A friend of mine shared the above linked article and asked the opinions of her readers on what it said. I wrote the following response and decided that I liked it enough to share it here with my fellow gender outlaws to see what you all think of my take:
I Absolutely have to agree with the opinions in this article. I know that all press is good press when you are trying to raise awareness and bring people who’ve been marginalized for as long as we can recall to the forefront of popular culture, but this photo shoot really misses the mark in a lot of ways. I absolutely agree that many of the transwomen presented in that photo shoot are there simply because they have a certain level of traditional sex appeal and not because they are really breaking new ground or pushing the limits on our understandings of gender. If anything, I think that several of them have done little more than just uphold the status quo of the pyramid of social power by becoming (as best they can) the “true female” modality of gender expression. Instead of questioning the pyramid of social power and the flawed premises that it is based on, they’ve merely played the game the best they could and reached the pinnacle of their chosen gender, but what does that really do for others who cannot attain that same higher echelon of social power and acceptance? What about the other non-binary gender expressions that might not fit so well into the normative social expectations that these “beautiful” transwomen do? Also, why were there no transmen on there? Why were there no gender-fluid people on there? Why were there no androgynous models on there? etc. etc.
The simple answer to those questions is that this edition of Candy Magazine was merely a photo shoot illustrating how close a human born with a penis can come to matching the “true female” gender norm/expectations currently placed on humans born with vaginas, and nothing more. It is not revolutionary to be able to meet current social expectations, even if you were born into the opposite set of expectations. Being revolutionary means overthrowing the current social expectations in order to foster growth, expansion, understanding, and equality. In order to revolutionize the way we look at gender we must question our assumptions and our expectations about gender, and this photo shoot does anything but that. If anything, this photo shoot has further solidified the very expectations and assumptions we currently have about the gender binary. By presenting only high fem transwomen instead of a myriad of transgender individuals with varying levels of masculine/feminine expression (or neither), Candy magazine has essentially set an expectation that all transwomen are highly feminine (or desire to present as such). This is not only untrue, but is a dangerous assumption that undermines any non-binary person who doesn't clearly fit into either the male or female modality, not to mention completely ignores the possibility of no gender or bi-gender. By assuming that transwomen will do all they can to become as "true female" as they possibly can, Candy magazine upholds the idea that only male and female modalities exist and that if you are not one, then you must be the other, which is exactly the kind of binary thinking we are already having problems with.
Moving on to the models (subjects) themselves, I believe that Lavern Cox almost doesn’t belong on Candy’s photo shoot at all, because she doesn’t necessarily meet the current expectations of “true females” and she has even admitted as much. Don’t get me wrong, I personally think she is a beautiful, wonderful person, but I watched a speech she gave where she discussed her struggles with fitting those expectations, even after all the changes she made to her body and presentation. In that speech she discussed how she had to come to terms with knowing that she would never pass very well and how she found ways to accept herself as she was. Why then was she included among a group of hyper-sexualized transwomen who were very clearly attempting to meet the gender expectations of "true females" when she so clearly doesn't and openly accepts that about herself?
I believe that she was included on this photo shoot simply because it could then be spun into something about the “trans-revolution” since she is at the forefront of the media right now with her activism. If anything, I almost believe that all the actual activists presented in this shoot were an afterthought to gain more publicity and to try to better legitimize the hyper-sexualization of the models. It was almost like Candy magazine was saying, “See, guys, we can still totally objectify these transwomen just the same way we objectify ‘normal’ women and we can even pat ourselves on the back for how ‘revolutionary’ we are being!!”
To me, that still screams the same privileged viewpoint of those at the top of the pyramid which marginalized transgender people to begin with. It’s still placing the same standards of impossible beauty upon transwomen that it currently does on ciswomen, and thereby sets up a situation where anyone who doesn’t fit that impossible expectation doesn’t deserve the same level of respect, dignity, and fair treatment that these models do. We see the same thing all the time with the marginalized treatment of heavy set or obese women who don’t fit the impossible standard of beauty and sexiness set by the media.
So, that was my initial response, but let’s take it a bit further. After reading that article and my response, what can we do to remedy the mistakes and oversights of Candy magazine’s photo shoot? Obviously we cannot stop this magazine or it’s photos from spreading around the internet (not sure I’d want that anyways, because as I said, all press is good press) but we can use it as an opportunity to further call into question the very norms that are being upheld by this photo shoot. We can encourage not only the models displayed in the magazine, but anyone who is exposed to the magazine to take a closer look at what gender really is and how it manifests in our society. We can write blog posts like this asking questions about why a greater sampling of transgender activists weren’t present on the shoot because by asking that question we can bring a deeper understanding of the nature of gender and how it is policed in our society. By calling into question why only high-fem, hyper-sexualized models (except for maybe 3 of those pictured, including Lavern) get to be highlighted as the 'trans-revolutionaries' we start to highlight the patriarchal undertones that are actually at play. When we question these undertones we make room to read between the lines, to look analytically at the assumptions being presented to us by the media.
Why is transgenderism only acceptable when it is presented in the most normative of fashions and what are the dangers of presenting it under such circumstances? What does this photo shoot say to cisgender people? What does it say to transgender people? What kind of expectations are being upheld by the fashion in which this shoot was presented, and are those expectations actually conducive to revolutionizing our concept of gender?
I have my thoughts and opinions about this, but what are yours? Do you think Candy has done transgender people like me a service, or a disservice in the way they chose to present their “revolutionaries” in this photo shoot?