Monday, January 28, 2008

Educating Queers: TV As A Mirror

I seriously thought about not watching "The L Word" this season. I realized I don't feel anywhere near the same way many lesbians seem to about the show. In fact, I had to admit that I don't really even like the show. It seems the more I watch it, the more problems I find with it. Yet another reason why white queer females and I simply can't do business.

However, while watching the latest episode, I realized that, despite the show's many flaws, there is one thing it is starting to do right: give a glimpse into the alienation trans individuals get from the queer community. I guess asking them to also show the way the queer community alienates blacks and sometimes other "people of color" is asking too much, but this is a start as the show is finally doing more than brief, shallow explorations of racial & ethnic issues, being stereotypical, depicting most queer women as prettier and more feminine than most of us [queer women] usually see and generally being all about sex and relationships. I must say I'm very surprised to see the show do this with trans people, and I hope they won't be as shallow and fleeting with this as they have been with race.

What I like is how realistic the depiction seems, although I'm speaking as someone who is basically an outsider to the queer community and doesn't really know trans people/trans experiences with the queer community/etc. Even as that kind of person, I could tell pretty soon upon starting to explore the queer community a bit more that trans people are alienated just like bisexuals are. Trans issues always seem to be discussed in separate forums than lesbian and gay issues, and not as often. Everything about the "LGBT" community and being LGBT tends to focus mainly on the 'L' and the 'G.' I'm also sure I had read things about trans alienation, such as the piece from my Critical Race Theory course about how some queers consider trans people traitors to gays and lesbians for changing genders and oftentimes sexual orientations in the process, and the piece from my class on queer minorities that discussed LGBT activist Sylvia Rivera's unreturned support for gays and lesbians.

On "The L Word," there is a character who was born a woman but lives as a male, has taken hormones but hasn't had surgery. The show has explored some of those trans issues and the fallout that can result around it, such as losing a girlfriend you had/met before you started going through hormone therapy and were a woman, or people not knowing what sex to call you during/after the transition or identify you as when looking at you. But until recently, the show had never really gotten into the actual alienation. What I liked was, in this episode, entitled "Let's Get This Party Started," they showed, what seem like, two very real types of alienation trans people get--"to the face" and "behind their backs."

One of the women on the show is what I would call a "professional homosexual," i.e. not only her personal life but basically her professional life and image is centered around being a lesbian--or bisexual...these days, who knows what she is. Since I'm not all that into the show, I couldn't give exact specifics, but basically the lesbi character, who has a huge web presence as a professional homosexual on the show, ended up telling the trans character that she didn't want the trans woman blogging on her site/blog about trans issues because the site is really for lesbians and lesbian issues only. The trans character tried to point out that there is an identity intersection and/or intersecting issues there, but the lesbi character basically wasn't hearing her. The trans character's blog entry had upset some lesbians and those lesbians let her know that her discussion of trans issues wasn't welcome via comments to her blog post, and the lesbi character basically indirectly sided with them by choosing to not upset lesbians rather than be inclusive and acknowledge that the trans character's issues were relevant as someone who used to be a lesbian female.

Then there was another issue. A gay male character on the show has a huge crush on this trans character, and they ended up dancing together in a scene in the episode. These two women who are main characters on the show as of right now and are in a relationship with each other noticed and started talking about it with each other. One of them said she was happy for the gay male because she knows he wants a boyfriend. And the other woman responded with something like "you mean girlfriend," and they both started laughing. In other words, it was a refusal to recognize and respect the trans character's gender identification and transition.

What I also liked about this scene is this: the show is centered around this group of friends, but, to me, there are certain people who have been brought into the group but never exactly included. There are some characters the group appears more to simply tolerate than actually like or have a friendship with. One of these people, to me, is the woman who brought the trans character into the group's life in the first place, although there are one or two people in the group whom she's closer to than others. Interestingly enough, this woman's character initially was depicted as this confused, messed-up bisexual. Still, she is and has been more accepted than the trans character ever has been. The trans character has never fit into the group, though the group generally tends to treat her with a fake politeness but tempered with distance. He has never really been welcomed or included.

Honestly, this is what I feel when I have been in queer environments, as well, as a black person. I have also suspected that some of these people would talk about me behind my back, particularly in relation to my bringing up racial issues. In a way, I feel the show's depiction of the trans character and his lack of acceptance goes toward confirming that feeling alienated isn't always in a person's mind, even if no one is even remotely doing anything all that out-in-the-open that is wrong or alienating. Sometimes when you're around people, you just get a feeling. I can recall other scenes in other seasons of the show when the trans character has been out with the group but has felt awkward with them...because an awkwardness was, or at least should have been, visible to the audience. Sometimes the people in the situation, well-intentioned as they may be, don't notice that they are sending out negative or alienating signals/vibes.

At my university, I am aware of trans individuals on campus, but I don't get the sense that they are alienated by the school's queer community--just the opposite. That doesn't mean that this alienation isn't going on elsewhere, or even here at this school. As I've written in other posts, I believe my university is genuinely accepting in terms of sexual orientation and identity but fake-ly accepting in terms of race...the fakeness being that lack of awareness of or willingness to admit to their own racism that white Liberals tend to possess. I am also sure that trans people here have experienced this alienation shown on "The L Word" and then some prior to coming here, and surely they will experience it once they leave.

I hope what this show will do is open some queer people's eyes to one of the community's real problems. To me, this is the kind of thing a LGBT TV show should do, instead of just being sensationalist, escapist and "sexy." If you have the power to get this kind of show on the air, use that power for good instead of using it the way heterosexuals do with their shows. Expose people to real issues in between make-out scenes. Straight people aren't the only ones who need to learn a thing or two about what queer people are like or queer problems. After all, I don't think I've ever known a group of people to watch a show more closely and remember every little thing about it than lesbians with "The L Word." Mixing that fanatical devotion with efforts to open their eyes and minds is the best thing the writers/producers/creators of the show could possibly do--maybe we could change the queer community for the better. Maybe one day, I could finally feel comfortable in LGBT environments.