Decades after Stonewall, and the commencement of gay rights movement, gay and lesbians are finding more tolerance and acceptance from society, and are progressively becoming more visible within the media and popular culture. However, the same cannot be said for those within the trans community, whom have been genuinely ignored, or mocked within the media. That is why casting Chaz Bono, a recent trans man, on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2011 caught America’s attention.
Transphobia in media is nothing new for American television, yet the inclusion of trans people in prime-time programming is. Let us remember, that ABC has other programs that feature queer characters (Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, Happy Endings), and despite being responsible for green-lighting the short-lived transphobic sitcom Work It in the fall, they are the most queer-inclusive prime-time broadcasting company in the country. So, how did Chaz go from being an ignored trangender person to a contestant on one of the most popular television programs in America? Controversial questions arose immediately after his addition to the season was announced. Would he dance with a male or female partner? How can they allow this because he is female-bodied?
For Chaz himself, he faced the imminent rude and degrading remarks from the masses by dancing with a woman, and felt the pressure to drop out of the contest, yet despite the negative focus on gender, his appearance left an impression with viewers at home. For many, they had never seen transgender individuals represented positively in the media, let alone national television. It seemed trans people only appeared in the news as victims of tragic hate crimes, or something funny to laugh at because it wasn’t “normal” in our heteronormative society. And now, they were seeing a man, brave enough to face millions of people who out-casted him.
However, part of the reason many have come to accept and embrace him is his choice to gender conform as a man. In our society, we uphold a dichotomy of two genders—male and female—and for those who fail or refuse to “chose” a side, they are considered outcasts. Therefore, it is both surprising and disappointing that within the trans community, the pressure to undergo surgery is so high. Although he decided surgery was ultimately something that would make him happy. Riki Wilkins suggests that there is a trans hierarchy, “among the genderqueer youth, it is no longer rare to hear complaints of being frozen out of transgender groups because they don’t want to change their bodies,” (59). Why should trans individuals be pushed into the same gender binary of FTM and MTF similar to that of our heteronormative society by those who identify with the same community? What does this say about genderqueer and non-gender conforming individuals?
Trans visibility within the media continues to be an issue, especially the context in which individuals are being characterized and represented. Societal pressure to not challenge the gender binary still exists within the trans community, and those who decide to “gender blend” rather than simply “passing”, “give less opportunity for the culture to exert control” over trans and genderqueer people (87-8). Perhaps, Chaz’s impression upon transphobic America will pave the way for more trans and gender queer people to make their way into the limelight.
Bornstein, Kate, "Send in the Clowns." Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Vintage Press, 1995. Print