|Reform The GLAAD Media Reference Guide|
|Opinion - Guest Columns|
|Sunday, 16 January 2011 09:00|
Northern California, USA. The GLAAD Media Reference Guide, published by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), is intended to guide the media toward accurate and positive portrayal of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT)people.
It is the de facto dictionary of terms at a GLBT interest blog called Pam’s House Blend, notable for appointing transgender activist Autumn Sandeen as an official moderator and regular contributor, and where Sandeen published a four-part attack piece on a young woman named Ashley Love (discussed previously at TS-Si in Sharon Gaughan's opinion column). [cf. Note]
In order to comment at PHB, all participants are required to strictly follow the GLAAD Guide's rules. If they do not, they are warned once and then permanently banned on the second violation, with Sandeen as judge, jury, and executioner.
It is in this context that the following piece was written, originally published by an anonymous contributor known as Absentee Thoughtlord on January 10, 2011 at Pam's House Blend. It has been edited to remove language specific to that website and expanded by the author for publication here at TS-Si.
"GLAAD Media Guide Reform — It's Time."
While watching the latest flare-up in an ongoing war of words between Transgender activists and (usually long-term post-operative) transsexuals, I took the opportunity to review the oft-cited GLAAD Media Reference Guide.
What I found is that the Guide is overtly hostile toward, and dismissive of, transsexuals. To explain why I have come to this opinion, let's first examine the Guide as it defines transgender.
An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender- variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.
— GLAAD Media Reference GuideAccording to GLAAD, "Transgender" is explicitly defined as an "umbrella term" encompassing people with differing identities. It quite clearly is not meant to be an identity in itself. Therefore, going strictly by the Guide, there is no "Transgender Identity" per se.
the Guide then defines the scope of this umbrella term, "Transgender." To do so, it lists three categories of identity:
Of these, only "transsexual" is explicitly defined elsewhere in the Guide. What do the other groups comprise? the Guide doesn't explicitly say, and opinions apparently differ.
As I understand it, "transsexuals" have (or are actively in the process of attaining) the primary and secondary sex characteristics consistent with their being male or female as they understand themselves. This has been the standard accepted definition for many decades now.
Upon completion of the process, most transsexuals emerge heterosexual, and should thus be entirely outside the scope of a Gay and Lesbian organization. The remainder who are Gay or Lesbian or Bisexual are simply that, needing no further sub-identity. In all cases, they should at least be recognized by default as the men and women they have physically become, provided that they in turn are doing their part to project the same.
Yet in the very next word, these men and women are lumped together with Cross-Dressers of the opposite sex. This identity, "Cross-Dresser," is not directly defined by the Guide (though "Cross-Dressing" is defined elsewhere as an activity). It is generally taken to mean males who dress as females, or females who dress as males, even if only occasionally. This association is an invalidation of the core point of a transsexual's existence, by conflating their physical reality with engagement in an activity.
Lastly, there is "Other Gender-Variant People." This too is undefined, but one can feel around the edges that it refers to someone dressing and/or acting in a manner inconsistent with cultural expectations assigned to his or her sex. Perhaps Cross-Dressers and some minority of Gays and Lesbians might fit this definition, but transsexuals in general don't. transsexuals are the near opposite of "gender-variant," as the end result of successful transition and surgery is to become gender-normative.
To include even fully assimilated post-operative transsexuals as "gender variant," which the word "other" does in this context, is gravely insulting. transsexuals generally dress and conduct themselves in accordance with norms for their sex in their cultures, just as most other men and women do. To stand out in a manner that reveals their medical pasts, as a self-identity, would for most defeat the purpose of the treatment they underwent.
So how can GLAAD's guidebook define a heterosexual, culturally gender-normative person as "gender variant?" The answer was in the first sentence of the definition of transgender given by GLAAD: "people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
According to GLAAD, transsexuals are their birth-assigned sex, and it does not change.
I find it very easy to understand why so many transsexuals are outraged by this; it is flat-out wrong, and a far cry from "advocacy." Being perceived as a member of their birth sex, doing some sort of "gender variant" expression or performance, goes directly against what transsexuals are, contradicts the primary purpose of the treatment transsexuals undergo, and denies the physical reality that treatment produces. This again blocks its successful resolution.
Moving on, the GLAAD guide then suggests that journalists ask which identity the subject prefers, from a list of given options. Perhaps if the subject prefers it not be mentioned at all, that would be an option?
One last point of issue from the GLAAD definition of transgender is this:
Maybe that's true for "Transgender people," but for transsexuals, it's like saying "a person with an inflamed appendix may or may not decide to have an appendectomy." Not really much of a decision there. This may seem a bit nit-picky, but I would expect GLAAD to know what's wrong with using "it's a choice" language.
This ends my analysis of the GLAAD entry for "Transgender." I have already sketched out my personal understanding of the classic definition of "transsexual," now let's see what GLAAD's guidebook has to say about it:
Transsexual (also Transexual)
An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. While some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves, many transgender people prefer the term transgender to transsexual. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, as many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.
— GLAAD Media Reference GuideAccording to GLAAD, "transsexual" is merely an "older term" that "originated in the medical and psychological communities." In the context of a Gay and Lesbian organization, other "older" things from "medical and psychological communities" include aversion therapy and lobotomies. It's easy to perceive these as scare words meant to guide the reader toward dismissing this "older term."
It's an old term, but what does it mean? An actual working definition of "transsexual" is conspicuously absent here. Instead of any explanation as to what "transsexual" might mean, why it originated where it did, or why a person might prefer the term to "transgender," the GLAAD guide instead directs attention away from the "some" transsexuals who would use it, and refers back to the "many" transgender people who prefer "Transgender."
Note the slight-of-hand in switching to "Transgender" in the second clause. Some who are "transsexual" prefer the term "transsexual." This is obvious enough, but why? What is its definition? And why mention the "many" others who may identify as "Transgender People?" They already had their definition, that's what led us here! And again, wasn't "Transgender" an umbrella term, not an identity?
Look at the phrasing here: "While some transsexual people prefer to use the term to describe themselves, many transgender people prefer the term transgender to transsexual." This passage is worded as a dismissal of an archaic term, still allowed as a fop to the "some" who prefer it to the one used by "many." It leaves the impression of the transsexual as an outnumbered minority, and tends to lead the reader toward dismissal.
Once again, the journalist is told to ask which term a person prefers, but a "need not be mentioned" option is not given.
The GLAAD Guide then goes even further afield, reminding the reader that "transsexual" is not an umbrella term, as "many Transgender people do not identify as transsexual." In context, we're supposed to be talking specifically about transsexuals. This sentence belongs in the "Transgender" section.
How do "transsexuals" feel about any "umbrella terms?" And who are these "transsexuals?" We are never told; their voices have been replaced by those of "many Transgender people." The reader has been led in a circle.
One's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl). For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.
— GLAAD Media Reference GuideIn fact, the closest the GLAAD Guide comes to the classic definition of "transsexual" is under the definition of "Gender Identity" (right)
The first sentence is a fairly straightforward and perhaps acceptable enough starting point to come to a definition of "Gender Identity."
The second sentence sounds much like the classic definition of "transsexual," though here it is has once again been consumed by "Transgender." It is generally bad form to use a term inside its own definition, but this a result of the sentence being misplaced. It again attempts to define "Transgender," and thus belongs in the "Transgender" section.
Notably, this given definition of "Transgender" contradicts the one given earlier for "Transgender" as an umbrella term. The "Transgender Umbrella" contained Cross-Dressers, who by classic definition do not necessarily have any conflict between their internal sense of being male or female and their physical sex.
The approach being taken by GLAAD in its Media Reference Guide, however well-meaning, is fatally flawed. As written, the current Guide seems to preclude any actual lobbying for, or even understanding of, the needs of transsexual men and women where they may differ from "cross-dressers" or those who are "gender variant." Whatever those different needs may be, they have been folded into a larger "Transgender" bloc that seems to have little in common with them.
This in turn leads by necessity to attempts at linguistic differentiation. transsexuals must invent new terms, like "Harry Benjamin Syndrome," and "Of History" or "Born transsexual," trying to get away from the "Transgender" terminology that is tied to a flawed birth-sex perspective that at its foundation refuses to recognize them as simply being men or women now.
When that fails, they sometimes resort to "misgendering" as an expression of frustration, and it's understandable why — how else is a woman in this situation to differentiate herself from a man, other than to point at a man and say, "That's a man?" She really is saying "I'm a woman," in the only way left available to her.
It is she who is has been misgendered in the first place, by the birth-sex model of the current "Transgender Umbrella" paradigm that seeks to envelop her against her will into the world of "gender-variant" males. And then, even this recourse would be denied her — the focus becomes the "misgendering" rather than what she meant by it, or why she felt the need to say it. (Apologies for the female bias; it seems to flare up most acutely and most often there.)
This is highly problematic, the ultimate source of much infighting, and it needs to be addressed if any long-simmering feuds are to be resolved.
The GLAAD guide is truly at its most vicious toward transsexuals when it is distributed to media outlets, who are not-so-subtly encouraged to describe them as "Transgender." This thwarts, rather than reinforces, the social recognition of simple maleness or femaleness required for a transsexual to complete treatment and live thereafter as a normative member of society at large. This needs to change at once, as it is actively malignant.
As "Trans" has now grown into an identity of its own, it is past time to recognize that there is a real difference between those who transition to "male" or "female," and those who transition to "Trans." There is a difference between those intentionally challenging social norms and those inadvertently doing so during a temporary "awkward stage" of development or due to unfortunate and uncorrectable physical attributes. It is time to recognize Transgender as a unique identity in its own right, rather than a mere "umbrella term," or synonym for "transsexual" per current common usage as encapsulated in the GLAAD Guide.
It is also long past time also to remove transsexuals from any so-called "Transgender Umbrella." The moment "Transgender" became a de facto "target identity," classic-case transsexuals — even the Gay and Lesbian ones — no longer belonged within it (if indeed they ever did). The Transgender-identified, intentionally-variant contingent can then have the "T" all to themselves as a distinct identity. For transsexuals, "T" is not their identity, "male" and "female" are.
I recognize that that the GLAAD Media Reference Guide is merely one encapsulation of Transgender ideology, not its origin. Those who originally wrote the GLAAD Guide were well-meaning people with good intentions, I'm sure — if I made any of them wince, I apologize, nothing personal was meant by it.
Times have changed and language has evolved and at this point, the document — as well as Transgender ideology itself — has come to encapsulate and promote defamation in places, rather than to combat it.
It is high time for a re-write.
NotesAutumn Sandeen published Ashley Love And Anti-Defamation as a four-part series at Pam’s House Blend. [ link ]
Also see: Ashley Love and the Burden of Autumn Sandeen. Sharon Gaughan. TS-Si.org (12 January 2011). [ link ]
Editor's Note: How You Can HelpTS-Si readers can help with efforts to reform the GLAAD Media Reference Guide. Sign the petition to remove the unwarranted and forcible use of the term "transgender" to cover women of transsexual / intersexed history. [ link ]
People with transsexual history, whether in transition or post-corrected, deal with a correctable medical condition and should not be confused with the sociopolitical and lifestyle activism of transgenders.
SourceThis article is revised, adapted, and extended from GLAAD Media Guide Reform - It's Time under the pseudonym "Absentee Thoughtlord", originally published as a diary entry at the Pam's House Blend (PHB) website.
|Last Updated on Friday, 02 September 2011 08:06|