Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

transgender Archive

Sunday

10

December 2017

3

COMMENTS

A Transgender Perspective on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?

The seminal question posed to popular culture’s most diverse reindeer by a revered holiday hero. The 1964 Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer offers a chilling account of the kind of bullying and harassment that was tolerated at the North Pole under the leadership of Mr. Claus and his wife, Mrs. Claus. This broadcast is replayed each year around Christmastime to remind children of the reindeer who was needed to guide a sleigh that could fly in the air, but apparently could not be fitted with high beams at the dealership.

I can’t feel excited when I see this special advertised, because we as a society should not be comfortable with the message Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sends to children, that if you bully someone, they should still be counted on to save Christmas later. This special is a broadcast lacking in basic moral decency, which is hardly rectified by the regret expressed by Santa and various other citizens of the North Pole. Particularly troubling is the presence of Comet, the children’s coach and member of Santa’s sleigh crew, who bullied Rudolph from a position of power and refused to allow him to participate in any reindeer games at all. Given that Ruldoph’s own father Donner, another member of Santa’s team, rejected him as well, there is a very concerning culture of abuse that’s allowed to flourish at the North Pole.

It’s not as if Rudolph was the only person bullied. Hermey was ridiculed for resisting the pressure to put his true desires aside so that his labor value could be milked from his hands to prop up the capitalist regime of Santa workshop, where the proletariat elves serve merely as tools of the commercial industrial complex. There was a whole island dedicated to toys who were banished for the crime of not fitting into the cookie cutter version of idealistic materialism propagated by Santa Claus and his far-right lobbyists, who see children’s desires only in dollar figures. In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the North Pole only serves to provide a Christmas of Ayn Rand’s wildest fantasy. There is no place for people like Rudolph and Hermey on that December 25th.

When the wheels of capitalism failed and Mother Nature struck back against Santa and his corporate cronies, why would Rudolph care to save an industry that offered no seat for him at its table? Why use his diversity to help those who rejected him for that which would give him his strength? Why save a Christmas that looked at him and offered nothing but coal? Bigots like Santa use children as a shield to justify their horrific behavior, putting Rudolph in the untenable position where he could choose between helping those who called him a freak and embodying the image of the monster they projected onto his identity. Instead, Mr. Claus should have seen the errors in his regime, and resigned from his position.

As a transgender woman, I know how it feels to have society view you as a pariah. Sometimes people who put you down want something later on in life. You know what I say to those people?

No.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a children’s special that fails to offer consequences for unacceptable behavior. Children are supposed to be taught that it is never okay to bully someone for being different. Rudolph demonstrated that it was okay for adults to discriminate when it comes to matters of reindeer games. That is never okay.

A proper ending would have been for Christmas to be cancelled and for a special counsel to appointed to investigate how the Island of Misfit Toys came to exist under Santa’s leadership. Instead, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lets people in power off the hook with a few measly apologies. It is a morally bankrupt broadcast that places the value of presents above basic decency. The Year of the Groper has shined a light on unsavory aspects of our culture that have been allowed to prosper for far too long. This Christmas, it’s time to keep the sleigh grounded. Rudolph’s talents are best deployed elsewhere, for people who don’t need the fear of losing presents to see the humanity in diversity. No sleighs should be guided for people whose actions have certainly earned them a place on the naughty list.

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Monday

20

November 2017

0

COMMENTS

Good Riddance, Transparent

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Criticizing Transparent has always been weird for me as a transgender woman, knowing that the very existence of the show was a step in the right direction for a marginalized and underrepresented community. The show has served as a great source of employment for the transgender community. The recent sexual misconduct allegations made against Jeffrey Tambor by two of the show’s transgender staff, which lead to his departure from the series, is upsetting for many reasons. The fact that Transparent is likely finished as a series is not one of them.

Transparent is not a show about transgender people. There is a transgender character in the lead role, played by the decidedly non-transgender Tambor, but the show is mostly about Maura’s angst riddled family, the upperclass Pfeffermans from Los Angeles. Stylistically, the show has strong roots with the mumblecore genre, seen in Girls, Togetherness, and Looking,  complete with the presence of mumblecore legend Jay Duplass (also non-transgender) in the main cast. For those unfamiliar with the mumblecore movement, it is a genre defined by seemingly aimless narratives and characters who are often derided as “adult children,” usually quite accurately.

Transparent was always about that, the melancholy trials and tribulations of being wealthy and sad in 21st Century America. As a fan of mumblecore, I’ve always been apprehensive about disliking the show for being a part of that movement, but the experiences that mumblecore often depicts are far removed from the issues that affect transgender people in every day life. Transgender people face immense discrimination at work, which is fundamentally linked to our ability to afford medical treatments as simple as HRT, where the difference between $10 prescription and one costing $300 is mostly a matter of employment (due to our healthcare system), at a time when elected politicians fight to allow companies the ability to fire us at will. It would have been nice if Transparent could have focused more on those issues and less on all the orchestra of whining done by the adult Pfefferman children. The show hasn’t been cancelled yet, but it wouldn’t lose much of a beat if it kept going. The lack of a transgender lead hardly changes the show, which has been its problem all along.

The mumblecore comparisons do help in one key regard. Transparent represents the transgender community about as well as Girls accurately depicts Brooklyn millennials. To be fair, It is hard to say what kind of television show could ever represent such a diverse group as the transgender community, but a whiny affluent family from Los Angeles does not immediately come to mind as the model I would use. HBO’s Looking serves a great contrast as a mumblecore style show that depicted San Francisco’s gay community. It wasn’t necessarily a show strictly about being gay, but its use of a predominantly gay cast & crew gave the aura of authenticity that eluded Transparent. Being trans was never firmly rooted in Transparent’s zeitgeist. How could it have been?

In The Transgender Manifesto, I make the fairly simple observation that transgender people are fully capable of playing any character, cisgender or otherwise. Fictional narratives rarely dive into the subject of transgender identity, and the presence of a transgender character does not require one to do so. We are in fact, people. Representation in film and television is still to this day a huge issue for people who are not white and male. The idea of a black Othello was once seen as an outrage, despite the character’s own background. We’ve come a long way since then, but we couldn’t have a transgender lead in a show that traded off transgender people to diversify itself in a crowded field.

And yet, we had Transparent, the transgender show that wasn’t about transgender people. Yes, it increased our visibility (what that actually means, I’m not quite sure) and it certainly employed transgender people. I guess that counts for something. It is a poor depiction of transgender life. It didn’t need to be. The transgender community deserves better.

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Saturday

19

August 2017

9

COMMENTS

That Time Uber Kicked Me Out for Being Transgender

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

Transitioning in Southern California has been a mostly positive experience. Despite the Republican Party’s efforts to scapegoat transgender people for the nation’s problems, life generally goes on without anyone trying to give me a hard time. That is, until I got in an Uber.

The incident happened early Friday morning at 1:30 am. I was traveling with a friend from Sunset Boulevard, where we’d seen a concert, to her apartment close to USC. From there, I planned to take a separate Uber back to my apartment in Long Beach.

Being a popular night to go out, it wasn’t difficult to find an Uber for either trip. The second Uber pulled up to my friend’s apartment less than five minutes after we’d exited the first. I got into the backseat, excited to be in my own bed in a short period of time.

The driver seemed flustered from the moment I walked up to the car. He grew flustered as I said hello, his breath making heavy sounds. He put his foot on the gas, but stopped about two hundred feet or so down the road and abruptly said, “Actually, I’m not going that far.” His tone displayed both firm aggression and clear discomfort, speaking fast while continuing to take heavy audible breaths.

This puzzled me, as Long Beach is not generally considered far from USC, especially with no traffic at that time of the day. The eventual trip, with Lyft, took 24 minutes. I’ve lived in the LA area for two years and have never met anyone here who would consider 24 minutes a long period of time to spend in a car. It’s also unclear why an Uber driver who appeared to only want to make trips shorter than a 24 minute duration would select a trip out of the 90007 zip code.

I replied, “Okay, but Long Beach isn’t really far at all.” At this point, he said, “Get out faggot,” speaking in a similar sharp and aggressive tone. As I opened the door, he added, “Fucking tranny.”

There I was. Kicked out. The street was not very well lit. It was late. My friend hadn’t even gone inside her apartment yet, so I did not feel particularly unsafe, except for the fact that I’d been kicked out onto a city street at 1:30 am while an Uber driver hurled derogatory insults at me. That part sucked.

The driver did not cancel the ride. He kept driving for a few blocks, racking up a $5.35 charge in the process. The real trouble with this is that it prevented me from being able to call a different transport, though fortunately there are competing companies. This really could have been a dangerous situation, if he’d driven a few more blocks before his disgust for LGBT people overwhelmed him.

I made it home okay. A Lyft driver came, who somehow managed to make the “long” 24 minute drive back to Long Beach without using any homophobic or transphobic slurs. I reported the Uber driver as soon as I was able to, describing that I’d been kicked out and that the driver had used multiple derogatory insults.

It took about an hour for Uber to respond on the app. I’d also tweeted about the incident, including Uber’s handle, which earned a response in a little under 40 minutes. Uber asked for my e-mail via DM, which I provided.

Uber’s response in the app noted, “Sorry to hear about the experience you described on this trip. We will be reaching out to the driver to investigate this matter and take appropriate actions.” Does that sound like a company that’s actually going to do anything? The message indicated no intent to follow up with me.

I returned to Twitter to voice my displeasure at their indifference, especially since Uber had sent a mass e-mail titled “Standing up against hate,” earlier that day, vowing to “act swiftly and decisively to uphold our Community Guidelines.” You’d think a company taking that strong a stand against Neo-Nazis would want to find out all the details regarding an incident where their own driver was accused of using hate speech. Guess not.

An Uber representative, named Rolando, did leave a voicemail expressing an interest in hearing what had happened. Rolando did not return my voicemail indicating when I’d be available, which included the entirety of his remaining shift that day, and closed down our message thread, preventing me from replying further. Rolando also included the rather presumptuous, “I am hopeful that your next trip with Uber is as hassle-free as it should be,” as if it was a given that a person who’d experienced that kind of hate from their service would ever use it again. One thing is clear, Uber does not actually want to hear from me. I told them I was writing this article and wanted to talk. It would have been easy to do so.

Uber’s “Report an issue with this trip” section doesn’t actually have a feature that allows you to report a trip that didn’t actually happen. You’d think it would, since this sure seems like a major reason people would contact Uber looking for a refund, but apparently not. The closest comparable option under the “I would like a refund” section is “Someone else took this trip.” The difference might look like one of semantics, except the issue isn’t really that “someone else took this trip.” The trip didn’t even happen at all.

Uber has a lot of problems lately. That corporate rot appears to infect the whole tree from the top to the bottom, the roots through the trunk, all the way to the branches. I don’t write this account because I’m hurt by what happened. I’m not, but I’ve been devastated in the past when people have attacked me with that kind of language. It has taken me years to get to a place where I can brush it off as a petty attack by an equally petty person. The suicide rate for transgender people is many times higher than the general population. That situation could have ended up very badly, very easily, given the circumstances. That is not okay.

Uber is a bad company run by bad people. There are too many red flags to ignore. Companies like Uber talk a big game when events like what happened in Charlottesville occur, putting out memos pretending to care. That’s all it is. Pretend. Uber doesn’t care about bigots. It just doesn’t want you to know that.

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Friday

10

October 2014

1

COMMENTS

The Purple Penguins and the Art of Choosing One’s Words Wisely

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

Quite a ruckus has been created over a school board in Lincoln Nebraska’s decision to embrace a gender neutral environment in its classrooms. The main bone of contention is the suggested shift from calling students “guys” or “boys and girls” to “purple penguins” or something of the sort. People are very angry that these words are being tossed out the window in favor of something you’re more likely to hear on Adventure Time than in real life. Which is where the problem lies.

The school board was likely unprepared for this to become a national news topic. Whose fault is that? The answer is simple.

The school board.

If you’re going to challenge something as common as “boys and girls,” it’s common sense not to put something as ridiculous as “purple penguins” in as the substitute on a school document. The argument can certainly be made that separating students by gender in a lunch line is something that can stand to go in the year 2014. But take it seriously. Purple penguins aren’t serious.

The school board is also kind of miffed that it has to deal with this mess. Good. You put something as stupid as “purple penguin” in a school document, you open yourself to criticism. These people are in charge of people’s children and they have a duty to answer questions regarding these penguins.

There are questions regarding the effectiveness of such an implementation, especially considering the scarcity of transgender people in the overall population. That doesn’t change the fact that children should be taught to be tolerant, inclusionary, and respectful to all their peers. Purple penguins or not, that’s a serious problem that extends far beyond Lincoln, Nebraska.

But is the outrage outrageous? We live in an era where people are held accountable for every word, tweet, Instagram comment, and carrier pigeon letter they speak or write. The fact that the school board was oblivious to the magnitude of their decisions is concerning. This is a sensitive issue that should be handled accordingly. It’s hard to do that when people are laughing over purple penguins.

The purple penguins undermined a serious issue, which is unfortunate. It wasn’t exactly unforeseeable. Sensitive topics call for sensible discretion and it’s hard to do that with and image of a purple penguin involved.

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