This has been quite the year so far for transgender people, and is perhaps most notable for the endings it has brought about.
In January, talk show host Katie Couric interviewed two transgender women, Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. The interview went south quickly — quite literally — as Couric questioned Carrera about her body, asking, “your private parts are different now, aren’t they?” While Carrera did a good job of refocusing the discussion, Laverne Cox also faced similar invasive questions.
After much outcry, the next day Couric issued a quasi apology, stating that she had left those questions into the interview as a “teachable moment.”
Meanwhile, talk show host Piers Morgan has been involved in an ongoing and very ugly, very public feud with transgender author Janet Mock after inviting her on his show in February. Morgan referred to Janet Mock as having been a boy, and wanted to spend more time talking about her boyfriend and his feelings about her coming out than about her own experiences as discussed in her book, Redefining Realness.
Mock, on twitter, told Morgan to “Get it the f*ck together,” while Morgan claimed Mock was “scoring cheap points” and called her trans community supporters dimwits.
Historically, talk shows have used transgender people as quick and easy ratings fodder, trotting us out to satisfy some salacious interest on behalf of their viewers. This was pioneered by Phil Donahue, and taken to the extreme by long–time daytime hosts Jerry Springer and Maury Povitch.
So it should come as no surprise that both Couric and Morgan have talk shows in trouble — Couric’s was already axed by the time she invited Carrera and Cox on as guests. Meanwhile, Morgan’s show was cancelled in the wake of his Mock meltdown.
This is a major turning point. The tactic of talk shows to use us as exploitative fodder did little to revive a failed — and a failing — program. Couple this with the lambasting that Grantland faced after an equally exploitative article on golf club designer Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, and you can see the tide turning on what is considered acceptable presentations of transgender people in the public eye.
The world of talk shows and blogs, however, is not the only ending I wish to talk about.
In August 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law, AB 1266, which protected the rights of transgender students across the state, giving them equal access to transgender students statewide. It’s a simple bill, only amending one small section of the education code, but what it does is groundbreaking.
Foes of the law made their voices heard almost as soon as it was signed, and none were louder than the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a conservative legal defense organization located in Sacramento. They launched a website, genderinsanity.com, in order to fight the bill, and were ready to start the fight. With their help, a group called Privacy For All Students (PFAS) began to collect signatures for a repeal of the bill. They laced the campaign with lies of all sorts, claiming that the bill would lead to “co-ed” bathrooms statewide, that non-transgender students would use this as an excuse to spy on other students in the restroom, and even twisted the story of a Colorado transgender student to their advantage.
Privacy For All Students turned in over 619,000 signatures in its attempt to force a ballot measure, with an additional 5,000 signatures gained in Mono and Tulare counties later included after some debate. Even though the law did take affect on the 1st of January, PJI and PFAS have claimed repeatedly that the law was on hold thanks to their signature gathering.
On February 24th, the State of California finished its count, finding that it had only 487,484 valid signatures. It needed 504,760. As such, this attempt to repeal AB 1266 has ended.
I believe that the PJI, stinking from the defeat of California’s Proposition 8, thought it could have a quick victory with AB 1266.
That they could not collect enough signatures to force this to go to the voters may be even more groundbreaking than the bill itself. This says that the people of California, even with pollsters making outrageous claims, rejected a bill that would have punitively affected transgender people.
I cannot stress this enough: 2014 is shaping up to be the year that transgender people, once considered little more than sideshow freaks of talk shows — and not worthy of any sort of legal representation — are starting to be seen as humans first.
I’m not saying that everything is sunshine and lollipops. The PJI and PFAS can still push a further referendum, let alone try to take this to court. Also, for every Couric or Morgan, there are ten others willing to use transgender people for shock value. Povitch, for one, is still plenty willing to do so.
But this is a tipping point, and one where transgender people stand to benefit greatly. We have the ability, at this juncture, to grow, to be accepted, and to no longer be held back like we have.
Tomorrow we will, of course, need to continue to fight, and there will be more than enough we shall have to do. Today, though, we can celebrate some important endings, and look forward to a better future.
Gwen Smith is glad that not only good things come to an end. You can find her at www.gwensmith.com
by Gwen Smith