Notice anything different about the coverage of Dylan Orr’s Obama Administration appointment and Amanda Simpson’s Obama Administration appointment? Why is almost no one in LGBT or mainstream media covering the story of Dylan Orr’s appointment? Why isn’t the religious right jumping up and down at the idea of Dylan Orr’s appointment with the same level of vitriol that they directed at Amanda Simpson?
Well, feminist author Julia Serano gives us a point of view on this phenomena of the media (and religious right) being focused on trans people in the essay Skirt Chasers: Why the Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in Lipstick and Heels that she included in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity:
There is most certainly a connection between the differing values given to women and men in our culture and the media’s fascination with depicting trans women rather than trans men, who were born female but identify as male. Although the number of people transitioning in each direction is relatively equal these days, media coverage would have us believe there is a huge disparity in the populations of trans men and women…
…Indeed, the media tends not to notice–or to outright ignore–trans men because they are unable to sensationalize them the way they do trans women without bringing masculinity itself into question. And in a world where modern psychology was founded upon the teaching that all young girls suffer from penis envy, most people think striving for masculinity seems like a perfectly reasonable goal. Author and sex educator Pat Califia, who is himself a trans man, addresses this in his 1997 book Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism: “It seems the world is still more titillated by ‘a man who wants to become a woman’ than it is by ‘a woman who wants to become a man.’ The first is scandalous, the latter is taken for granted. This reflects the very different levels of privilege men and women have in our society. Of course women want to be men, the general attitude seems to be, and of course they can’t. And that’s that.”
Once we recognize how media coverage of transsexuals is informed by the different values our society assigns to femaleness and maleness, it becomes obvious that virtually all attempts to sensationalize and deride trans women are built on a foundation of unspoken misogyny. Since most people cannot fathom why someone would give up male privilege and power in order to become a relatively disempowered female, they assume that trans women transition primarily as a way of obtaining the one type of power that women are perceived to have in our society: the ability to express femininity and to attract men.
This is why trans women like myself, who rarely dress in a stereotypically feminine manner and/or who are not attracted to men, are such an enigma to many people. By assuming that my desire to be female is merely some sort of femininity fetish or sexual perversion, they are essentially making the case that women have no worth beyond of their ability to be sexualized.
Or perhaps in the case of the religious right, motherized.
As Helen Boyd describes this in the Trans Group Blog article Not Just Amanda Simpson:
The attention being paid Simpson is a result of people’s prurient bullsh** – as demonstrated by that “joke” on Letterman — a la Julia Serano’s critiques of the way trans women are portrayed in media.
The “prurient bullsh**” is regarding how Serano described, in from that same article listed above, how…
Media depictions of trans women, whether they take the form of fictional characters or actual people, usually fall under one of two main archetypes: the “deceptive” transsexual or the “pathetic” transsexual. While characters of both models have an interest in achieving an ultrafeminine appearance, they differ in their abilities to pull it off. Because the “deceivers” successfully pass as women, they generally act as unexpected plot twists, or play the role of sexual predators who fool innocent straight guys into falling for “men.”
Amanda Simpson has been portrayed in the media and on the religious right mostly as a “deceiver,” although there have been some who have defined Simpson as “pathetic.” Perhaps because Dylan Orr is seen as embracing penis envy, is not seen as choosing to be male for prurient, salacious reasons, and because [the religious right and media] are unable to sensationalize [Orr] the way they [did Amanda Simpson] without bringing masculinity itself into question, almost no one — including LGBT press — appears to be covering Dylan Orr’s Obama Administration appointment.
And if you notice, the few mainstream/LGBT reporters who are covering Orr’s Obama Administration appointment haven’t been male reporters, but but female reporters who, like me, don’t appear to be posting on this for and prurient or salacious reasons.
And the religious right? They haven’t bothered deriding Orr at all. I don’t expect to hear a peep out of them about Orr, but even if we do it won’t raise to the level of vitriol we saw hurled at Amanda Simpson.
When I see what I perceive as unspoken misogyny on the religious right, or in the mainstream media, I hate it — but I expect it. When I see what I perceive as unspoken misogyny in LGBT media, I hate that too — but I expect better.
* Julia Serano’s Website: Julia Serano: Renaissance Woman