teen in Oakland was hospitalized after being casually set on fire aboard a bus by another teen (while laughing!), getting this stuff right is important, and introducing a bunch of transphobic nonsense in an otherwise decent and important article is just a disgrace to us all in the end.

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Savannah is a queer trans woman and physicist who was unleashed into the cosmos from the great state of North Carolina. She has been active on LGBT diversity issues in physics and also writes on trans feminism and other social justice issues on her blog leftytgirl, preferably while listening to metal. Savannah presently works at a university in Osaka from where she misses her amazing cat Zinfandel back in North Carolina very much. Follow her on Twitter.

Savannah has written 11 articles for us.

30 Comments

  1. Thumb up 11

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    I saw this while doing Trans March and it bothered me even though it isn’t explicitly saying anything about trans folks. There’s just no way that every single last person on their editorial team could have missed that obvious connotation. That said, if they managed that then they must not have any trans folks on their team, which is another but no less problematic issue.

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      Yeah, I would be really curious what the editorial conversation over this must have been… it occurred to me that maybe they were aware and they made the bare minimum attempt to avoid the association with “chicks with dicks” by putting the word “dicks” first (the upper sign on the signpost)… but of course if that’s the case, then why didn’t they just, you know, realize it was a pretty fucking bad idea and just come up with something else? Cause what trans woman wants to see this shit during Pride?

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        Exactly! If it was recognized as a problem then they did literally the least they could do to address it. Regardless, seeing those posted in all the distribution boxes really nailed it home as to why Trans March is necessary as its own event.

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    Yes, it absolutely is saying something quite explicit about trans people… it wouldn’t even be used if it weren’t a stupid joke about trans women just as “she mail” wouldn’t be a supposed joke if it weren’t for its reference to trans women.

    The SF Weekly has had stories with thinly veiled ignorance and transmisogyny for years (as has the Bay Guardian, its competitor) in the name of ‘being outrageous.’ The Weekly is an ‘alternative paper’ in image only. It’s owned by the same people who put out the milquetoast Village Voice and LA Weekly—two other publications which have unapologetically run transphobic content in past and are now more lifestyle publications than anything which discusses complex issues in detail. As I recall hearing many people say when SF Weekly first entered the San Francisco market in the early 90s… for the quality of the publication, the price is too high (it’s free).

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      I was referring to the cover, which doesn’t explicitly state anything transphobic. That said, it’s at least ignorant and possibly worse than that. The inside story is stupidly written by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about. As Savannah pointed out, they describe a trans guy as a biological woman, at least in the past (I suppose that means he’s a mechatronic man now), and they use him as their #1 example of lesbian culture, which is an offensive false equivalency.

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    What a bummer. And calling queer women “chicks” is annoying as well.

    Compare SF Weekly to Seattle’s alt weekly, The Stranger. They had just had their annual Queer Issue and this year’s theme is “How to Make Sure We Don’t Leave Trans People Behind”.

    They have about a dozen articles with various trans perspectives, most of them very good.

    Link! http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/queer-issue-2014/Content?oid=19946096

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      I’m sure The Stranger has its positive side as well, but they’re also the paper which printed many of Dan Savage’s eff’d up comments about trans people and, only in the last issue, published yet another article about why trans women have no right to complain about offensive language or labels being used in media.

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        Are you talking about the article in the same issue that was written by a non-binary trans person?

        Dan Savage is the editor of The Stranger. He’s said transphobic stuff, and gotten defensive when called on it. A few years ago he used to say biphobic stuff, he got defensive, and eventually got better about it. As the managing editor, he just presided over this year’s Queer Issue which is made up of five articles by trans people, five interviews of trans people by cis writers, and four articles by cis writers addressed to cis people about trans rights and their importance.

        To me it’s a very confusing mixed bag.

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    How many screening processes did this go through? How many people didn’t get it? As a writer, I am astounded by how many “professional” publications can’t do five minutes of fact checking and review.

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    It’s not even just the cover that’s demeaning, as you pointed out that in the very first sentence of the article, there is an instance of blatant transphobia. And even beyond that, the article uses Dodge as the only example of someone who is trans*-identified being affected by “gay districts grow[ing] more affluent”. There is no other mention of trans people being harmed to a greater degree from this issue, and there’s only one sentence referencing people of color (again, people who are far more affected by these issues). The article is clearly trying to talk about a pretty serious issue, but it’s failing at even covering that issue beyond a really shallow interpretation of what the issue is. It’s not nearly as simple as the author of that article would have anyone believe.

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    Ugh, the whole article is bullshit, starting with the transmisogynist cover and going right through to the comments about “ethnic identity politics” in SF.

    “District 7, for example, is moderate, home-owning, and development-friendly — but heavily Asian — so it went to Supervisor Norman Yee. Lesbians, who no longer have a dense voter bloc in any one neighborhood of the city, saw their voting power diminished.”

    I get their point and I don’t think the author meant it like this, but it annoys me that “lesbians” are assumed white and assumed to exist based upon their propensity to vote based on sexual orientation. What about Asian lesbians who in this one instance in this one district would not have had their “voting power diminished”?

    Lesbians in this article are assumed white, which really fucking pisses me off, as does the blatant transmisogyny (how did that even get to publication)?

    There’s plenty that needs to be said about the loss of “lesbian” neighbourhoods and the rise of affluent gay males in queer neighbourhoods, but this article was offensive and not needed at all.

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      That last sentence is so true! I don’t think I’ve ever heard more cringe/shame-inducing nether region jokes (generally of the ‘ew, vulvas’ and/or ‘wtf trans people’ category) in a queer context than among cis gay guys. (Some cis lesbians revel in those jokes too, but it tends to be less of a hallmark of the culture, at least wherever I’ve been)

      What the hell is up, cis gay dudes?

      • Thumb up 6

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        Also, in the same vein: nearly all of my cis gay friends, at one point or another, have taken the unnecessary pains to tell me ‘haha, you know, I could never be attracted to you, because you have ‘nothing’ between your legs’. (Yeah, I have a Black Hole of Nothingness and Doom between my legs.)

        Where does all this insecurity come from and why are the other queers having to mop up its consequences?

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          Please don’t let anyone shame your black hole of nothingness and doom! I’m sure it’s beautiful and doomy.

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    okay, so my thoughts on this – the connotation of ‘chicks with dicks’ is unfortunate, but i don’t think that otherwise it’s really transphobic. most transwomen i know don’t want their genitalia to be referred to as a dick, and usually their genitalia doesn’t work like a dick. calling a transwoman’s genitalia a dick is basically operating on the same essentialist thought that says that a trans women is a man.
    discussion of disliking dicks in the lesbian community doesn’t have anything to do with trans women. it has to do with men.

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      ‘Discussion of disliking dicks in the lesbian community doesn’t have anything to do with trans women’? Really?

      I understand your proposition that ‘dicks’ refers to a concept of a penis that belongs to a man and functions in the stereotypical fashion of ‘men’s genitals’.

      Even if everyone held this definition of dicks – and we’re far from that – I would argue that many cis lesbians do, in fact, imagine that trans women have ‘dicks’.
      There are relatively few cis lesbians in the world that have encountered the sexual expression of a trans woman, and therefore few cis lesbians who can conceive of a penis that does not act, look, or feel like ‘a dick’.

      So when cis lesbians are like, ‘ew, dicks’, while I take your word for it that a couple of them of them may be excluding trans women’s penises from their disparaging, the truth remains that most of them are talking about penises in general, and it is therefore a transphobic statement.

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        WTF. I, as a lesbian, am transphobic because I don’t like dick? This line of thinking parallels that of homophobic men who think that lesbians like me need “reparative therapy” for not liking dick. I would never say a lesbian is no longer gay for being attracted to a trans woman, but you must realize that 99% of dick-havers are men (and therefore there is a very strong correlation between possession of a penis and male gender identity), and lesbians by definition are not attracted to men.

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          Hey. No one is saying that you need to be attracted to all possessors of dicks or that liking vulvae is not valid.

          I do not, god forbid, condone corrective rape, nor an obligatory session of dick-sex for all pretenders to the lesbian title. I don’t believe anyone on Autostraddle does either.

          Not liking men, or more precisely not liking the sexual expression of men (as in, the stereotypes that come to mind when we think of men having sex, glorified ‘masculine’ erect penis imagery and the like), is not the issue here. If you identify as a lesbian, that’s logical, valid, and sane.

          The problem about saying ‘99% of dick-havers are men’ is not the truth of the statement, it’s the remaining 1%. We’re queer, and we’re in this together. (At least, I want to believe we are.) I don’t want to trod on that 1% that everyone else is trodding on, saying that they’re disgusting and lumping them with men.

          There’s nothing radical about signifying your lesbianism by saying ‘I don’t like dick’. (Saying ‘I don’t like men’ serves that need nicely). That just means going in the sense of, you know, the rest of the world that likes to believe that genitals is identity and destiny and uses that to drive queer people to their deaths.
          Sticking with the 1% fucks the system a lot more.

          The ‘but the overwhelming majority is like this’ argument is used against lesbians and the rest of us, you know. Like providing benefits only for opposite-gender partners ‘because 99% of people are in straight relationships’.

          So yeah: you’re not more or less of a lesbian for not having interacted with a penis belonging to a trans woman, you’re allowed to have sex however you like and it’s valid, but for the love of god, yes, saying ‘I don’t like dicks because I’m a lesbian’ is transphobic. Harming ‘just a couple people’ is already too many people.

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          Something comes to mind, too: when we (I include myself here because as a young teenager I identified as a lesbian) rebuff advances from men or the pressure of the heteronorm by saying ‘hey, fuck off, I don’t like dick!’, I think we might be displacing the problem in a way that perversely serves the patriarchy.

          Like, by making it about specific anatomical parts and biology, it’s almost like there’s hidden subtext of ‘you know, no offense to you guys, I’m just ‘not wired’ to deal with your genitals.’ Or like ‘It’s not you, it’s your genitals’. When the whole problem is, you know, *men*.

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      The effect may not have been intentional, but it’s cissexist anyway and a San Francisco based paper ought to know better.
      The other thing about discussion of disliking dicks in the lesbian community that I don’t get is, why discuss this at all? Yes, many of us feel a need to push back against the idea that liking dick is mandatory, and many of us, myself included, have traumatic experiences with dicks, which makes this impulse to push back feel more justifiable to me than cis gay men who have way less likelihood of having been assaulted/harassed by cis women. But why do we need to say ‘ugh gross’ instead of ‘no thanks’? So many of these conversations are obnoxious at best and cissexist/transphobic at worst. Cis gay men defend their misogyny by saying ‘lesbians do this too’. Why give them the opportunity to play that card?

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      I don’t like to have to explain pathetic/problematic jokes… but see, the entire reason this is supposed to be hee-larious is because “chicks with dicks” is a way of advertising a certain genre of porn featuring trans women (Google it). So yes, the joke is entirely at the expense of trans women… there is no other context for it. It’s so naughty, and “outrageously” funny that merely juxtaposing “chicks/dicks,” kind of like how RuPaul wanted people to titter when he used “you’ve got she-mail” because even mentioning homophones and suggestions of trans sex worker slang means you’re a supposedly outlaw hipster who “gets it har-har.” So yes, it is entirely exploiting trans women for cheap laughs.

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          I am not 100% sure, but I think Chloe means that they know trans women who refer to their nether regions as ‘dicks’, and that the original comment is off.

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          rhymeriver is correct – I see how it’s confusing since my comment isn’t shown directly underneath Amelia Maureen’s original comment, but that is indeed what I was responding to (I was specifically referencing the words in that comment).

          Thanks for catching that, rhymeriver and Savannah. Donnamartingraduates, of course that is not what I meant and I agree with your sentiment that it would be totally problematic for someone to respond that way.

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