Transgender peopleand especially those who are masculine-identifiedare courageously beginning to mobilize and speak out about their years of struggle, as was proven by this month's "Body and Soul" health conference at the Lesbian & Gay Community Services CenterNew York City's first-ever conference specifically addressing trans-masculine communities. With that in mind, it's especially disheartening that The Village Voice chose to depict them in an unfair and inaccurate manner with Nora Vincent's "Brooklyn girl grows hair on her chest " [November 23] and the sensationalistic cover illustration that accompanied it.
The cover image of a disfigured Barbie doll with a male torso and groin crudely stitched to its body in Frankenstein fashion likens transgender people to creatures with mismatched body parts and grotesque, butchered appearances. Furthermore, the language used throughout the piece compounds this dehumanizing (or at best, disrespectful) characterization.
From its title, referencing "real" manhood and a "girl grow[ing] hair on her chest," to Vincent's use of female pronouns in describing [slain transsexual] Brandon Teena, to her suggestions that Teena and Drew Seidman had "fooled" people into believing they were "real" men, the piece sanctions adherence to prevailing misconceptions about gender.
The truth is that transition is not about altering a body, but rather, freeing a body to be in harmony with one's mind and soul. Gender identity and self-expression are not about "passing," and certainly not about "fooling." They are about honesty. When transgender people come out, they are in fact trying to stop "fooling" others about who they are. For Vincent and the Voice to suggest otherwise is surprising and deplorable.
Richard Burns, Executive Director
Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center
Joan M. Garry, Executive Director
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
Riki Anne Wilchins, Executive Director
Drawn and Quartered
Norah Vincent's reportage in her article "A Real Man" was tabloid-frenzied, shock-value-oriented, and lacking in any respect for the subject of her piece. Vincent chose to focus on her subject not as a person but as a concept. Transitioning gender is a huge decisionone that deserves investigationbut Vincent stayed atop the waves and responded only to the whitecaps. Mentioning Drew's former name, as well as his surname, showed an utter lack of responsibility, putting his person at risk.
I knew Drew in his former identity, and I can tell you that he is much happier now. A person who does not mince words, Drew is sincere and informed. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his interviewer. Vincent failed to ask any of the more important questions. Instead, we were bombarded with medical facts and fantastical representations as Vincent constructed them. Some questions, just off the top of my head, that might have helped to create a better article:
"Does the sex change make your girlfriend straight?" "How does this affect her queer identity?" "Expound on your family's acceptance. Tell the story." "Are you attending any support groups? What is that like?" "Do you feel more at ease? Why? How? Factors?" "Do you think 23 is too young for such an experience?" "Do you renounce or accept your past identity?" "Would you have preferred growing up as a boy?"
Such a courageous effort on Drew's part: to put your life in the hands of a reporter so that maybe readers will get a better understanding of transgendered people. Unfortunately, Vincent went running after a hot subjectonly to burn it. I speak for all of Drew's friends when I say damn you all for being so narrow andopportunistic.
Norah Vincent replies: As an androgynous woman and a drag king, I resent deeply the suggestion that I in any way misled, mistreated, or disrespected Drew. I have profound admiration for Drew's courage and said so in the first line of my piece. My article conveyed my genuine and long-standing interest in what transsexualism can teach us about gender. Far from making Drew's story into a freak show, I told it in a way that would allow even the most skeptical readers to make sense of some difficult questions about men and women. I read all of my quotes to Drew before I used them, and he vetted them. I also obtained his approval to use his real name. Anyone who could read the piece and not see that it was a paean both to Drew and to transsexualism needs to take a course in reading comprehension.
Although Mark Schoofs's series on AIDS in Africa has been exemplary, his take on the African practice of killing chimpanzees for food is disturbing in its indifference to the chimps themselves ["The Virus, Past and Future," November 30]. Chimpanzees have thoughts, emotions, even a kind of culture.
The simplistic human/animal dichotomy, which Schoofs accepts, is a pernicious holdover from the pre-Darwinian era. As our knowledge of the great apes grows, so too will the urgency of granting them basic "human" rightsto life and bodily integrity. In the meantime, our nearest evolutionary relatives are being wiped out by the bush-meat trade, as Schoofs notes in passing. Schoofs seems more troubled by the hurt feelings of hunters and their customers in the face of Western disapproval than about the suffering of their victims.
Mark Schoofs replies: The dichotomy between "hurt feelings" of Africans and the "suffering" of chimps is a false one: Demonizing Africans for eating what has sustained them for centuries will not help to save the great apes. But understanding and empathy might. The piece does not discuss, let alone "accept," a pre-Darwinian human/animal split.
Tristan and it Sold Me
Thank you so much for instituting Tristan Taormino's column. It's wonderful, informative, funny, and full of humanity. I never used to bother reading the Voice until you began to publish her columns. Now I wouldn't miss it.
Catherine M. Gross
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