I am Not a Punchline

This past Friday, Tory Belleci (the Mythbuster) posted the following tweet:

Ashton 2 1/2? Wait! Say Sheen is going thru sex change replace w/ Denise R and call it 2 and halfway man. Happy Fri 13th

To which I responded with this:

@ToryBelleci No no no dude. Some of your fans are trans folks, don’t make jokes like that. I’m not halfway anything.

What I hate about this is that I realize this is actually a MILD transphobic joke in comparison to others I’ve heard.  What I hate about this is that I actually had a moment where I thought “is this even as big a deal as I’m making it?” and considered not sending an angry tweet back.  What I hate about this is that I am a person.  A real person who exists outside of the framework of a ridiculous attempt at a joke!  I am not a punchline.

And my partner, my friends, all the fabulous trans people I don’t know who might not even have a network of supportive friends or family members or anyone to say “no one has the right to laugh at you for being who you are” – none of those people are punchlines either. Is it maybe enough for trans people to have to worry about someone fucking killing them for existing?  Can we possibly hold off on the jokes about dates that went well until – SURPRISE! – “she” was a “HE!” for just a moment, to give trans folks a chance to get on with the business of surviving?

THIS is why I get angry when people argue that oppressed groups are too sensitive.  One person I don’t even know makes a crack on the Internet (which we may as well just call “Land of a Thousand Assholes” from now on, although that sounds like a gross underestimation) about how trans women are “halfway men.”  Ok, that’s offensive, but does it really impact my life that much?  Hell yes it does.  As the microaggressions blog demonstrates so clearly, all of these “little” things pile up until you’re dealing with, say, being buried in sand when the tide’s coming in vs. getting some sand in your shoe.  The fact that I worried about overreacting still makes me upset several days later; it’s very difficult not to internalize transphobia when it slowly seeps in from so many directions.  I don’t even know if I would have said I’d internalized any of it that much if you’d asked me last Thursday.  I also want to point out that while I’m focusing on transphobic excuses-for-humor here, I could be writing this about jokes that focus on disability, fatness, misogyny, etc. and the point would be just as valid.  It might go without saying, but I want to be sure to say it all the same.

I’ve been trying to think about the sort of transphobic jokes I hear most often, and they seem to fall into a few categories.  There’s “haha, guy in a dress,” “haha, lady thinks she looks hot but is OBVIOUSLY a guy” (these two are sometimes combined), and the always-popular “eww, lady with a dick.”  (Aw shit dudes, did you know that if a penis comes near you it will instantly TURN YOU GAY WITH ITS INVISIBLE DICK-BEAMS?  I know you did; that’s why you’re so afraid of them!)
There’s the obvious homophobic panic of the dreaded lady-penis, but other than that a lot of “jokes” directed at trans women seem to be related to the idea that they’re all ugly, or obviously really men because of their “man-hands” (when did this become an actual thing?  I see so many people discussing women’s “man-hands” all of a sudden) or jawlines or what have you.  I feel like this ties in with ideas of women as people whose attractiveness is a public commodity; what good is a woman if she’s not nice to look at?

I don’t feel like there’s much humor about trans men; this is another way in which I sometimes feel that my lack of visibility/representation as a trans person in the general public mind can turn out to be a good thing from time to time.  If I don’t exist as much, I can’t have as many jokes made about me!  I’m not trying to appropriate other people’s pain, and hopefully it doesn’t come off that way, but I consider a joke against any member of the greater trans community to be a personal insult and I’m going to be just as upset no matter who the target is.

One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is visibility and how to feel like I’m being visible as a fabulous trans person without feeling burnout from answering questions.  This happened at the job I had in North Carolina before we moved; I transitioned on the job and had to be open with my coworkers about what was happening, and I unofficially had an open-door policy where I would answer any questions about my identity and how things were changing.  There were times when this got much more invasive and personal than I wanted, but ultimately I think it was a positive decision – I don’t think most of my coworkers had spent much time around any openly trans people, and I was able to turn the idea of transness from something abstract and foreign to something they could see and experience on a more personal level.  It put a face and a personality to their ideas of what being a trans or genderqueer person might mean.

I do believe that this is how we change minds and make the jokes stop.  It shouldn’t be my job to do it, but for some people the only way they can really understand that trans people are people and not just caricatures or walking jokes is to meet a few of them.  My hope is that one of the many people I’ve been open with might hear a transphobic joke some day and say “hey, you know what? I know someone who’s trans, and he’s not like that at all.  Why would you think that’s funny?”  It’s slow and dirty work, and it’s not just mine to do, but sometimes I think I am my own best weapon against this sort of degrading humor.  I’m trying to speak up whenever I can, even if the people I speak up to don’t acknowledge it.

And while I don’t like to be angry, I find that holding onto that anger can be a useful way to remember why it’s so important to keep pushing back against transphobic comments and the people who make them.

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