I despair, sometimes, at what outsiders must think whenever they happen to stumble across one of the trans community’s weekly outrages. Don’t get me wrong, these moral crusades are, usually, entirely justified – but of most the time you’d need to be pretty clued up on your gender theory to understand why. I still struggle to make sense of some of it, so lord knows what the muggles must think.
Case in point: the “transphobic” Libra ad. Turns out she wasn’t “a trans woman” after all, but rather a self-identified gay man who does drag: “I have never considered myself to be transgendered [sic] and never will do,” said Sandee Crack. And therein lies the problem: sometimes you just don’t know who you’re looking at.
Some people thought he identified as a woman. I suspected he might be a drag queen, because he “looked” like a drag queen. Turns out he was. But what if I’d made that assumption, as many people did, and got it wrong? The fact is, most of the general public haven’t got a frigging clue what they’re looking at when they see a trans person. This was made clear to me after someone in television asked me what the difference was between a trans woman and a pantomime dame. Stupid question huh? But the person who asked it wasn’t – quite the opposite, in fact. They just didn’t know.
The guessing game can be more than a bit tricky. Last weekend, I bumped into London drag princess Baga Chipz. Though I know that she performs in cabaret and wears over the top outfits and heavy make up – rightly or wrongly, all things which I associate with drag queens – I had always thought she might be transsexual. After all, trans woman Calpernia Addams, not to mention many other transsexual women I can think of, frequently perform in showgirl acts, with costumes which might, by some, be described as drag. But, after chatting to Baga Chipz for a while, she explained to me that she’s “just a gay guy” who likes to come out dressed up at the weekend. Fair enough.
She’s often out with Lady Lloyd, another drag princess who, to me, looks as though she could be female full time. I have no idea if she is, or even if she prefers male or female pronouns, though I’m guessing the latter. My partner thought she’d prefer male pronouns “because she has Lloyd in her name”. As you can you see, there’s a great deal of guess work in this game. Now, I may be wrong, as I can’t read people’s minds, but I’d say there were many in the club last weekend who wouldn’t have made the slightest distinction between my gender identity and Lady Lloyd’s and Baga Chipz’s. To them, we were just “trannies” or “T-girls”.
I don’t mind being categorised in this way when I’m at a club for transgender people. The very fact that drag artists socialise in transgender venues indicates that, on some level, they do in fact see themselves as part of the trans community. Nevertheless, when speaking to Baga Chipz, she referred to “transgender people” as just that, and not “other transgender people”. She seemed to imply that trans people are a separate group. Confused?
That’s why the Libra advert was problematic. It’s fine for drag queens to go on TV and say they’re not representing all trans people. The fact is though, the majority of people who watched that advert probably wouldn’t realise there’s a difference between someone like Sandee C and a transsexual woman who perhaps isn’t lucky enough to have passing privilege.
Frequently I’m left feeling perplexed as to why I’m meant to be offended by stuff which really seems to upset my friends. When I see anything with a man dressed up as a woman in it for example, I just don’t feel any connection. What has it got to do with me? I simply don’t believe that every time a man cross-dresses for humour it is directed at trans people, or indeed is automatically “transphobic”. The problem, I think, lies with those who cannot differentiate between a man in a dress, and a trans woman. To some people, we’re one and the same. The trouble with Sandee Crack’s response is that it fails to acknowledge this phenomenon:
“…I feel hurt that representing myself as a drag queen on television and playing out a common-place scenario in my life has lead to a clear “Dragphobia” among some transgendered [sic] individuals who wish to pull the plug on something that reflects true honesty about the life of a drag queen. A drag queen is a man in women’s clothing and if that offends a trans woman I am afraid I cannot apologise, as by doing so I am apologising for being me.”
I respect Sandee Crack, but I think we need to give this problem of mix-ups some thought. I don’t have the solution and I suspect it’s a hornet’s nest, but that’s precisely why we should address it.