Combatting Transphobia 101?
August 10, 2010 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Dear enlightened AskMe, can you help me talk well, make clear points and provide quality links to nerdy teenagers on the internet about transgender issues?

This is a really long question about something kind of silly but ultimately important, so I hope you'll bare with me.

I have terrible taste in television a lot of the time. One of my biggest guilty pleasures is Degrassi, that show about Canadian teenagers and their dramatic, overly complex lives. This season, they've got a new character named Adam Torres, who is being portrayed so far as a female to male transgender kid. He's played by a female actor, and is supposed to be about 14 years old. This is new territory for Degrassi, which has covered a huge number of serious issues with varying levels of success and disappointment. They've never broached the wellspring of drama that is transgender identity, and so far it's been very low key. This week, however, things are supposed to come to a head, story-wise, for Adam's character.

The Degrassi fandom internets are a-boil with Adam speculation and opinions, conjectures, terrible ideas and uninformed judgments.

Something that seems to be happening about the Adam character on Degrassi is that a number of transgender kids are showing up online and joining in the discussions about him. This is wonderful, and should be encouraged, but these are sometimes just 14 year old people who are trying their best to grapple with an extremely difficult life change and don't have the intellectual background to express themselves clearly. Other things that are happening are people calling Adam "it" and having the always hotly contested pronoun argument, and refusing to back down, kids complaining that the actress who plays Adam is "too pretty" to be a boy for the rest of the character's run so he'll "have to go back to being a girl", and even an insistence that Adam is doomed to be the rumored murdered character because he's so obviously a target.

Now, I've been lucky in life. I was born cisgendered female, am relatively heteronormative, and grew up in an accepting, fairly liberal environment where I could discuss my changing views with my parents and be respected. I've also had the excellent fortune of being friends with what seems to be an above average number of transgendered people, both FtM and MtF, all in different periods of transition. As such, transgender rights and issues are really important to me and I'm quite sensitive to when there's disrespect going around. But I'm not trans, I don't have the direct experience, and I don't make it part of my every day life to educate myself on these matters. You can help!

Because of my juvenile taste in TV and predilection for fandom involvement, I often find myself in a place where I feel I have a certain responsibility to expose younger or more naive fans to ideas and values that maybe they haven't grappled with before. Stuff like basic feminism, learning about different religions, classic literary and storytelling techniques (like foreshadowing or the concept of trinity), or background history on homosexual acceptance, are all things I've successfully talked about with teenagers to good effect. This helps move the fandom related activities along smoothly and keeps the grar levels down, as well as educating people who are really just desperate to soak up ideas and new concepts. When it comes to Degrassi, I'm just a lurker, but that's because right now, I feel ill-equipped to express myself in things that matter.

What I'd love to be able to do is have a number of links for people that I can whip out when needed. Links to quality, readable-by-younger-teenagers, relevant essays, blogs, forums, statements, and other resources for transgender people. I know that it's not my place to teach these kids about a topic so important and complex with which I have no direct involvement, but it's certainly within my ability to educate myself and share my knowledge (and quotes) with people who would take advantage of it. I'm sure that there are succinct, awesome ways to defuse the pronoun gender argument, or ways to help a young transgendered person feel welcome in a community that isn't universally agreeing on every issue, but I don't know these ways. Do you? Links to important essays and stuff that's a bit like a transgender primer would be wonderful, as well, so people who are arguing out of ignorance can be sent off to enlighten themselves. Is there anything like that out there?

Thanks for your time. I know that getting all troubled about tv fandom hullaballoo is trivial, but I think this is a great opportunity to teach myself some new things and help make other people slightly more aware.
posted by Mizu to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
There are some really wonderful people on youtube, Grishno is a good place to start. Also a website with it's helpful 'ask a tranny' section. A fun place that doesn't dodge the hard questions but keeps it young and unpatronising.
posted by shinybaum at 4:09 PM on August 10, 2010

I'm just going to explain one point myself, rather than by link. Human beings are referred to as "it" for one of two reasons. This is sometimes done for babies whose gender is not known. Gender is not all that relevant for babies anyway, other than as an indication of what they will eventually grow up to be (when you're changing a diaper, it doesn't really matter exactly what orifice the urine came out of). Or, when done for adults, this is an effort to dehumanize that person, and therefore is deeply insulting. A transgendered person has a definite concept of his or her own gender and that deserves to be respected. A female to male transgendered person aspires to be male, is going to a lot of trouble to become male, and therefore should be referred to with the male pronoun.

I am reminded of the movie "The World According To Garp" (based on the novel by John Irving). There is a wonderful performance by John Lithgow as a male to female transgendered person. This is very much worth seeing and might help someone to better understand the situation.
posted by grizzled at 4:11 PM on August 10, 2010

I suggest Harvey Katz a lot for trans awareness. Harvey gives public talks about being FTM trans, and has some awesome music videos under the name Athens Boys Choir. I love Fagette myself, but there are others.
posted by bilabial at 4:24 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are some good links at Vancouver Coastal Health Transgender Health Program and the Santa Cruz Diversity Centre.
posted by thatdawnperson at 6:34 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Private message them and let them know you support them

Or just agree with them or be vocally supportive.

You don't have to educate to support.

Another simple thing: "hey, that's not cool." Or "this really bothers me, please don't."

Hope that's a little of what you're asking for. I think that sometimes just being there and being supportive is more important than thinking up the perfect way to educate.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:44 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here are some websites written by people who suffer from Harry Benjamin Syndrome, which I would recommend to anyone who suffers from gender confusion:

Some thoughts on "Transgender."

Why not “transgender”?

Transgendered does not equal Transsexual
posted by shii at 7:46 PM on August 10, 2010

Trans resources from a LGBT youth clinic.
Scarlateen's trans info
posted by gingerbeer at 9:17 PM on August 10, 2010

(I don't mean to be dismissive of your good impulse to teach and guide, I think it's awesome, I just don't want you to put so much pressure on yourself when a simple word or two can do so much.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:02 PM on August 10, 2010

The series on transphobic tropes (1 2 3 4 5 6) at Questioning Transphobia is decent.

Trans 101.

I suspect I will remember more links later, when I've been awake for more than twenty minutes :)

I'm wary of Shii's links. Without going into trans politics too much, there's a group of people who view themselves as having "Harry Benjamin Syndrome" and there's bad blood between them and the larger trans community. Stuff like, "A true transsexual could never be a transsexual escort," from the third link, is just divisive and nasty, much like the concept of a "true transsexual" (which, naturally, means them).
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:30 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

UCSF's Center of Excellence for Transgender Health may have information that could be useful to you, including some first person accounts and other links on their Community Education page.
posted by gubenuj at 1:07 AM on August 11, 2010

Ryandrogyny's Channel

A wonderful series of videos by a well-spoken and thoughtful teenage transboy, documenting his journey.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:12 AM on August 11, 2010

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