This article was originally written in February 2009 for Riese’s blog, before the Autostraddle we know and love got invented. It has been reprinted here for you.
Hi! It’s me Riese. As you’ll see in 8 hours when I post the recap [UPDATE: 604 on Autostraddle and on The L Word Online] — this week’s recap is gonna be a little bit different. I’m not gonna recap any of Max’s scenes. This is ’cause I feel no representation is better than bad representation. E.g., I’d prefer complete bisexual invisibility to A Double Shot at Love with the Ikki Twins. So I have a letter to Ilene from Max Sweeney for you.
[Sidenote – It seems many people don’t much care about Max anymore — he’s been so separated from everything else and most of y’all just wanna see Bette & Tina have babies and Shane fuck girls. But this matters to me as a feminist and as an active crusader for GLBTQ visibility. I’m fully prepared for no-one to read this or comment. BUT if even one or two people find this interesting, or disagree or agree, I’m really interested in your opinion! … and maybe even in doing a longer story on this topic at some point for a real publication.]
Tonight’s episode (604) will focus heavily on Max and emphasize his “other-ness,” as exaggerated by the new RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES pregnancy storyline. (This doesn’t count as a spoiler ’cause I’m not talking about any other characters, just Max.)
“Trans people have the potential to transform the gender class system as we know it. Our existence challenges the conventional wisdom that the differences between men and women are primarily a product of biology. Trans people can wreak havoc on such taken-for-granted concepts as feminine and masculine, homosexual and heterosexual, because those words are rendered virtually meaningless when a person’s biological sex and lived sex are not the same. But because we are a threat to the categories that enable male and heterosexual privilege, the images and experiences of trans people are presented in the media in a way that reaffirms, rather than challenges, gender stereotypes.”
- Julia Serano, “Skirt Chasers” from BITCH Magazine, Fall 2004
I haven’t written you since that mass email I sent out instructing everyone to call me Max instead of Moira but now I have some issues I would like to get off my chest. First of all, I want you to remember that unlike the other girls I haven’t complained about anything this whole time, even you making me the only character on this show who has no interest in dating women!
I felt like things were getting better with us last season. When Jenny called me The Oracle I felt really cool, you know? Like if I was walking down the hallway you’d be like, Hey who’s that guy, and they’d be like, oh, that’s Max, you know, he’s a boy, he’s like, comfortable in his body.
Ilene — now you’re making me pregnant? I’m upset. But I’m not upset ’cause pregnancy makes me more womanly and I loathe my female body, which is one of the only character traits you’ve given me thus far. I can want a male body without obsessively hating the female body, after all. I’m upset ’cause you’re making me as “freakish” and as different as you possibly can, and I came onto this show because I wanted to be the opposite of that. This season, I’ll be physically playing out this imposed freakishness … to the max. Pun intended.
There aren’t many people like me on TV, so this is your golden opportunity to break barriers and explore some very interesting issues relating to gender, sexuality, and even class. According to GLAAD’s annual report, I AM THE ONLY trans guy ON CABLE! But instead of integrating me into your show, you’ve progressively emphasized my differences and are now encouraging my violent self-loathing by bestowing upon me this outrageously uncomfortable pregnancy. My facial hair has evolved like a haphazard game of Wooly Wally. My wardrobe now consists of a cheap preggo suit and weather-immune grungy flannel shirts. I’m dating an external character three steps removed from the core cast (Bette –> Jodi –> Tom), and no one cares abut him either. I’ve become just another one of the dozen or so male characters who’ve started on this show, become assholes, and then disappeared. Clearly, that’s all men are capable of doing in your world.
Ilene, it’s really not likely that a trans guy regularly taking testosterone would accidentally get pregnant. I know you got excited when you saw that man on Oprah, but he did that on purpose, he’d actually been off T for a while and had gone off it specifically to enable pregnancy.
I’m really good-looking, regardless of gender, btw. It’s hard to ignore the additional damage you’ve done to ensure I don’t match up to the rest of the people on our WeHo Pretty People Party Show. You could’ve let me be a beautiful trans man comfortable in his own skin and instead you’ve made me look like Paul Bunyan with a potbelly!
Anyhow, taking testosterone during pregnancy can cause harm (birth defects) in the fetus. I would’ve miscarried by now. Besides, anyone as aware of their body as I am would’ve noticed these changes way before the four month mark. I’m hyper-aware of every centimeter added to my pectorals, I just might notice something happening in the abdominal area. Also — morning sickness, anyone?
So what’s going on? I’m a human, I’m not a blank slate for you to play out your fake acceptance while ridiculing me, ostracizing me from the rest of the cast, and continually burdening me with storylines that make me unrelatable, unlikeable, and at this point — science-fiction level 100% unbelievable. By forcing this unrealistic story upon me, I can only conclude that you wish to make me as freakish as possible, to ensure no one walks away from this show thinking that there’s any place for trans people in popular LGBTQ culture or social life.
The intention of increased visibility for marginalized invisible groups is to make the majority aware that we’re all the same underneath it all; we all have the same struggles, we’re all human and that’s more important than any kind of label. Instead, you’ve gone beyond labeling me to stamping me, packing me up, and selling me to spruce up the garden.
I’d hoped perhaps you intended to give my pregnancy the same beautiful treatment you gave Tina’s — but no. There will be no transformation, this won’t enable growth or maturity. You’re just making me into a more depressed and lonelier asshole, like I’m being punished for wanting to transition. You’re also continuing to paint me as violent, another stereotype of trans men.
I want to fit in. I want to be happy too. I have more desires than “wanting to be a man,” that’s not my only personality trait. I can also want love, friendship, career success, Guitar Hero cheat codes, etc.
Sometimes I feel like I’m just this strange freakshow to you, like you may as well put me in a circus sideshow! I’m the Bearded Lady with the Baby! That’s stupid! No one UNDERSTANDS!
P.S. I know how to use Google, btw. I think you’re projecting.
P.P.S. Good job with OurChart.
P.P.P.S. Thor from now on, thanks.
P.P.P.P.S. I Hate The L Word.
“Since transgenders in this culture are neither fairly nor accurately represented in the media, nor championed by a community, we develop our world views in solitude.”
–Kate Bornstien, Gender Outlaw
“Max was usually treated as an outsider in the story, and a fair amount of that bled onto me personally from a few people I had to work with.”
“The freakshow motif was intended as an ironic reflection on the history of Cultural representations of transsexuality, which have always been imbued with an essential sense of freakishness and marginality.”
on Kate Bornstein’s play – Hidden: A Gender
“Gay brothers and sisters,…You must come out. Come out … come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake …”