Author Archives: aidancrane

Transgender Video Game Developers

Video games are a rather divisive issue. There’s been a great deal of controversy over sex and violence (primarily violence) in video games and its effect on youth, as well as whether or not video games can constitute “real” art (this second issue comes up more often among video game enthusiasts than it does in the mainstream media). Those issues aren’t really relevant to this class, but I think the prevalent association of video games with masculinity is. The stereotypical video game player is a male and it isn’t difficult to see this in the marketing of video games, which prominently feature blood, gore, and, regardless of relevance to the game in question, lots of gratuitous female nudity.

This becomes a trans issue when one considers the identities of the video game developers. I’ve found a rather dated article (from 1999) which features an interview with Jame Faye Fenton, an openly transgendered woman who works in both video game development and multimedia software. In the interview, Fenton talks about forming a support group for trans people in her community and discovering a large number of them to be fellow game developers. Fenton also offers some speculation on the physical origins of “transsexuality,” which would be more relevant to a discussion of essentialist viewpoints among American and Western trans people than to this discussion.

Fenton suggests that the social isolation and hyper-masculinity of the video game culture help to explain why some trans people might seek careers in the field. In Fenton’s experience, and in the experience of her trans colleagues, video games provided an outlet for energy when the young trans people were isolated from their peers by social stigmas and cruelty directed towards non-normative gender expression. Further, the hyper-masculinity of popular video games appealed to young people like Fenton who felt ostracized for not being masculine enough and repressed their feminine traits in favor of over-masculinizing themselves. Of course, Fenton and her colleagues did eventually express their real desires and did not stay overly masculine.

I don’t know if there are any other avid video game players in the class, or amongst our readers, but I found the juxtaposition of an aggressively masculine sub-culture with trans sub-culture to be extremely interesting. I think it suggests a lot about the unconventional ways that heavily gendered social groups can bleed into one another, especially when both are so heavily focused on the formative years of experience (video games are still associated with children and young adults, despite a growing number of adult players, and so many stories we’ve heard from trans people discuss strong formative experiences in their youth).

It should be noted that the article is heavily dated (1999) and that Fenton’s experience and opinions are extremely anecdotal. Still, the connection could exist and I think it’s worth theorizing about, even if the overlap is not as massive as Fenton suggests.



Gender Variance in China

It is slightly difficult to find detailed, accurate information about transgender issues in China. This is due to both the language barrier and the general lack of reporting on international trans issues in the West. However, I’ve managed to find some information on the current state of transgender individuals in China.

I was mildly surprised by the state of transgender rights in China. Transgender individuals can change their government identification cards, can legally receive sex-change operations (though only an estimated 1000 people have done so, according to one source), and the government recognizes the marriages of post-operative transpeople. This last right is especially interesting, given the fact that in the United States there are ongoing legislative and judicial disputes about the validity of marriages between transpeople both before and after surgery.

The state of transgender rights in China has been influenced, at least in part, by the examples of famous transgender individuals in modern China. Jin Xing is a world-famous ballerina and choreographer who was born as a male in China. She rose to the rank of colonel in the Chinese army and in the 1990s successfully lobbied the Chinese government to allow her to receive sex reassignment surgery. She couched her petition in the language of nationalism in order to influence her government, stating, “My rebirth cannot take place anywhere in the world but China.” Jin Xing believes that the Chinese government allowed her surgery as part of an effort to seem more liberal and progressive on the world stage. Despite this effort, some in the Chinese media still labeled her a “sick transsexual.” Jin Xing’s public struggle to obtain recognition as a woman and permission to receive SRS made her a role-model for other transgender individuals living in China. It is worth noting that Jin Xing lived in both America and Europe for several years before returning to China and seeking reassignment surgery; it is possible that Western ideas of trans identity influenced her and thus it is not safe to assume that all Chinese trans individuals desire reassignment surgery, despite the emphasis placed on the surgery by Western reporters investigating trans rights in China.

More recently, a Chinese transwoman, Chen Lili, won the Miss China Universe Pageant in 2004. She would have been the first transwoman to attend the international Miss Universe contest. However, the international organization changed its rules to only allow female-bodied, gender normative contestants. Despite this unfair ruling, it is telling that it was the international community that forbid Chen Lili’s participation in the pageant, not the Chinese community.

I think the most important fact to take away from the vague information available about trans rights in China is the similarities to trans rights in the United States. It is popular in the US media to demonize other countries in comparison to the US, especially economic and military competitors such as China and Iran. However, a closer look at trans rights in China (and in Iran, as we learned in class) reveals that the situation is not black and white and that countries viewed as regressive on human rights can be as “progressive” on trans rights as the United States; of course, I think this is more a condemnation of the United States and other countries for so severely restricting trans rights than a commendation of China for allowing trans citizens a few basic rights.


The Politics of Location, Part 2

My first post on my personal politics of location and early exposure to gender variant individuals discussed my inability to interact with trans people due to the segregated nature of the suburban, Midwestern United States. However, as I’ve discussed in class, I attended a high school which was more than 50% black students, with a large population of Hispanic students as well. In addition to this atypical racial composition, my high school had several gender variant students. I intend to relay a series of anecdotes about these students and discuss what their experiences at my high school suggest about the politics of location at my high school.

When I was a freshman at my school, there were two trans students in their senior year. Both were male-bodied and black, an important trait to note given the de facto segregation of races that occurred under the auspices of honors / AP classes and regular classes. I did not personally know either student, but their reputation was famous throughout the school. They were friends (or lovers, as different rumors had it) who both dressed in feminine clothing and presented as female. However, cruel jeers and gawking often greeted the pair as they moved through the halls of the school. Given my low class-standing and unfamiliarity with school politics at the time that they attended, I cannot say how they dealt with events like prom or graduation and the gendered clothing required for such events. I do not believe that they were treated differently based on their race, given the similar treatment of white gender variant students at the school.

One such student was a girl who wished to join the men’s wrestling team (there was no women’s wrestling team at my school). While she was not a trans individual, her behavior was extremely variant for the high school population around her and the reception she received was biased. She was mocked and initially the school did not wish her to join the team. However, her father was a faculty member (a psychology teacher) and confrontations with the school administration eventually resulted in her being allowed to join the team.

Other gender variant students lacked such influence. A white, male-bodied student attempted to wear a dress to my junior prom and was forced to change into “appropriate” clothing by faculty chaperons at the dance. I knew the student personally from my theater classes and he had been excited to wear the dress for weeks. However, student rumors and faculty reception claimed that he only “wanted attention” as if a male-bodied student could not possibly draw personal satisfaction from wearing a dress.

I think this event, examined alongside the cruel treatment but faculty acceptance of the pair of black trans students, summarizes my school’s position on gender variance. The faculty accepted gender variance during regular school hours, albeit sometimes only after confrontations with students and more understanding faculty. However, when gender variance was expressed in more ritualized, formal settings, such as dances, it was demonized and disallowed. I believe this false tolerance was symptomatic not only of trans politics at my high school, but also the racial politics. The school was heavily invested in the image of diversity and acceptance but implicitly maintained the same racial, sexual, and gendered divisions as the larger, conservative Midwestern society around it (as described in my first post).

The Politics of Location, Part 1

Like the majority of students at Indiana University, I was born and raised in Indiana. My family has lived in the same house outside of Indianapolis since before I was born and both of my parents grew up in the Midwest (my mother is from Indiana and my father was from Ohio). Even given the left-leaning nature of my particular county (as far left as any  county really leans in Indiana), I was mostly sequestered from people who were not white, middle-class, and heteronormative (excepting my majority black highschool, details of which are to follow). This made it difficult for me to learn anything about those people who were different from myself, especially trans people. However, if we expand location to mean not only the geographic location in which I was raised, but the home environment in which I was raised, I can identify two routes by which I was informed about trans people: television and my mother.

When I was younger, I was a fan of the television series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the spin-off series of Law and Order that addresses sexual crimes. It is slightly embarrassing to admit that one of the routes by which I learned about trans people was a sensationalized, dramatized portrayal of crime, but it is to the show’s credit that they portrayed trans people in an almost positive manner. The majority of trans characters featured in the show were prostitutes and often victims of violent crime. While this portrayal is limiting and does not describe the realities of many trans people, it does call attention to the plight of trans sex workers and did not portray the sex workers as perverts or deserving of violence (on occasion the police characters would seem slightly affronted by the trans sex workers). One notable episode I recall portrayed a non-sex work trans woman who was convicted of a crime and incarcerated in a men’s prison, where she was gang-raped and hospitalized. This character is an interesting intersection of positive portrayals of trans people (she was attractive and successful before being victimized) and negative stereotypes (trans people are always victims, even when not involved in sex work). Further, the emphasis on the character’s pre-operative status (the reason she was placed in a men’s prison) and the fact that a gender-normative actress was used to portray a trans-woman both suggest implicit bias against gender variance.

Thus, at least one mainstream television series, from which I was drawing subconscious instruction, portrayed trans people as highly sexualized and victimized people, often sex workers, and placed emphasis on gender reassignment surgery. This portrayal fits with the Western perspective on trans people and transsexualism that we discussed in class. Given the isolated nature of white, suburban neighborhoods, such television portrayals have a great deal of influence on the absorbed gender ideology of people living in these communities, myself included.

I was also informed about trans people by my mother. My mother is a nurse who works at an urban hospital that primarily serves the indigent, minority, and imprisoned populations of Indianapolis. Since poverty often disproportionately effects trans people, she has encountered hundreds of gender variant individuals over the course of her career. When I was younger my mother didn’t often discuss her work or her patients, probably owing to the depressing realities of urban poverty and the medical establishment in the US. However, as I grew older my mother raised me to be tolerant of all people, including gender variant people. Conversations about gender variance were rare, but I do recall hearing stories about “transsexual” patients. However, I am not sure that my mother’s positive, accepting stance towards gender variance is indicative of my geographic location so much as my particular family environment.

Thus, my personal politics of location can be summarized as limited, with only second-hand exposure to trans individuals. My family home was situated in a socio-economically and racially segregated suburb, leaving television and my mother’s urban employment as the only means of exposure to gender variance in my early life. My next post will discuss trans politics at my high school.

The Privilege of Ignorance, Part 2

I’m going to continue my critique of the recent anti-bullying, anti-suicide movement here, specifically addressing some issues with the “It Gets Better” campaign.

For those who aren’t familiar with the It Gets Better campaign, I’ll provide a brief explanation. It Gets Better is a series of short videos over the internet in which LGBT-identified people explain to younger members of the LGBT community that while bullying is painful and high school can be awful, one day life will get better. The project was started by noted gay rights and sex advice columnist and blogger Dan Savage (on a personal note, I’ve been a huge fan of Dan’s “Savage Love Cast” for years).

The It Gets Better project fits into the same vein of anti-suicide sentiment I addressed in part one of this critique. This means that it also continues to ignore the pressing issue of transgender-targeted violence and exhibits the same privileged, white, middle-class perspective. In a previous blog entry, Aren asked about trans people posting It Gets Better  videos. I found one such video, which I believe fits nicely into the same matrix of privilege I’ve described:

This video immediately reminded me of the documentary clips we watched in class from “Trans-Generation.” Just as in that film, here we see a white, middle-class trans person discussing their life. While the film did feature trans people of color, they were still attending institutions of middle-class education and subsuming themselves into that culture (joining sororities, dressing as members of the middle-class, etc). This It Gets Better video demonstrates the same behaviors and mindset. Yes, it does get better for those trans people who are lucky enough to attend colleges and find academic and economic security. But what happens to those trans people who do not even graduate from high school, let alone college?

The It Gets Better project videos, both those by homosexuals and those by trans people, fail to address the issues facing those trans people in the United States who are limited by more than just their gender variance. The It Gets Better project has no words of wisdom for poor, black transgendered people who are stuck in the same poor communities into which they were born. It has no advice and can offer no hope to transgender sex workers who battle economic exploitation, racial prejudice, and the ever present threat of physical assault or murder on a daily basis.

If the It Gets Better project wants to portray itself as existing to help the entire LGBT spectrum (which it does proudly declare on its home page) then it should do more to assist the T portion of the acronym. A spattering of videos posted by successful, white transgender individuals is not enough. With the massive publicity the project is garnering, it could do so much to assist those transgender teens who will not be attending college and will not be following the life plan so casually laid out as “better” by the project. Videos should be produced and posted by transgender people from all races and socio-economic classes giving hope of something more than another violent murder. The It Gets Better project should begin linking to non-profit organizations that assist Transgender teens who are not attending college, those that are trapped in decaying urban communities or who are living on the streets.

The alternative is continue to be blinded by white, middle-class privilege and to continue to ignore the real suffering of those among us who cannot automatically look forward to something better.

The Privilege of Ignorance, Part 1

Obviously, the issue of anti-LGBT harassment, bullying, and hate crimes has been receiving more coverage than usual lately. The string of suicides of young gay men has prompted wide media response and has mobilized gay rights organizations across the United States to take a more active role in anti-suicide and anti-bullying activity. The recent gang kidnapping  and torture of gay men in New York City will hopefully receive a great deal of attention from both the authorities and the media.

But something is being ignored in the rush to prevent more gay suicides: the protection of transgender individuals in the United States.

I don’t know if everyone got a chance to read a blog post that Aren handed around during class a few weeks ago (the day we were outside doing group work), but it did a lot to change my perspective on the recent surge in anti-bullying activity. I can’t find the blog post through google, as I don’t remember the title of the blog (if you could post it in a comment Aren, I would be very grateful). The post pointed out that the gay rights organizations that are receiving the most media attention and the gay suicides which have created such a media rush, are both composed of middle-class white Americans. The implication is that transgender people of color are being ignored by both these organizations and the media.

Neither the original blog post or myself dispute that the anti-bullying, suicide prevention movement is a good thing. No one should feel that hopeless or alone when there are communities waiting to accept and respect them. However, this new movement is not doing enough to address the issue of hate crimes directed at transgender peoples, especially poor, racial minorities.

Consider the case of Simmie Williams Jr. I assume that the majority of readers will not have heard of Simmie, nor of his murder. Simmie was a poor, black, gender-variant person living in Florida before he was gunned down one night while dressed in women’s clothing. His young life was snuffed out by violent action and yet you will not find any mass movements dedicated to preventing similar losses of life. A google search for “Simmie Williams Jr” produces no results from major news organizations and no results from anti-hate crime organizations. Simmie has been forgotten.

I do not believe that the leaders of the LGBT organizations are actively racist. However, I do believe that they suffer from a selfish form of privilege. They note only the suffering of those like themselves, who are white, gender-normative, and middle-class homosexuals. They fail to realize that there are masses of people who are continuing to suffer while the media focuses exclusively on the suffering of those who may not be privileged in the sense of sexual orientation but remain privileged due to their racial, economic, and gender composition.


A rough description of Simmie’s life and murder can be found here:

Trans Sports Rights

I came across a story in the New York Times about a trans-woman who is suing a national golf organization, the L.G.P.A., because of a rule stating that only those who were “female at birth” will be allowed to compete in women’s competitions:

Lana Lawless is a trans-woman in her mid-fifties who successfully transitioned five years ago. Importantly, she has previously competed in the same event from which she is now being banned and actually won the tournament in 2008. I think it is safe to assume that a trans person winning the tournament upset more conservative members of whatever governing body writes the regulations for the L.G.P.A.

I think the most disturbing thing about the behavior of the L.G.P.A. is the blatant discrimination at work. I realize that trans people, especially in the United States, are not unfamiliar with legalized and institutionalized discrimination. Still, the blatant nature of the rewritten text is so obviously discriminatory that it boggles the mind. It is impossible to conceptualize a sporting organization in the modern day changing its charter to state that all players must have been “white at birth” but in the year 2010 it is still acceptable for an organization to ban trans players.

The issue of trans players in sporting organizations obviously touches on issues not only of legal fairness, but of sporting advantage. After all, men do possess more muscle mass (on average, of course) and assorted other physical advantages when compared to women; this is why most sporting events are divided into men’s and women’s sections. However, in the case of Ms. Lawless specifically, much of her muscle has atrophied due to both her age (57) and her successful chemical transition to a feminized body. There is little difference between Lawless and any woman who has been “female since birth.”

Interestingly, a transwoman who was awarded the right to compete in women’s tennis tournaments in the 1970s, Renee Richards, has only come out in partial support of Lawless. Richards believes that Lawless should be allowed to play, but that not all trans players should be able to compete, due to potential physical advantage. Richards went as far as to issue something of a warning for future controversies in the field of transgender sports, saying, “[The Olympic Committee is] going to get in trouble someday because somebody’s going to come along who’s strong in sprints or weight throwing or whatever and streak the field.”

I disagree with Richards and believe that all trans people should be allowed to compete in whichever gendered division they feel most closely associated with. Considering that professional sports are already riddled with steroid abuse and other unfair competitive advantages, I do not believe that the minor differences in (potential) physical capability between a trans person and a normatively gendered individual are great enough to justify the psychological harm in denying trans people the right to compete. The score of a golf tournament is not as important as the removal of discrimination from our society.