[As published in Baltimore OUTloud 3/7/14]
I am writing this post the morning after the Academy Awards where Jared Leto won for best supporting male actor… for playing a Trans woman. I have to say I am dismayed at this development. Right now there are probably a hundred blogs or social media threads running on “how great that is” to “how could this happen?” I am not going to rehash their arguments other than to say this portrait of a drug addicted hooker seems to be the only popular role for any Trans character in film or television. It really is down to others writing and presenting the Trans community as they see us and is done so in a manner that objectifies and thus allows us to be dehumanized. We are “those” people. And I am thinking it is time we start to own that discussion.
Are there Trans drug addicts? Yes there are. Are all Trans persons addicts? Not by a long shot. Don’t most Trans people engage in sex work? No. There are some who do, but most do not. If I had asked those questions of any other minority you might be offended. The problem we have is of image. And that, in part, is of our own doing by not being out. The notion that our value in the world is actually as a burden or parasite for the rest of you to bear seems to be the norm. The reality is otherwise. Trans persons do participate in all levels and aspects of society. And we have many such persons who have contributed greatly to the lives of all of us on the planet. You just are unaware that they do.
I personally know Trans doctors, lawyers, pilots, engineers, software developers, IT and database administrators, filmmakers, musicians, business executives, social workers, government workers, authors, professors, graphic artists, teachers, fire fighters, law enforcement professionals and yes, even hairdressers. Are there some sex workers out there? Yes there are but my take is that Trans persons represent so much more than that. We are real people (remember that Leto’s Rayon is a fictional character), doing real jobs, with real families and friends.
I am going to cite two examples of how Trans women have likely directly touched your life. For a moment I am going to presume that you have some kind of electronics in your possession. A computer, laptop, pad, phone or any other modern device, like your TV, will count in the exercise. You owe a debt of thanks to a Trans woman for all of those things. You see, she developed and invented the underlying technology in those devices -- Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI), which allowed complex integrated circuits to be developed. She literally wrote the book on this technology. Lynn Conway, who transitioned in the late 1960’s, is a pioneer on par with Edison or Tesla and is largely responsible for the technology we enjoy today as part of our everyday world. Share that knowledge with somebody you know today.
My second example is Martine Rothblatt. If you use satellite radio in any capacity you can thank Martine for that. She started Sirius Satellite Radio in 1990 along with a number of other satellite broadcasting companies around that same time. For many of us that would be enough of a success but not in her case. In the late 1990’s one of her children was diagnosed with life a threatening pulmonary hypertension disease. She was told there was no cure. In response she pivoted and reeducated herself in the life-sciences and started another company to find a cure for her daughter. Today that company, United Therapeutics, occupies several blocks of downtown Silver Spring Maryland. And yes, she found the cure.
If we are going to seek icons or examples for Trans persons why can we not use examples like these women? Either story would make for compelling entertainment for the public. Yes, they are not tawdry or titillating stories that fit a preconceived notion of Trans women put forward by Hollywood. But unlike Leto’s rendition they are real people, leading real lives and representing our community with excellence.