“Tonight you’ll hear all the details of Jenna’s sexual transformation,” Barbara Walters promised Good Morning America audiences on Friday morning after running some clips of that evening’s 20/20 exclusive interview with transgender Miss Universe contestant Jenna Talackova. If you think “sexual transformation” is a strange and inaccurate thing for Barbara Walters to say, just wait ’til you see the entire interview!
But first — the story, if you’re not already familiar with it, is that Jenna Talackova had been selected to compete in the Miss Universe Canada competition, but was then disqualified due to her transgender status. GLAAD, along with a lot of other people, fought back against the discriminatory action, and Donald Trump took a break from being an insufferable disgusting excuse for a human being and benevolently invited Talackova back into his fabulous pageant and the obnoxious gender norms it promotes. (In fact, it seems controversy has been Donald’s #1 tactic for getting people to care about his pageant these days — see also: Carrie Prejean‘s idiocy and racy photoshoot, Rima Fakih‘s partying and pole-dancing, Tara Conner‘s cocaine usage and girl-on-girl makeout excursions, etc.)
Although this unsurprisingly wasn’t mentioned in the 20/20 interview (we need all the time we can get to talk about genitalia!), Talackova’s family comes from the Babine Nation, an indigenous native community in Canada who live in Burns Lake, British Columbia. The Lake Babine Nation raised $2,500 to help Jenna with her entry fee for Miss Universe, and her cousin, a band councillor, told The Vancouver Sun: “We’re supportive of her. (Transgender people) are all over the world.”
Talackova’s story had been gaining traction all week, but I hadn’t realized it had gained this kind of national attention until it literally appeared on the television — there Jenna was, talking to Barbara with her Mom and with her prominent Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, known for her work on high-profile women’s rights and gender discrimination cases.
Here’s the show:
“I think what’s been the most striking for me is how positive the media coverage of this whole story has been (for the most part),” transgender advocate and writer Annika Penelope told me. “I really can’t imagine all of this happening five or ten years ago. It was on the front page of The Seattle Times at one point, so I know that my parents must have seen it.” Annika’s parents, unlike Jenna’s supportive family, cut off contact when she came out as trans to them. “It makes me wonder how they react to increasingly positive/sympathetic coverage of trans women.”
Laverne Cox, an African-American transgender actress/producer, wrote about Jenna earlier this week on The Huffington Post. Cox admitted she’d initially taken Jenna’s disqualification blithely, then realized that her reaction was perhaps indicative of some internalized transphobia and the complacency with the status quo that comes with years and years of always being treated like “less than.” Fighting back against that idea, she declared: “We need not settle for crumbs. We need no longer hide for fear of the discrimination Jenna experienced. We can say ‘No more.’ We can say being transgender is beautiful, and we have the right to dream. The revolution doesn’t happen alone.”
Coincidentally, earlier this week Autostraddle’s Calendar Girl for April, Morgan of Translabrynth, shared a similar sentiment when talking about the experience of being an Autostraddle Calendar Girl: “If someone wrapped me in a sash and put a mic to my lips right now, though, I’d say my dearest wish is to see more transfolk doing modeling, because every beautiful one of us deserves the feelings I had while on this photo shoot.”
Transgender writer and trans advocate Janet Mock wrote a moving article on her website, Girls Like Us, concluding: “Jenna, by fighting against this prejudice and shortsightedness, you uphold characteristics that show you are way more than a beauty queen – you are a champion for thousands of girls like us, seen and unseen, who hope to one day shine just as bright as the diamonds shining in that crown you so deserve to compete for.”
Jenna’s story is one that taps into a longer tale about how underrepresented and oppressed groups of women fight not only for civil rights and acceptance from friends/family/society, but also for the right to be judged and accepted by the mainstream as “beautiful.” As antsy as normative standards of beauty make many feminists feel, Laverne Cox, Morgan and Janet Mock point out that inclusion in spaces that traditionally honor cisgender women can feel really fucking awesome.
This seems to be a running theme for women — when society judges a woman’s worth by her physical appearance, looking normatively “hot” is, sigh, power. The women who often make initial headlines for neglected women’s causes or neglected subpopulations of women (ethnic groups, disabilities, body types, etc.) generally still conform to standard beauty ideals, from Gloria Steinem to Tyra Banks to Marlee Matlin to Portia DeRossi. Privilege is an opportunity (often an obligation) to do more to help those born without it. Is “hotness privilege” a thing? Maybe it should be.
Which brings us to last night on 20/20!
Barbara opened the segment with the obnoxiously tacky, “We all know that many beauty pageant contestants have had enhancements done to their bodies to become even more shapely, but probably none of them have had as much work done as Jenna Talackova.” FANTASTIC! And we’re off!
Within the first 45 seconds of her interview, Barbara asks Jenna, “You were born a boy, what was your name as a boy?” We then zip over to Barbara and Jenna watching videos of Jenna as a little kid on a computer, with Barbara noting “You were a very cute little boy, Jenna.”
Barbara: “Jenna, when did you first know that you were different?”
Jenna: “I just always knew that I was not what they were saying. It wasn’t right, I thought that I was in the wrong body. I was really confused because they kept telling me was a boy, but I was really attracted to everything feminine…”
Despite my genuine desire to hear more about the development of Jenna’s conception of her own gender, Barbara Walters has no such patience, obviously we must tackle the pressing question of where Jenna urinated in high school.
Barbara: “Did you use the boys bathroom or the girls bathroom?”
Jenna: “I used the girls bathroom. They were very supportive at my school.”
Jenna explains that she began transitioning at 14 when her doctor put her on hormones (estrogen) and at 19, she was given the letters she needed from psychologists to have gender reassignment surgery (or “sex surgery” as Barbara Walters calls it).
Mom: “You hear stories of kids being beaten up, you know lured into things and stuff — so that was really — a lot of these things went through my mind.”
Barbara: “Were you ever beaten?”
Jenna: “No, I was never beaten.”
Barbara: “Just name calling?”
Jenna: “Just name calling. ‘It’ is used a lot, ‘tranny’…”
As much as anybody who has read the statistics about how transgender kids are treated in school (for example, that more than half of trans kids who were bullied have attempted suicide) would love to know more about Jenna’s school environment, Barbara has some “tough questions” that “people really wanna know” for us:
Barbara Walters: “I’m gonna have to ask you some tough questions, people really wanna know — part of the sex surgery is that the skin of the penis is used to create what appears to be a vagina, is that correct?”
Jenna: “That’s correct.”
Barbara Walters: “That must have been terribly painful.”
Jenna: “It was terribly painful, but seeing something on your body for that long and not being able to look at myself in the mirror because I couldn’t stand seeing the other part, it was actually very rewarding, too.”
For her part, Jenna didn’t seem uncomfortable discussing anatomy, and gamely fielded questions about breast implants and having her Adam’s Apple removed and how starting the estrogen so young helped with her voice. Oh right, and then this:
Barbara Walters: “So if I saw you undressed you would look like a woman to me, totally? Yes?”
Jenna: “Of course.”
Barbara Walters: “The Canadian government recognizes you as a female.”
Jenna: “Oh, undoubtedly, there’s no trace.”
Media about transgender people is often critiqued for its obsessive focus on the biological aspects of being trans, and when trans women are concerned, the focus is often equally split between the biological body and the “accessories” of womanhood like makeup and dresses. That being said, the context in which Jenna is being discussed is The Miss Universe Pageant, in which all women are assessed based on their bodies, makeup and clothing — but for real, we all know Barbara Walters would be asking ten thousand invasive questions about Jenna’s genitalia regardless of context.
But now that Barabara has already asked how Jenna’s vagina got built and what she looks like naked, let’s get to the next potentially subversive topic —
Barbara: “Are you attracted to men or to women?”
Jenna: “I’m attracted to men. I have a partner.”
Barbara: “You have a boyfriend who knows that you are transgender.”
Jenna: “Yes, he’s very supportive, the same age as me, just an amazing man.”
Barbara: “Did you meet him before or after your surgery?”
The fact remains, however, that by reducing Jenna’s gender identity to her anatomy and attire, 20/20 is reinforcing erroneous and damaging ideas about gender being defined simply in physical terms when the lived experience of gender is about a lot of things before the body even comes into play (prominently what trans activist Julia Serano calls “subconscious sex“).
20/20′s focus on gender reassignment surgery as an essential element of the transition was problematic as well. As Annika told me: “While it’s great that Jenna was able to justify her gender by assuring everyone that she’s had bottom surgery and by producing legal documents and lots of pretty, airburshed pictures, it makes me wonder what the implications are for the significant number of trans women who can’t afford the privileges of health insurance, legal gender change, or facial surgery. Would they still be allowed to compete? And, more importantly, would the media rally around them?
Barbara then brings out Gloria Allred, Jenna’s attorney, first flashing to a news conference in which Gloria said the following to the press, because she rocks:
Gloria: “She did not ask Donald Trump to prove that he was a naturally born man, or to see pictures of his birth, or to see his anatomy to prove that he was male.”
Donald Trump probably secretly wishes he was a midwife and now is attempting to live out his dream by harassing other people for their birth videos, he’s very into these birthing conversations.
Back to the Barbara/Gloria bit:
Barbara: “Gloria, was Jenna under any legal obligation to say that she was transgender?”
Gloria: “None whatsoever. She is legally a female. She is recognized in Canada as a female, on her drivers license, on her passport, and on her birth certificate. And she is female.”
Barbara: “Gloria, you take on a lot of important cases, why did you take on this case?”
Gloria: “Because what happened to Jenna is very very important. The Miss Universe competition had the rule that a contestant had to be a naturally born female. That is a rule that is blatantly discriminatory, and she has been standing up against it because she doesn’t want what happened to her to be endured by anyone else… I am so proud of Jenna because she has fought to eliminate this rule; this rule which, if it remains, would have an impact not only on Jenna but on others as well.”
We then flip to an interview with Donald Trump, who I find physically and mentally repulsive to a degree that I can hardly look at the screen when his face is on it:
Barbara: “In the future, can transgender women compete in Miss Universe?”
Barbara explains that they thought the fight was over after Donald let Jenna back in, but that “Donald being Donald” has now slightly backed up from his initial message of acceptance. Yup, Donald suspects Jenna has a subliminal message she’s attempting to spread via the secret code embedded in her name:
Donald: “I looked at her name and somebody brought this up to me. Genital. Those are the first letters of her name. Jennatal. And I’m saying to myself, hm, that’s strange. Could there be an ulterior motive?”
To illustrate his point, Trump spelled it out on a piece of paper:
Jenna rolls her eyes and Gloria explains:
Gloria: “…with all due respect to Mr. Trump, he really needs to stop being focused on genitals, his or anyone else’s. This world does not revolve around his penis or anyone else’s genitalia. Whether a person is a woman is not simply defined by her genitalia.”
Thank you Gloria Allred!
But Barbara has to ask:
Barbara: “You wanting to compete is because you are beautiful and wanted to win a contest, or because you were trying to make a statement?”
Jenna: “Because I’m a woman, and I feel like the universe — the creator — put me in this position as an advocate… and I’ll take that postion if it’s helping anybody else– my story and my actions — then I feel great about it.”
The takeaway from Barbara’s interview seems to be that there’s no need to panic, transphobes of America! — Jenna’s not “hiding a penis,” she doesn’t have a “political agenda,” she’s heterosexual and she has a boyfriend who knows she was “born male.” Surely somebody could’ve googled the GLAAD media reference guide? I hear they have a healthy budget over there at ABC.
Anyhow, it’s an 11-minute bit on a mainstream television series, and despite Barbara’s effemimania and ability to do everything short of using the wrong pronouns to rub me the wrong way, it seems like the general consensus is that Jenna Talackova’s visibility is a good thing. It starts a conversation. As Annika said (admittedly having not yet seen the 20/20 piece specifically), “any positive trans* visibility in the eyes of the general public is good for the cause.”
Even a quick perusal of “Jenna Talackova” tagged posts on tumblr recount people all over the country talking to their families after or during the airing of the 20/20 piece — but it reveals a lot of transphobia, too. A similar mix of support and transphobia riddles the Miss Universe Canada Facebook Page.
Nick Matte, a professor of Transgender Studies at The University of Toronto, spoke to CTV earlier this week and made this incredibly important point:
“…(Jenna’s story) has this broad appeal because historically women and femininity have been hyper-scrutinized… so questions of normative femininity are coming in strongly here… She’s very thin, very busty, she looks white, she has blond hair, she’s meeting ideas of what “the best kind of woman” looks like socially and indeed, even in her statement they were saying “to anyone with eyes” or “anyone who knows her, she is clearly a woman.” And I would say that’s a conservative statement on who should be allowed to have rights that are gendered and who should be included in gendered social activities. So she’s able to draw on some of our perceptions in that most people would look at her and say “yes that’s a woman,” I would argue that those kinds of rights shouldn’t be limited to normative representations.”
Here’s two places to start:
+ In Germany, an 11-year-old trans girl has been forcibly institutionalized due to her expression of her gender, and will not be released until she conforms to the male gender. There is a petition going around that you need to sign.
+ Also in Canada, Bill C-279, which would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of statuses protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and in court, opponents are trotting out some pretty nasty falsehoods to keep this from passing. In six weeks, another debate and a vote will be held, so if you’re in Canada you should get in touch with your MP and tell them to support C-279 and also, sign this petition.
wait, that interview wasn’t satirical??
Donald Trump, what I don’t even
Am I so hungover I’m hallucinating, because there is a picture of Donald Trump holding a paper with “JENNATAL” written on it, is anyone else seeing this.
yeah, I stared at that for a good 5 minutes, and then had to keep going back to make sure it was real. No fucking comment. Like what even is a rational response to that?
Donald Trump has to be kidding. If you spend your time practicing different ways to spell the word genital, YOU HAVE TOO MUCH MONEY.
It’s like one of those things that would be funny if it didn’t make me want to cry.
barbara walters’ main goal in life is to make everyone cry. or in this case cringe.
WTF is this. I don’t get how spinning it to say that there’s an ulterior motive, or ‘vagenda’ would make it seem like Talackova is less qualified to be Miss Universe. I wonder if it’s because in the minds of bigoted simpletons, any discussion about transsexualism is by definition political in nature and with vagenda all written all over it?
Still, WTF ‘Jennatal’, seriously?
general ridiculousness of miss universe and beauty pageants aside (barf), isn’t this whole thing such a sad parallel to passing privilege and the reality that trans women face in the world in general? like the world is one big beauty pageant: if we think you’re hot enough, if we want to fuck you, if we “can’t tell,” then you get to be included and treated like a person. if not, you’re mercilessly and unapologetically rejected. thank god nicolas matte is getting a platform to say things that make actual sense, like that being a blonde, light-skinned supermodel shouldn’t be the criteria for acceptance and access to basic rights.
That Jennatal/genital thing…please tell me that didn’t happen. That can’t be real. This is beyond processing.
I know it’s probably disrespectful considering how old she is but I really want to smack Barbara Walters right now.
yes, but maybe its not her fault. maybe she’s just ignorant. she could be my grandmother you know? and i don’t think my grandmother would have other stood trans issues better….?!
nevertheless, this whole interview made me enraged. i believe transgendered people are the most discriminated minority and i will not be happy until this situation changes. i want to do something about it. does anybody know how i(we) can help/participate?
Your grandma isn’t one of the most famous journalists in North America. Your grandma isn’t a public figure whose sole JOB is to ask enlightened questions for public education. Walters has no excuse due to her age.
Barbara Walters surrendered her journalistic integrity card years ago when she asked Katherine Hepburn: “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?”
ahahahh i actually saw that interview. it came in a context (initiated by hepburn, if i remember correctly) :P
Oh gods that’s like the equivalent of a dickhead Australian reporter at the Oscars a few years ago asking Sir Anthony Hopkins if he liked the taste of brains…
I feel like the interview was a bit of a two sided coin… yes it is bringing more trans issues to the forefront and getting more people talking about it which is good, but I can’t help but feel a lot of that interview had a vibe that smacked of “Tee-hee look at this “woman”! She used to have a peepee!!!”
Aaand now I need a drink.
Hope you brought enough for everyone
I had a tanker filled with JD. That’s probably about as much required to adequately refresh myself for another onslaught of stupidity.
I don’t know if anyone saw it on tv, but there was a reality show yeeeaaars ago called “There’s Something About Miriam” that reeked of the same kind of “OMFG CHIX WITH DIX LOLOLOL ZOMGZ.” Basic premise, a Bachelor kind of dating program with a lovely lady by the name of Miriam, and they announced at the season final “SURPRISE SHE WAS ACTUALLY ONCE A MAN LOLOLOLOLOLOL.” and that entire series made me about as brain-aneurysm-inducing angry as much as that interview did.
ITS NOT JUST ABOUT WHAT LIES INSIDE YOUR PANTS. FUCK DAMMIT WHERE IS THAT TRUCK.
Part of me wonders if some of the questions might have been passed down from on high (show producers, etc).
yeah i don’t think barbara walters is “all there” anymore. when she goes off-script she sometimes says really strange things
Donald Trump should just please leave the universe. He, and the extra terrestrial life on his head, are no longer welcome here.
Jon Stewart once gave this physical description of Donald Trump: “A circus peanut wearing a badger”.
It’s my favorite. And most accurate.
I will never be able to him as anything else ever again!
The one that always sticks with me was when somebody described his “strange cirrus cloud of hair”.
For reals. Everyone keeps saying he took a break from being a total douchebag when he allowed her to compete, but even his comments on that topic were douchebaggy. I can’t find the exact quote, but the gist of it was “Sure, whatever, go ahead and compete if you think you actually have any chance of winning, because you obviously totally don’t”.
His hair is literally an Ass-hat.
been waiting for this coverage since i saw your tweets about it. thank you for writing about this.
I’m glad I didn’t watch that, I would have been in cringe mode for the entire show
um, really trumpy, really?
Ugh, Trump’s comments make me rageface so hard. What a tool. And reading the comments on the facebook page make me so angry. People are so hateful and ignorant. And I know they’re hard to change, but it’s not impossible.
Wait the Canadian health care system paid for her surgery, wtf.
Why are you hating? why am i feeding the trolls? Ugh I need a drink
I’m not a fan of the government paying for sex changes, or paying for plastic surgery junkies procedures, or for people who just want bigger boobs & not because they had breast cancer and need it, etc, etc, etc. There is a case in the US of a prisoner that want’s the government to pay for their ex change, which I think is also ridiculous.
I think you might need one of these.
… you just don’t get it.
Then explain it to me then. I just can’t justify in my mind spending tax dollars so a person can get a sex change, when you have so many people that are homeless and starving. We don’t even take care of our vets, kids in public schools don’t even have books, but yet somehow I’m suppose to be A-ok with the government paying for someone to get a sex change. If someone wants a sex change good for them, but if the government is paying for it…….then I take issue because that money could be used for people that really need it.
hey judgey mcjudgester, who are you to say that medical procedure is not needed? are you a dr? a psychologist? a person with compassion? sure doesnt sound like it so far.
also, just b/c there are a number of well deserving causes that need funding doesnt mean you’re doing any good hating on one over the rest… how is that productive? you feel passionate about vets and public schools? fan-fuckin-tastic.. go do something about it (preferably without bringing your negativity storm over here).
You’re judging as well, the only difference is your opinion.
How do you know I’m not doing something about it? Since so many governors want to continue to fire teachers claiming that the state can’t afford them, if an inmate could get a sex change paid for by the government I will not be ok with it.
This issue does not help the argument for free universal healthcare in America.
you are the best and i want to make you a cupcake.
YOU GUYS. DON’T REPLY TO THIS TROLL WITH ANYTHING BUT PICTURES OF SHOVELS.
I’m sorry, I don’t understand. There is a medical consensus that Genital Reconstruction Surgery is a viable and, in some cases, the best available treatment for treating patients who experience body dysphoria. So, where’s the cosmetic part?
the government pays for “ex changes”!? i have a few exes i want to change. like almost everybody i dated between 2001 and 2003
Precisely!! Wheres the form I fill out for this?!
Surgery *is* health care.
well “Donald Trump” is an anagram for “Tampon L. Rudd”, so maybe Don oughta be answering some serious questions about his period issues and whether he’s Paul Rudd’s secret father.
personally I think his hair is either a wig, or a sentient keratin-based symbiotic alien that lives off of the brainwaves of stupid people combined with the smell of money.
I nominate this comment for The Preferred Gender Pronoun Universe Award.
This comment wins all the awards.
slushie cup laura, you are not the right laura for this. IMPOSTER!
I was thinking more Kevin Rudd than Paul Rudd but okay.
With you on that one.
that he wrote down “jennatal” just to illustrate his weird point is so mind-boggling i am going to focus on how he pronounces “genital” and “jennatal” to make them match. i am saying them out loud to myself over and over and they are close but no cigar, very confused right now.
oh my god…. i think that gif of star track expressed exactly my feelings while reading this…..
First Riese, thank you for “getting it” and you really impressed me with your quote from “Whipping Girl” one of the great social- statement books ever written.
The rumour now floating is the ousting and readmission of Ms. Talackova was a marketing ploy by the Donald to boast pageant ratings aka revenue, gee go figure! So Jenna is a sideshow and will be looked at through transcoloured glasses, wheras prior to this brouhaha, she would have been judged among peers on a level playing field, which afterall is what transwomen want, well many of us.
But the biggest disappointment wasn’t the Donald, whom we would expect to be a horse’s arse, but Ms. Walters who did an entire 20/20 show almost exactly 5 years ago on transpeople (Google, “My Secret Self”). Her selection of questions to Jenna shows me she most likely had an agenda which was handed to her by a producer to sensationalize the shananagans. The old marketing saying, “there is no such thing as bad publicity” may apply for individuals, but not to historically marginilized groups such as transpeople.
i totally agree re: the publicity for the show. it’s so transparent, and he does this with all of his ventures. even pretending to run for president to boost ratings for celebrity apprentice! now everybody will watch because of this, some to support jenna, some to watch her fail. he is above nothing. and it’s a shame that jenna is being used in this way, and shame on barbara walters for playing right into his orange hands.
i actually laughed out loud like 5 times while reading this article because IT’S SO RIDICULOUS
This is a very very good article from your part, Riese. Congratulations (and thank you).
This is great. Hot privilege is totally a thing.
It’s such a thing it’s almost not worth mentioning.
If any of you are into science fiction, I recommend getting a copy of Ted Chiang’s short story anthology Stories of Your Life and Others (and be sure to use the Amazon affiliate link!) and having a look at the last story, “Liking What You See: A Documentary.” Definitely made me reconsider a few things!
It’s like that episode of 30 Rock with Jon Hamm.
I ain’t watching/supporting beauty pageant until someone who looks like Rachel Maddow or Rosie O’Donnell or some hot, stone cold butch is able to compete. Is all I’m sayin’.
(basically what I’m saying is that transpeople and cispeople and queers of all stripes are beautiful and I’m sick of there only being one socially acceptable way to look for any gender, etc. etc. etc.)
Okay, feminist-trans*-ally rage aside, can I just comment that we Canadian girls are truly gorgeous? Damn, Jenna.
*waves a tiny maple leaf flag*
It’s true. I’m gaining a new respect for the ladies of the Great White North. So much so, I’m even willing to overlook your football rules. ;)
Um, can I just say how in love I am with the fact that there’s Native representation in a beauty pageant?? No, not representation in the form of a girl “who claims part Cherokee” or what not. LEGITIMATE NATIVE REPRESENTATION.
(Also. I’m kind of glad they didn’t bring up the “two spirit” thing. Because Walters would have screwed that up. Not all tribes are the same, and not all tribes are very…ahem..progressive. And NOT all tribes have a history of a “two spirit” tradition.)
But for real. I have so many feelings about this.
But I”m also glad she didn’t bring up two-spirit because I doubt it has anything to do with Ms. Talackova (I haven’t heard her say anything remotely resembling that concept nor relating it to herself). Yes, there is a two-spirit tradition in many tribes but that doesn’t mean every trans person who is of First Nation/Native background identifies that way… just as many trans women in Thailand and India don’t identify as ‘third gender’ even though those cultures encompass those concepts.
Donald Trump is a giant douche and Barbara Walters is really annoying
I actually had a woman ask me seriously, stone faced, sincerely if I ‘chose’ the name Gina because it was part of va(gina)? *facepalm*
“any positive trans* visibility in the eyes of the general public is good for the cause.”
I strongly disagree with this. Trans representation which perpetuates tropes about us isn’t positive. Trans representation which only covers the most surface, cliched questions about our lives and never goes deeper than that isn’t positive. Yes, Oprah and Barbara have ‘interviewed’ lots of trans people… but they stopped conversing or listening to them years ago. The general schtick is the host says, ‘I’m going to say who you really are and you’re going to agree… got it?’
“I actually had a woman ask me seriously, stone faced, sincerely if I ‘chose’ the name Gina because it was part of va(gina)?”
What the fuck… I can’t even.
Barbara: “You have a boyfriend who knows that you are transgender.”
Jenna: “Yes, he’s very supportive, the same age as me, just an amazing man.”
Barbara: “Did you meet him before or after your surgery?”
WHY is there always such a huge focus on genitals/surgery? As if that *really* determines a person’s gender- it’s just so simplistic and dumb. I’ll say this for Jenna- she has way more patience than I do when it comes to answering stupidly invasive questions.
I haven’t had any surgeries, and after my upcoming court date, I will be legally female in the state of California. My passport and driver’s license already say “F”, and soon my birth certificate will too. I’m curious what would happen if I tried to enter the Miss Universe contest since I will have satisfied the “legal gender” requirements…would they let me compete?
Yeah, I was thinking that too – are people only okay with Jenna participating because she’s had bottom surgery, even if legally that isn’t a necessity in Canada? It’s definitely troubling, and one of the few intelligent things that can be taken away from this ridiculous interview.
I believe having SRS is still a requirement for trans women to change their legal gender in most (but not all) provinces in Canada. Ontario permits change of legal gender without full SRS but, I believe it’s the only one. (Great White Northerners… correct me).
The change in California law (allowing legal change of gender without SRS) is extremely recent… only a few months. Prior to that you had to have full SRS. I have no doubt there will be court cases where a ‘non’ or ‘pre’ op trans woman’s new legal gender will be challenged in certain situations. Every time the legal gender status of trans people is brought up or altered, there are court cases (such as the recent ones in NY State). It took a long time and a huge number of repeated legal battles to get legal gender change (even for only those with SRS) in most of the USA. Which is why even a (IMO) sexist, not-very-important situation like this one with Miss Universe becomes important… because it challenges the very legality of someone’s ability to filter out ‘real women/men’ even though they have met the requirements for legal gender. And they haven’t even begun to deal with issues of non-binary peeps.
I can’t speak to the specific requirements in Canada, but I do know a fair bit about the CA law. My partner worked as a law clerk at the Transgender Law Center in the fall, where she assisted in filing dozens of legal gender change petitions. Before the CA legislature passed the new law which now only requires “clinical treatment”, any kind of surgery (such as FFS or tracheal shaves or top surgery) qualified. The only exception was one judge in LA, who required proof of genital surgery.
Aren’t I lucky to have my own personal soon-to-be lawyer specializing in trans* issues? :)
I don’t know when your partner started working at the TLC, but when I changed my legal gender and up until 2 years ago when I had a friend try to unsuccessfully get it changed after orchiectomy (and I’m positive they didn’t accept FFS for legal gender change) the state only accepted SRS for trans women but accepted top surgery for trans men. Are we definitely talking about changing legal gender as in issuing a new birth certificate?
This is actually big news in Ontario right now : http://www.xtra.ca/public/National/Ontario_trans_rights_decision_makes_Canadian_history-11845.aspx#.T43LXlXqRKk.facebook
On Apr 11, 2012 the Ontario Human Right Tribunal struck down the rule that required trans people to undergo “transsexual surgery” in order to change the sex category on their birth certificates. They can’t change law, but can declare it unenforceable. Big changes ahead!
She looks like she’s had a shit-ton of facial plastic surgery.
The overall message I’m getting from this story is “sure, we’ll accept you in our pageant as long as you are thin, white, blond and traditionally hot”.
Also beauty pageants are just so gross.
You have valid points but to me we can’t even address those until we get past this basic what makes a woman shit. It’s like, I might feel weird about marriage but I totally think everyone should be able to participate in it if they want to, you know?
This reminds me of the time Barbara Walters interviewed Lady Gaga. When Lady Gaga said she was bisexual, Walters immediately asked if she had sex with women. Gaga answered yes but was visibly uncomfortable. Walters seems to have a history of being blunt with queer people.
I’m so glad someone brougt this up because this article constantly reminded me of how incredibly awkward and uncomfortable that was!! Babs lost her marbles ages ago..I’m starting to think she’s jut a robot wearing the skin of Barbara Walters.
I don’t think I can be reasonable about this one. Those interview questions make me want to scream and cry and do violence. I hate that feeling. And you know, I wish Jenna hadn’t answered those questions. Recently a trans woman was interviewed (can’t recall the program) and those questions arose, and she just refused to answer them. I prefer that because it felt more like getting the message across that nothing gives a stranger the right to ask intimate questions about a person’s private parts. When Jenna answers that kind of awful soulless bullshit it feels like validating it, like saying it’s okay to ask because trans people are inherently freak shows and trans people owe cis people some kind of explanation for who we are.
But I will say…tonight I felt this kind of defeat like fine, I will just give up and present how everyone expects me to and be cis because I can’t take this pain and exhaustion, but this: We need not settle for crumbs. We need no longer hide for fear of the discrimination Jenna experienced. We can say ‘No more.’ We can say being transgender is beautiful, and we have the right to dream. The revolution doesn’t happen alone.” made me feel a little bit of hope.
“I prefer that because it felt more like getting the message across that nothing gives a stranger the right to ask intimate questions about a person’s private parts. When Jenna answers that kind of awful soulless bullshit it feels like validating it, like saying it’s okay to ask because trans people are inherently freak shows and trans people owe cis people some kind of explanation for who we are.”
fuck, damn, shit, this. this. this.
This is so visceral in way that explains the everything, the everything when every moment you HAVE TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF WHEN TAKING UP OXYGEN/SPACE ON THIS PLANET EARTH. You do it and it is not enough. You suffocate because the blank confuse stares, the lump in your throat and the “fuck-all” attitude the brave acquire makes you tired. Each encounter makes you tired and this is why safe spaces like AS are so crucial. Being trans* which I have fuck-nothing clue make me feel helpless, I don’t know, so I learn, read and listen.
I do what I feel I can to my capacity as an ally and yet this bullshit happens. Have your guards, cage your weapons because it’s an emotional battle. Have a battle-cry to want to wake up to just live to see the sky if your have the strength in your neck to look up.
There is so much to be done.
This response is exactly what I needed. Thank you.
“You suffocate because the blank confuse stares, the lump in your throat and the “fuck-all” attitude the brave acquire makes you tired.”
I cried over this. This is me.
“and you know, I wish Jenna hadn’t answered those questions. Recently a trans woman was interviewed (can’t recall the program) and those questions arose, and she just refused to answer them. I prefer that because it felt more like getting the message across that nothing gives a stranger the right to ask intimate questions about a person’s private parts. “
yes, you’re absolutely right.
i thought about this when i was writing it but ultimately felt that as a cis person, i don’t have the right to pontificate on what jenna should/shouldn’t answer at length — i guess i was asking myself that although we all know those questions are rude, invasive and inappropriate and set an incredibly damaging precedent and encourage modes of thinking that have been used to oppress trans women since essentially the beginning of time, what if Jenna is genuinely okay with answering those questions? maybe as somebody whose work revolves around her body, she’s not personally bothered by them or thinks she’s educating people by answering them? does she have that personal right to be open to that line of questioning or is it her political obligation not to be? i think similar issues were raised with chaz bono, who seems ready & willing to talk about private parts, despite the degree to which it drives the rest of the community crazy (or even thomas beatie, would be another example). i do think the ball was in 20/20’s court though — they should’ve known better.
These are real questions! — and I don’t have answers — I genuinely want to know what you think about this. there might be a giant DUH answer that has eluded me at this moment.
I warn you I have no aha answer, but I DO have a lot of rambling and feels!
I find that these questions are used to police all trans people all the time but when applied to a trans woman they can become especially ugly, ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY in a situation like this which is inherently appearance based, because women still have to deal with this bullshit notion that worth = fuckability by cis dudes. (I suppose the FtM version would be lulz yur dick is not good enuffs/ u r pretending to be a boy lulz and the non-binary version would be OMG WHAT ARE YOU STOP CONFUSING ME BEFORE I HURT YOU, to be quite simplistic about it all, though I think appearance and passing–gag–factor in to all trans people’s lives and are used to hurt the entire group)
So it’s several layers of having to prove one’s self as an acceptable woman by heteronormative standards and frankly it all makes me sick. It feels like, please reassure me no traces of PENIS COOTIES remain on your person so I can feel good about envisioning us having sex.
As to whether she should have answered those questions? Well, I am just one trans person (and a er, what would I call it? Non traditional trans person?) and I feel very weird about acting like I have some kind of universal trans truth. We all have different opinions and experiences and that can be a good thing, and I don’t like de-evolving in to THAT’S TRANSPHOBIC or whatever without a lot of reason.
But I feel like as much as we might not like it, as much as it’s unfair, if a person is part of a disadvantaged group, they become a spokesperson for that group. Is it right that this happens? No. Does it? In my experience, very much yes. People–with varying degrees of asshattery–want me to explain trans, poly, disabilities, and so on and so forth in the weirdest of situations and at the strangest of times, because–as scary as this is–I might be the /only/ person who can claim those labels they have ever met.
That doesn’t make me obligated to do it but when you’ve agreed to be on a T.V. show I don’t think you can pretend you don’t understand that you are now speaking for trans people in general, as stupid and unfair as that is. Still, I can imagine her not knowing what to do in a situation like that BUT answer them and so I am not going to scream at her too much for doing so, because I think that could almost turn in to victim blaming; they are TRYING to push her buttons and sensationalize her and sometimes your instinct is to try and deflect and defuse that by playing along. And as you mentioned, it is her body and what to disclose about it is up to her, ultimately, but I would ask other trans people to really examine the motives of anyone who asks them this sort of thing. I find it usually means, convince me you’re not a circus freak and then I might consider finding you semi human.
The people who made this interview happen, though, should be ashamed.
Trump is a troll.
zomg. Wonderful freaking article. Serano just visited my campus and gave a talk/an opportunity to bask in the presence of a great trans activist and writer and biologist and neat lady.
We ate marionberry scones together.
can i ask a stupid question? this is for annika and sebastian and other trans people here: shouldn’t you guys be called transsexual rather than transgendered? i mean, you are in the correct gender, its the gender you identify with, but born in the wrong sex, right? (don’t kill me, I’ve search the interwebz for the difference but i have a short attention span and within 2mins couldn’t find any relevant explanation)
hey – i think you’d better keep searching. having a short attention span is not an excuse for asking trans* people to define/explain/justify themselves for you. there are plenty of articles on this site by the people you mentioned that might help you with this information, and lots of organizations referenced in the article and comments whose websites i’m sure you could turn up fairly easily.
thank you for aggressiveness and denying communication.
my response wasn’t meant to be aggressive. and i was actively communicating with you by pointing you in the direction of the information. my comment with the link to the trans 101 page was submitted before your response but i guess it was moderated because of the link. i just don’t think it’s fair to ask marginalized people to teach you about your privilege – especially when you qualify it with a comment about not feeling it’s worth the extra time to find the information yourself.
to teach me about my privilege? i was asking about word choice. concepts. terms. semantics. secondly, you might love researching things by yourself, but i love discussing things with people. thats how i learn. thirdly, my comment was not directed at you, and you don’t need to defend anyone. and fourthly, it is for fear of reactions like yours that most people do not ask questions on ‘tabu’ subjects. now, i’m not a naturally judging person, i might ask stupid questions, but it comes from a place of curiosity and will to learn and be more tolerant, and if there is no intention, then there can be no offense. also, it is not up to you to find it offensive, since, if i understand it correctly, you are not the object of my questions.
Believe it or not, every trans thread isn’t an open invitation for trans 101. Just as every thread about bi women isn’t an open invitation for someone to ask if bi women are really queer. All I heard her say is… you’re on the Internet, there are lots of more appropriate places to ask such questions. (I suggest http://www.reddit.com/r/transeducate). Curiosity is great, but location, location, location.
fair enough. i myself am open to discuss anything (bisexuality, anything) anytime you want. no problem :)
i just googled “trans 101” and this was the first result: http://www.t-vox.org/index.php?title=Trans_101
Transsexual is kind of a sub bit of ‘transgendered’ or trans*
Transgender would also include transvestites, i am jelly of one of these because he looks better than me when dressed; and genderqueers who identify with both binary genders, no gender or a non binary gender.
So technically yes the trans* people you see on here generally will be transsexual with a few GQ too but ‘transgender’ is a nice inclusive term, and being together is always better than being apart.
thank you. you made me realize i actually knew those concepts right, i was just confusing myself because i got stuck up on the meaning of the words.
also…..maybe i’m genderqueer!? i never really identified with any particular gender, mostly I’ve always felt like a “person”. but, i don’t know why, I’ve always associated genderqueer with a political statement….i guess it doesn’t have to be, right? maybe i’m genderqueer?!? jesus, zomg!
I’ve researched a little on the case of the 11-year-old trans* girl in Germany and the whole thing is kind of based on heavy misinformation by the Berlin newspaper TAZ. They wrote a correction under the original article and the girl is not being forced by the court or the hospital to undergo treatment. German courts usually don’t do this kind of stuff. What (apparently) happened is that a person at the hospital who talked to the girl wrote a report saying that the mother maybe induced the transsexuality (which is obvs bogus) and the court ruled that both parents lost custody and the girl is treated at the hospital for her mental health in general. It all sounds like the daughter is in the middle of a dirty war between the parents. Also, the TAZ is well known for its sometimes scandalous and sometimes very sharp journalism, they are very left winged and therefore look for anything against the mayor and his party (which is actually the better of the two mainstream ones).
EV said: “Trump is a troll.”
Got it. We need a billy goat. *nods*
Reading about this absurd kerfuffle feels like it’s making my entire face swell up. On one hand, it’s a largely positive and affirming story about a trans woman winning her deserved rights. On the other hand, it’s a largely positive and affirming story about the correct kind of trans woman winning her deserved rights.
There was quite a bit of disagreeable material to squirm over in the 20/20 interview, but I think watching Barbara Walters say “So if I saw you undressed, you would look like a woman to me, totally? … Yesssss?” was the crowning moment of indignity, followed by the barrage of anatomy-and-surgery questions (that “people really wanna know!”) and the little sidenote that “…she qualified for sex reassignment surgery, which the Canadian government paid for.” Where do you begin dissecting that question? There was the most predatory edge to her voice when she asked that. Practically every single one of Barbara Walter’s questions are representative of the new onus that cisterhood is taking up within itself on behalf of everybody trans*: not just the right to exist, but the responsibility to conform — beginning with SRS. It’s a step forward, a skip sideways, and a lean backwards, hands flailing, into the same basic attitude of not freaking anyone out of their tiny little minds. Left right left, we all fall down.
I particularly love the blitz of questions, seemingly asked to reassure viewers that, not to fear, Jenna Talackova has herself a gentleman (post-SRS), informed him about her trans* history (as, of course, all nice trans boys and girls do), got rid of those icky boy bits, and gawsh, isn’t she so pretty! She’s legitimate! She’s gender performative, like you! She’s not some kind of freak! It’s depressing that what could have been a huge boon for trans* rights did nothing but reinforce the same old preoccupations with the transsexual body.
1. Oh! The obligatory, extremely irrelevant bathroom question. 2. Linger on the name “Walter” a few more times, Barbara. 3. I briefly zoned out during the first few surgery questions, and when Barbara started saying “That must have been terribly painful”, I was naive enough to think that she was going to spend a moment asking about the emotional difficulties of growing up, instead of post-surgical gripes, as she actually was. 4. It would be entirely too much to expect the show to end with anything better than a vacuous space-filler: “An unofficial poll taken in Canada found that people were divided, fifty-fifty, about Jenna.” (Which brought to mind an old MST3k line: “Some hate him, others merely loathe him!”) 5. The major positive was confirmation that Gloria Allred indeed knows how to rock a blazer.
Tiger Gray said: “I don’t think I can be reasonable about this one. Those interview questions make me want to scream and cry and do violence. I hate that feeling. And you know, I wish Jenna hadn’t answered those questions. Recently a trans woman was interviewed (can’t recall the program) and those questions arose, and she just refused to answer them. I prefer that because it felt more like getting the message across that nothing gives a stranger the right to ask intimate questions about a person’s private parts. When Jenna answers that kind of awful soulless bullshit it feels like validating it, like saying it’s okay to ask because trans people are inherently freak shows and trans people owe cis people some kind of explanation for who we are.”
Completely true. I concur with the screaming and crying and frustration-inspired violence. This kind of voyeuristic questioning, and Jenna’s co-operativeness, intimates to the cis layperson watching that yes, it is YOUR business to know a trans man or woman’s business, and it’s up to the trans* world to explain it, justify it, and apologise for it. And often, it’s not even somebody actively probing into private matters — it’s a passive attitude of curiosity, pity, and shame that gets recycled and propagated by programmes like this, under the guise of making the trans* world more palatable for the cis one.
I doubt I’m doing anything more than rehashing everyone’s thoughts, but I needed to pipe up. I’m trapped underneath a sleeping cat; there was plenty of time. :|
I didn’t even make it to picard before facepalming…
Most people are talking about trans subjects, but I want to talk about the “Canuck” side of the story:
Another awesome thing about this story – as was briefly touched upon- is that Ms Talackova is First Nations. In a country with such deep racism towards our First Peoples, it is great to see a woman from an indigenous community representing our nation. (I could also talk a bit about the even more problematic notions towards First Nation women, but I’m having too good of a day to bring forth that anger.)
Furthermore, Ms Talackova comes from a disadvantaged and extremely isolated area. I had the privilege of working with her MP, Nathan Cullen. Through my experiences, I was able to interact with a group of people who are financially and economically disadvantaged. Yet I found that the people from her riding are some of the most strong and culturally proud Canadians I have met. Currently many people in her riding are fighting to protect their environment, communities and cultures from a pipeline. The fight from these communities seems to also be represented in her determination. (Even if beauty pageants are problematic).
In a time when our country is becoming more and more (scary) right wing,when our rights and cultures are being threatened by our government it is inspiring to see Jenna Talackova winning this fight. It’s been added to my reasons to continue fighting for a better and more fair country.
For Emily,wherever I may find her, (sorry, a Simon and Garfunkel song)
Being a feminist, I also agree that the whole Madison Ave fed version of the visually acceptable female is a travesty and beauty pageants play up to promoting the “ideal” woman.
However, if Jenna has selected to take that route that is her business, I mean Gloria Steinem was a Playboy Bunny for a while, but I just hope she doesn’t become a sideshow.
I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite sure I will learn plenty of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!
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