*Includes transphobic slurs, as mentioned in Glee, read at your own risk…
Apparently Glee is transphobic, or at least I’ve heard that on the blogosphere. Is it? Well, at the least, it’s more direct than other shows. Trans people are presented as the butt of a joke (see SNL) or a joke unto themselves (see Maury). Here, though, at least we hear what’s real. Shemale and tranny. The terms are derogatory, but in a way, I’m glad they’re brought up at all. People use the terms; I’d wager more people know the term shemale than transgender. Shemale is a porn term, and to a lesser extent, so is tranny. And, after all, half the Interwebs’ bandwidth is spent on porn. Or so I hear. Not that I’d know. Obviously. So, at least the show is cashing in on social perceptions of what being transgender is, and good or bad, calling it what it is. The real problem is that those problem words are never explored. They have the guts to mention, but not examine them.
The biggest defense against explaining the difference between transgender and tranny, or why shemale is offensive, is that doing so would come off as a PSA. It’d be preachy. I’d buy that, except that’s more or less Glee currency. I love the show; my partner and I watch it religiously. But, since they did our community the favor of being direct, let’s reciprocate and call it what it is. The show uses inflated stereotypes to be funny, to clunkily move a plot, and because it makes for good television.
The problem with s–ting on trans people is that it’s a habit. When the LGB community was willing to throw the T under the bus for political expediency for employment non-discrimination for the rest? Yeah, that, and a dozen examples like it. For the HRC and co., the T is an afterthought. And, hey, that rubs some of us the wrong way. To some degree, we’re not helping matters; the discrimination is in many ways worst for the T in the community (highest murder rate, say, and also the highest unemployment rate), but trans people simply don’t often advocate for themselves in numbers. We’re largely silent, and the LGB drags and drops the T. At least until there’s a large enough outcry. Glee is more or less the same.
There won’t be a positive depiction of a trans character on Glee, not in a regular role, not without a huge outcry. Coach Beiste, with her awesome name, is the closest thing we have. She’s transgressive of gender lines. She’s a ciswoman, but again with our experiment in being direct, they make her look like a guy. So, my Judith Butler tingly senses go off and I’m pleased Glee is at least challenging essentialism and any sex/gender/sexuality matrix that implicitly assumes a continuity in terms. It’s okay to be a more masculine woman, and *gasp*, it may not mean she’s necessarily gay. So, hear hear. But, trans people, that’s about as good as it gets.
So, again, let’s just call it what it is. Glee has a positive depiction of a gay male character. Occasionally there’s a shout out to the L and B. Nuthin’ for the T beyond some gender blurring from Beiste. Cheers, it’s nice to see positive (if from Kurk, stereotypical) portrayals of gay male characters. The characters are presented at least as fairly as their straight counterparts, and that’s all we can really ask for. Let’s just not pretend it’s a LGBT positive show. It’s not. GLAAD needs to stop being so effusive with its awards.