Sunday, January 25, 2015

Trans World News 1-24-15

By Sabrina Samone, TMP


Coming of age in the late nineties and beginning the work of accepting myself as Transgender,  It was rare that I would hear any progress on the state of being Trans. It was as if we didn't exist. So much as changed in fifteen years, especially now.  This month is about to close and never before has Transgender issues been so upfront and personal on the dinner table of America as it has been recently. The command to "Fix Society" grows louder by the day. Across this country and the world trans people with our allies are standing to proclaim, we exist.

We are still reeling from the suicide of Leelah Alcorn earlier this month and yet we are continually forced to digest one death continually after the next of sisters and brothers around the globe. Even with the large screams of Transgender society worldwide to "Fix Society," transphobia in the Virginia media continues to persist as in the case of Lamia Beard,  who was murdered this week and yet suffered even more by the hands of local Virginia media by being misgendered and further humiliated even in death.
Thirty-year-old Lamia Beard of Norfolk, Va., a transgender woman of color, was shot in the early morning of January 17. She died at a local hospital.
Between June and December last year, at least 13 transgender women were murdered in the United States; all but one of those identified were women of color. These tragedies highlight the intersecting forces of poverty and racism.

This constant in  your face bigotry by the media continues even while as a community we celebrated the leader of America, POTUS Barack Obama, who became the first President in United States history to acknowledge the visibly growing transgender society. During the President's annual SOTU address to the nation he says, "We condemn the persecution of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender." The words, while maybe insignificant to the general public, were felt like an earthquake and brought a smile of hope to millions of Transgender people around the world. Many see it as the starting point of absolute validation by our government. The unfortunate reality of the momentous words are clouded by the continue fact that as the first African American President made his remarks, yet another Trans woman of color lost her life do to discrimination. The sad often ignored fact of the great chasm that plagues not only African American communities but American culture as a whole, is that black trans lives matter. 

As the resilience of the Trans soul as often shown us, we continue our voice for justice. In one of the oldest trans visible nations, India, the film "I' has taken transphobia to entirely new stratosphere.  Our eyes are again turned to the struggle of maybe the largest Trans populated area on Earth.  In an open letter that has gone viral, Living Smile Vidya, a fellow trans blogger from India writes to the director of the film.
Living Smile Vidya's open letter courtesy of Living Smile Vidya;
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TMP SIGNAL BOOST:
By Living Smile Vidya
To
The Epic Film director Shankar:
Sir,
I watched “I”.
I stand here in Tamil Nadu, where religious fundamentalist forces have ensured that a creative piece of work has been retracted and its author gone into exile, where – on grounds that it hurt religious sentiments – “The Da Vinci Code” was banned, and “Viswaroopam” was temporarily banned and went on to get a lot of publicity, becoming a high grosser.
I stand here today and look at your work. Everyone knows that a ‘Shankar film’ caters to the actor’s hunger for versatility in a role, the producer’s fetish for money, the mad worship of a rogue masquerading as a hero, or the blatant misogyny underlying the blind craze among fans.
However, you would have known that most critics, barring a predictable few, have found the film disappointing. While they have ridiculed your script and your screenplay, it seems to be beyond them to criticise your ridiculing the ‘nine’* (trans) character in your movie. I am amazed at the wonders of freedom of expression exercised in the making of this particular work. You are, after all, the epic director! You are free to depict us, trans* people as sex freaks, sociopaths, second class citizens, or in any way you want to. I’m sure you would have liked it when one of them took a leaf out of your book and wrote, ‘there’s another villain, a “nine”thara.’
Beyond your magnificent ambition, ostentatious sets, striking actors, and your grand budget, I would like to reach out to your large and imposing mind. If the appalling denigration of transwomen in “Shivaji” (when Vivek says ‘It has just come back from surgery,’ and our super star moves away, disgusted) was at one level, you have surpassed yourself by taking transphobia to a whole new level in “I”.
I                                                                                                                             A still from the movie 'I'
This insignificant little girl would like to speak a few words with you about this.
Just ten minutes into the film, Vikram, the epitome of on-screen machismo, stares at the villain and says ‘dei, potta’. I was not surprised. Other ‘pottai-s** like me and I are used to such slander on screen. When Vinoth, director of the socially-sensitive film “SathurangaVettai”, casually uses the word ‘pottai’ as an abuse, and critics ruling this part of the world support him, can we expect any less from you?
Shankar, how are we, the pottais of the world, any less dignified than your masculine ideal? Is that ideal bigger than our realization that our being is filled with femininity, and we yearn to live the truth of our gender? Is your ideal much bigger than the courage to be honest and leave the safety of our home, and the comfort of our families? Is your ideal nobler than us losing our basic rights as citizens, when we run away and become refugees, second-class citizens, in our own country? Is it more magnificent than the scorching pyre of starting life afresh as a woman, without economic or social support? Is it any grander than us bearing with fortitude, the violence of your masculine ideal on our bodies every day of our lives? Or, Shankar, do you simply think we do not feel at all? That we cannot realize our dignity is assaulted?
It’s fine that you wanted five villains. I understand your script required all of them to be from the film industry. But then, you wanted one villain among them to be plush and grand and at the same time comical. I am appalled that you chose to have a transwoman as that villain.
Your transwoman character is a stylist. Just so that you wanted it to be authentic you cast Ojas Rajani – Aishwarya Rai’s stylist in “Enthiran” (I wonder if she knew what she was doing; if you told her how transphobic her character is in the movie). Even while she is introduced as the top stylist by the ciswoman who plays the leading lady, why do the hero and the friend look down on this transwoman? You must know that there are numerous examples of transwomen who have risen to great heights, battling these very same struggles. Do you wish to make the statement that despite our rising to great heights, the fact that we are trans* is reason enough to look down on us? To denigrate us? When you see fans update their vocabulary to use the name of a popular film that strove to bring dignity to the transgender community (I am referring to the film “Kanchanaa” which, surprisingly, against its intention, has lent its title to be used by people to tease us these days), why would you start with that popular song sung by a travelling group of transwomen singer-dancers, “oororam puliyamaram”? Unfailing your ignoble intention, the audience erupted with laughter at this mean usage of the song. Would you have heard the wail of our mothers, who are, just like your “Muthalvan” Pugazh’s mother, in anguish?
Your leading man sees your leading lady only in posters and on the silver screen, falls in love with her – true and honest – and yet manages to not have any sexual desires at all. And your leading lady loves him in return, thanks to guilt and sympathy. When this is okay, how is it that the love of a transwoman is so worthless that it disgusts not just the leading man, but also the lady, and the friend, and the faraway ad filmmaker? This disgust is a tool you have employed to vilify the character in your script, isn’t it? When you wanted to show her as a rich transwoman, your camera lens showed her in a very beautiful light. Immediately after her love is brushed aside as being worthy of scorn, your camera shows her as a despicable person. Shankar, let me tell you, your camera does not just show a despicable Ojas, it shows a despicable you!
You know, right up to this scene I wanted to be civil and polite in expressing my angst. Just when you showed us that Ojas occupied Room No. 9, I lost it. You must know that I have been called ‘nine’ all my life in school. I was poked and pierced on all sides, torn apart, left alone and to nothing but tears, with this number. I still have this number now, thrown at me on the streets. I also have the arsenal of swear words I have picked up on the way, and I would not hesitate to throw back at you. But then, the critics of the world (special mention, Cable Shankar) will take it upon themselves to give me lessons in cultured conversation. I do not want that; so I will continue to be polite.
While the censor board made you place the disclaimer, ‘No animals were harmed during the making of this film’, it turned a blind eye to the blatant discrimination of sexual and gender minorities, and people with physical disabilities – granting you the freedom to hurt and offend these sections of the population. What is the use of questioning the faults in your work without condemning the kindness of the CBFC?
Let’s turn to your leading actor Vikram. He has risen to great heights after much effort and hard work, but he is no exception to this insensitivity – the film that gave him his big break, Bala’s “Sethu”, has him say ‘de, you are going to become an ajak one day, doing this’. His inspiration – the rationalist, modernist, liberal – Kamal Haasan has, after all, used ‘pottai’ with such recklessness, and has famously vilified transwomen and homosexuals in his film ‘Vettayaadu Vilayaadu’. This insensitivity is common to every actor here.
But still, if it will reach, I’d like to say one thing to you – and all actors, comedians and directors. The men of this world are not your only audience – those men who worship that abusive, insensitive, patriarchal, masculine ideal that denigrates people who are courageous enough to live the truth. Your work is also watched by those very same people you denigrate, alienate and laugh at. We have TVs in our homes. We watch your films. We laugh, we enjoy. We also feel. We can also rise in fury when our dignity is assaulted.
* Nine: “ombOdu”, a derogatory Tamil term for transgender and other gender-nonconforming people.
** poTTai: another derogatory Tamil word, loosely translated as “sissy” and used against gender non-conforming and transgender people, but also used in some communities as a non-derogatory reference to girls and women.
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The topic of weather or not to allow transgender actors to play more trans roles continues. Obviously, an actor is a person portraying a character in a dramatic or comic production and should be free do to do so but the debate increases; is it the duty of Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole to reevaluate and take an active role in addressing discrimination with in the industry. It would not be a first. During the sixties, the Civil Rights leaders of the day, pressured Hollywood to portray African-American, Native American and Latin Americans with our on actors. Any less was and is continued to be considered racism. Imagine a top Caucasian actor of today putting on black face to play an African American role, there would be an outcry of rage. The same pressure should be applied when considering Trans actors.
There are many signs of hope. One is the current critically acclaimed Sundance Film Tangerine . The low budget films is gaining rave reviews across the board for it's portrayal of two transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles. Yes I know...prostitutes you may be saying and trust me I too am bored with the only portrayal of transgender people by trans actors as prostitutes, I myself have had the misfortune of being considered only for a trans prostitute role even in an LGBT produced film, "Between Love and Goodbye."  
This film however is based on trans issues with trans characters that are played by trans actors. Even though it is a familiar character to us, we can embrace the fact that a quality film like,  "Tangerine" is taking the steps to support real transgender actors. Though many may not want to support it because of it's content, I'd urge the opposite. We need the steps to see many more Lavern Coxs' shine and it is another momentous Trans event that a film of it's nature is so highly acclaimed at Sundance Film Festival.

There is even more great news coming out of Trans film. "Passing" is a short documentary under development that is shining a much needed light on a segment of our Transgender society that is least discussed, Trans men of color. The documentary examines the lives of three trans men of color dealing with racism and sexism in and out of Trans society. The film is currently in funding mode and spreading the word about this most needed piece of art is needed by the community. 


While we celebrate the Film Tangerine and the future of the documentary Passing , in communist China,  real life transgender sex workers are expressing their concerns.  It's not the usual suspects that harm these women and men in China but the actual government and police force. According to the Huffpost article; Xiao Tong was selling sex on the streets of Beijing when a man lured her into his car, flashed his police badge and took her to the station. Once there, police pulled at Xiao's wig and punched her, before removing her bra and groping her during a body search. "They asked really perverted questions, like, how do you have sex," Xiao said. "I turned around and asked, do you want to try? Then he kicked me, really, he really kicked me."
Like sex workers world wide China's sex workers face abuse, rape and HIV. Unlike here in the west, they have zero voice. Being a communist country with very few if any rights, transgender people, like us in other countries are at the bottom of the rights pool but in China's situation transgender society is at a lower level many of us could not even begin to imagine. 



Again we take a look back at the week in Trans Society and with hope from coast to coast one day soon we can answer the call of Leelah Alcorn and "Fix Society".



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