Monday, May 16, 2011

Mixed LGBT reaction over Chaz Bono

Chaz Bono is receiving a not entirely positive reaction from the LGBT community on the publication of his new memoir and a documentary about his transition from female to male. But this should not be a total surprise. Transmen who embrace the gender binary and surgically transition from female to male have an uncomfortable presence in the lesbian community. This is understandable: If the lesbian community is dedicated to celebrating — and fighting for the rights of — women who love women (in all their diversity on the genderqueer spectrum), what do we do when one of our own (transmen usually originate in the lesbian community), determines she is not truly female and chooses to legally and surgically become a man? There is concern among some lesbians that the decision to transition — rather than live as a butch lesbian or other genderqueer female— has an undercurrent of misogyny.

Perhaps more surprisingly about Chaz Bono's case is that even the trans community appears conflicted. A recent column on a leading lesbian website, Autostraddle, explores the reasons why Chaz's story is not an ideal representation of the experiences of most transmen. Sebastian, a columnist who is also a transman, expresses concern that Chaz seems too hung up on the medical procedure as the key to his transition. Specifically, Sebastian objects to the notion that simply taking testosterone and having your breasts removed automatically makes you a man. His column also points out the troubling result that, as a man, Chaz now espouses sexist male stereotypes, as if he has become an outdated cliche of manliness:
"According to the film, after T[estosterone], Chaz lost some softness, became angrier, less tolerant of the annoying things 'women do' (like 'chit chat' or 'worry about how fruit should be set out on the table for brunch…'), less sweet, more stubborn, and always needed to be right – traits his partner said were typical of men. I’ve never bought into this concept that men and women are so inherently different and that it is so much a result of our physiological makeup that changing our testosterone and estrogen levels can seriously alter who we are mentally and emotionally. I mean honestly this is absurd."

Sebastian also argues that Chaz is a troubled person who apparently thinks that changing his sex will magically improve everything in his life. According to Sebastian, transitioning is more complicated than that, and he says this point is the one thing that makes the film worthwhile.
"Becoming Chaz is pretty honest about how little Chaz ultimately has figured out. He’s still early in transition and is a recovering addict and comes off very adolescent in his dealings with the rest of the world. He plays a lot of video games, doesn’t seem to have very many friends, struggles with his girlfriend, and as far as I can tell, hasn’t held a job. His transition didn’t solve all his problems, and I value a film that honestly portrays that reality."

No comments: