“The Year of the Transsexual”

“Bold Crossings of the Gender Line” is the title of a recent article in the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times. The two opening paragraphs set up the premise:

It’s certainly a statement on our times that, in the same month, James Franco graces the covers of GQ and Candy. In GQ, he appears in a moody head shot. In Candy, a style magazine dedicated to what it calls the “transversal” — that is, transsexuality, transvestism, cross-dressing, androgyny and any combination thereof — Mr. Franco, shot by Terry Richardson, vamps in trowel-applied makeup, heavy jewelry and a woman’s dominatrix-style power suit.

Candy, it turns out, is but one of the more visible bits of evidence that 2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual. Yes, Mr. Franco is just dressing up and doesn’t feel he was born the wrong sex. But it is a grand gesture of solidarity with gender nonconformists and certainly hasn’t affected attendance at “127 Hours.”

The Grey Lady declares another “trend” is born—”2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual.” OK, what else ya got to support this “trend”?

Well, this time the Times actually cited much more evidence than they usually do for such claims. Hmmm, could they be right?

They cite:

  • Marc Jacobs posing on the cover of Industrie in one of his women’s designs
  • Lady Gaga posing as male model Jo Calderone in the Japanese Vogue Hommes
  • The story of the mother who allowed her 5-year-old son to dress like Daphne from Scooby-Doo
  • Simon & Schuster publishing My Princess Boy, a children’s book about a boy who wears pink gowns
  • And a few more examples (Oprah, other related coverage in magazines, etc.)

The inclusion of transsexual model Lea T. in Givenchy’s fall advertising campaign is also cited. The story of Lea T. surely does bolster their premise:

Ms. T. wasn’t outed by the news media. In fact, it was a condition of her agreeing to do the ad that Mr. Tisci mention in interviews that she was transgender.

“When you are a transsexual, you look for your future, and you can’t see it,” Ms. T. said. “I thought this would be a nice message for another tranny: ‘Look, we can be the same as other girls and boys.’ It’s small, but it makes you feel like you have a little chance.”

The Times even handled the tricky situation of using the usually pejorative “tranny” appropriately (at least in my journalistic mind), which is only in a quote.

The article also cites the story of President Obama’s boyhood nanny in Indonesia:

The only thing that would have raised more awareness of trans people would have been a link with the president — even better, a link that rhymed. That’s when the “tranny nanny,” Barack Obama’s transvestite nanny from his boyhood in Jakarta, Indonesia, was discovered and made headlines.

I have no problem with the inclusion of this example, but I do have issues with “tranny nanny” and “transvestite” as they are used in the article.

Yes, “tranny nanny” is in quotes, but was it really necessary to include? I understand the argument that the term was being quoted from other media sources and therefore fair game. However, even if something is fair game, it’s still up to the discretion of a media outlet whether to use. It seems to me that it was included more for titillation and less for journalistic value.

Now, “transvestite” is another matter. The NLGJA stylebook supplement is rather clear on its use: “Avoid. See cross-dresser.” I couldn’t agree more. The Times should have used “cross-dressing nanny” and should have known better. In an article so fraught with peril in its use of transgender-related words, the Times was doing so well until “transvestite” reared its head.

I admit the Times put forth a convincing case, but I’ll let other people more qualified to comment on such things decide whether “2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual.”

However, I do have to ask … Why did they choose to use “transsexual” instead of the broader term “transgender” for that phrase? As with the “tranny nanny” line of thinking, I submit that the “sex” in “transsexual” was too tempting, even though using “transgender” would have been more accurate.

One Response

  1. I found your website only today. I’m impressed… it’s such an important work that you do. Media coverage can be so beneficial, and at other times so detrimental to one’s causes. It’s good a blog such as yours is there to cover it all. I’ll be a daily visitor from now on. Best wishes from Germany, Sandra

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