By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist–
What do you think it will take to break through the media distortion lens that makes folks look at us filtered by old stereotypes and misguided notions to be seen as who we really are, fairly and accurately for a change?
–Shauna in San Francisco
Excellent question Shauna, and indeed one that could easily be applied to almost any marginalized or misunderstood group of people.
I have a brain that was strongly molded by the influence of the media. I was kind of an awkward kid with an active imagination and as an only child with a single, working mother growing up in the ‘80s, I watched a lot of television. Thankfully, I also read a lot. All of the adults in my life had well-stocked bookcases, which fascinated me. I would read almost anything, pretty indiscriminately.
The results of all this television exposure and voracious reading can be seen in me today. I have a tendency to speak in soundbites or to sound like I’m quoting some movie or TV show, even when I’m speaking original thoughts.
It also made me a life-long student of the media. I became acutely aware of its influence. I wanted to learn how to use the media myself instead of being used by it. To become “the great and powerful Oz” behind the curtain who could convince Dorothy and her friends to kill the Witch.
I became involved with a community access television station in my high school and learned all aspects of television production, both in front of and behind the camera. I also began studying acting, performing on stage and producing, writing and appearing in video satires, sketches, news shows and documentaries with a group of like-minded friends.
And of course, I kept reading. I read things like Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s classic, “Manufacturing Consent,” which gave me my first inside glimpse at the machinery of how we are influenced to think what those who would control society want us to think.
World changing, the internet
I was also paying close attention to how the world was changing around me. How, with the increasing popularity of computers and the internet, media was changing from a passive influence to an interactive experience. We began to be able to talk back. The tools of the media were being handed to the masses before anyone had the opportunity to stop it.
This brings me to the original question. The answer to which is happening all around us.
Yes, the media keeps exploiting us, distorting ideas of who and what we are. But we have a voice now. When we are out there telling our own unfiltered stories, it becomes much harder to paint us as freaks or deviants.
“Before and After” pictures become much less tantalizing when everybody and their mother has embarrassing old pictures of themselves on Facebook. Instead of being captioned, “She was a He!” Our “Before” pictures now say things like, “Such an embarrassing haircut!”
Social Media & transgender revolution
For every attention-seeking and embarrassing Jerry Springer Tranny; there are 15 transgender teenagers with YouTube channels making videos about the minutiae of their transition and 35 transsexual accountants blogging about the slightly awkward moment when Sue in Accounts Receivable politely mentioned that their skirt was out of season.
The revolution has not been televised. It has been blogged, podcasted, Tweeted, Tumbl’d, Facebooked and Flash Mobbed. With all of this openness and indeed, loss of privacy, it has become nearly impossible for us to go under the radar, to be “stealth.” I have no doubt that this has been a great stress for many trans people less prepared for the public eye. But it has been positive as well. As if we had appeared out of nowhere, we are suddenly everywhere. We are much more visible, which has allowed folks to become more accustomed to transgender and transsexual people. The banality of daily existence strips us of the exoticism the media has tried to paint us with.
Creating “our” media
Where do we go from here? Well, I will tell you, what we must do is create our own media.
Instead of bemoaning the lack of good trans characters in films and TV, we should be spending that energy writing, producing and performing in our own projects. If you find news coverage of trans issues to be lacking, go out and cover those stories yourself. Believe me, the news media is a hungry beast that constantly needs content.
I would urge you to be what you want to see. The media thrives on conflict. “If it bleeds it leads,” goes the old news aphorism. So please, stop fighting among yourselves. Stop tearing each other apart in public.
Mistakes that involve word “tranny”
When the media, or those in it, make mistakes, when someone like Neil Patrick Harris or Kelly Osbourne says “tranny,” politely correct them and move on. Save your voices and your outrage for those things that deserve it. We spend far too much time raising our voices against Doogie Howser. Too many of us are killed, unemployed, hungry and disenfranchised for us to be wasting our voices railing against celebrity.
We often inadvertently give far too much publicity to things that would barely have registered a blip were it not for our collectively raised voices. I have little doubt, for instance, that the movie “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives” would have come and gone in B-Movie obscurity had it not been for the media storm parts of our community raised about it. Our outrage was the best publicity that film could ever have asked for.
Not quiet, just smart about it
Am I saying we should keep quiet about these things? No, absolutely not. We need to continue to point out the ingrained discrimination against us in the media, as well as the offenses embedded in its very vocabulary. We need to be conscious of our media footprint. Give no more press to a hackneyed movie, formulaic TV show or celebrity slip of the tongue than they deserve.
We must keep telling our own stories. Educate ourselves on how we are manipulated so that we may use those tools to our advantage. Frame the conversation ourselves. Learn how best to use the media to paint the picture of us we would like to see.
To quote pioneering media scholar, Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.”
*Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.