Since we’re talking about trans issues today, I feel inclined to weigh in on Saturday Night Live’s most recent, and I think most blatant, foray into overt transmisogyny. For those not in the aware, I’m talking about this past weekend’s oh-so-delightful Estro Maxx sketch.
There are so many things wrong with it, I don’t know where to begin.
For starters, it’s entirely transmisogynistic. There’s nary a mention of trans men or non-binary individuals anywhere, which is both good and bad. For their sake, I think not being part of this travesty is probably good. But if it’s one thing the media is persistently bad it, it’s acknowledging that transsexualism can be about anyone other than white trans women. And I think the more subtle message there is that trans women are the people society is really worried about.
Then you have the conflation of, apparently, mismatched gender expressions. For lack of a better phrase, “men in dresses”. Comedians have drawn upon this cliche since forever, as there seems to be little else funnier than (ostensibly) straight guys wearing women’s clothing. But this “men in dresses” shtick has been used to perpetuate hatred and even violence against trans women throughout time. It has set itself up as a false paradigm that allows for no legitimacy beyond itself. It is bad enough when this gimmick is used without being directly referential to trans women, but when a show like SNL flat out says, “this is what trans women are”, we have a big fucking problem.
And, of course, they get the pronouns wrong. I wish that just spoke for itself, but I’m afraid it’s something most people don’t get. The misgendering of trans people is prolific and it’s profound. The next time you see an article in your local newspaper that talks about a trans person, consider for a moment why the mention of that person’s history was important. Pay attention to how they feel not just free, but obligated, to trot out that person’s former name, even if it had been legally changed at some point. Pay attention to the pronouns. Ask yourself why any of that is okay. Why do people think they have a right to that information?
There’s also a sense that they did some research for this. Not a lot, but some. For instance, I don’t know anyone who takes five hormone supplements daily, but four isn’t out of the question, and three is really common. And then there’s the TSA thing; that’s a really powerful, really troubling issue for trans people. Did they just think of that on their own, or did they read somewhere about some of the horrors trans people have gone through just to board a plane and decide it would be funny to throw in? And don’t even get me started about the fetishistic aspect of that bit.
But I think the thing that bothers me the most is the sort of Raymondian vibe the whole sketch has. The idea, and again we’re talking specifically about trans women here, that we “want” to be women but only if it’s not too inconvenient, and only if it means we don’t have to give up anything else in our lives. I have no interest in perpetuating the idea that being trans should be hard; to hell with the gatekeepers who expect us to throw everything away just to prove how sincere were are in our need, and to hell with anyone who thinks we should have to jump through hoops to have the same rights they were born with. But the truth is, being trans is hard; we face a world of violence, alienation, legal red tape, a complete absence of civil rights, and a Byzantine healthcare system designed to stop forward movement. That is the life we have. That is the life I have. And to hell with Saturday Night Live for throwing that to the sharks…even if the sketch had been funny, it wouldn’t have been worth it.