Power and Risk

Yesterday I was part of a… oh, I suppose a focus group might be a good description for it.  I am not sure how much I CAN say, but a few weeks? months? ago Glamour Boutique sent out an email about a new television show called “The Candy Store” centering on crossdressers and t-girls and basically anyone outside of the gender binary.  The creators of the show were looking for girls like us to offer some feedback on what they were making.  


The meeting was attended by the creators of the show as well as about a half-dozen others, mostly girls like us.  The creators talked about the show, the tone of the story, the “goal” of the series, and showed two short previews of what they were working on.  It was a fun experience to be honest and I was glad to be a part of it.


The creators of the show seem sincere and passionate about the story they want to tell.  One of the creators identifies as a crossdresser which of course lends to the credibility of the project.  It’s always a little… hm, well, t-girls GET t-girls.  Crossdressers understand other crossdressers.  It’s nearly impossible for someone else to understand someone like us without being one of us, you know?  I’ve read novels and stories that had someone like us as a character and it almost always misses the mark.  Most stories that I’ve read with characters like us tend to equate crossdressing with fetishism/infidelity/being gay.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a fetish (that doesn’t hurt anyone) or with being gay, but it gets really really old and frustrating to finally see a girl like us in a television show or a movie or a book and the character’s story arc falls into the same, boring, inaccurate, damaging tropes.


And yes, I do mean damaging.  If a crossdresser is always portrayed as a fetishist who is dressing up and cheating on his wife or whatever it won’t take long for the world to think that’s who a crossdresser is.  I mean, the world (for the most part) already does.   


Any television show is an ambitious project, regardless of the story being told, but when the story focuses on a part of the population that is, for the most part, incredibly misunderstood and has a goal of showing people like us in a different, and more realistic light, well, you may as well try to climb a mountain in six-inch stilettos.  


In addition to the show’s ambitious goal, the show also has a ton of responsibility as well.  If the show becomes a hit, if it becomes something that people binge-watch, that people talk about, then all of a sudden crossdressers and t-girls become pulled into the spotlight, the zeitgeist of the moment.  I remember when the movie ‘Philadelphia’ came out which was, from what I remember, the biggest movie (for a while, at least) to star a gay character.  Not only were people talking about the movie itself, but it was a movie that showed a gay man in a way that was different than how most gay men were normally portrayed.  Gay people were usually played for laughs, as flaming, as overtly feminine, or perverts.  This movie… well, it wasn’t that.  


Could this show become “our” ‘Philadelphia’?  I don’t know, it’s too early to tell.  But the risk that a show like this, or any project that has someone like us in it, is that the characters can fundamentally shape the way that others see someone like us.  The creators of the show acknowledged how ‘Tootsie’ contributed to the world’s perspective of crossdressers as well as how RuPaul’s Drag Race has influenced people’s opinion on what a “man who dresses up as a girl” is and means.  I think it’s safe to say that most crossdressers and t-girls don’t think of what we do as drag, and although there’s nothing wrong with drag, I make it a point that what I “do” isn’t drag.  To another point, ‘Tootsie’ came out in 1982, almost 40 years ago and it STILL shapes how people think of those like us. 


Entertainment has a way of shaping the public’s perception of anyone that is different from themselves.  ‘Tootsie’ did that, RuPaul does that.  Please know I am not calling RuPaul out, I think they’re fabulous and what RuPaul does is DRAG, I don’t do drag.  I am also not dunking on a 40 year old movie either.  My point is that any new project, movie, book, television show that could potentially become a hit, will influence how the world sees another segment of the population.  And that’s GOOD!  Yay!  If this show, or any show, puts someone like us in a new light, in a different context that helps the cis-community sees someone like us in a more accurate way, then bring it on.


I absolutely feel that anyone that identifies as a crossdresser, drag performer, t-girl (basically anyone outside of the gender binary) has a responsibility or at the very least, an influence on how the world sees and thinks and feels about us.  And it’s not fair, we are just trying to live our best lives and we want to do it without the weight of responsibility.  Most of us aren’t trying to change the world when we get dolled up to hit the mall, we just are looking for a new dress.  But the reality is that when we step out into the real world we are showing the world that we exist and when people see someone like us, they will usually have an opinion about us.  And again, it’s not fair, but it is what it is.  I am aware of the influence I have (not because of anything special) as a t-girl.  I have this influence BECAUSE I am a t-girl.  When I buy coffee at a cafe I MIGHT be the first transgender girl the barista has ever spoken to.  When I am getting a makeover I MIGHT be the first transgender girl that the makeup artist has ever met.  Their experiences with me will be their first exposure, their first impressions of someone like us.  


My “goal” in these interactions is for the barista, the makeup artist, the cashier, the girl at the shoe store, is for them to say to another person “I met/helped/saw a transgirl today and she was really nice”.  


And yes, it might be an ambitious goal, but it’s also a goal that requires very little effort.  Just be nice, goddammit.  Being nice is (usually) easy.  


But in all the years I have been out en femme, no matter how people I meet, one episode of one television show will have more power, a louder voice, more influence than I ever will.  And with that kind of “power”, there lies the risk, the excitement, the responsibility, the opportunity.  


I hope this show is everything I want it to be.  Not only do I hope it’s a well-written, entertaining show, but I also hope this show helps the world see us how we really are.  And yes, you may as well climb a mountain in stilettos, but at one point EVERYTHING a girl like us did looked impossible. 

Love, Hannah

Related reading

Gender and Privilege

Identity and Responsibility

5 thoughts on “Power and Risk

  1. “…one episode of one television show will have more power, a louder voice, more influence…”

    This is so true. I was a part of a similar focus group for one of the discovery channel shows. I voted against the idea as it would likely be sensationalized for tv and the perception would be detrimental to the professional way we operate. In the end, they did it anyway and made us all look like a bunch of risk taking hacks….

    My only point is that you are correct in that a TV show can absolutely steer public perception.

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  2. It’s been several years, I believe 8 at least, since I circulated as a lady. I did my best to be modest, appropriate, and as long as I kept my hopeless deep voice silent and laconic, mostly passed easily, except for very short Asian women whose vantage can spot a silent protruding larynx a mile away, in they same way they sort baby poultry with stunning accuracy. All the same, ladies in the toilets helped each other, picking bits of lint off each other, complimenting each other in appropriate modest ways. Several times a blouse collar label was turned under for me by whoever stood behind me in line. Men and more so, boys, opened doors and made way for me. It was a pleasant way of being, but too l;onely and isolating, since, if one isn’t gay or bi, well, looking like Lana Turner isn’t going to change ones partner preferences. Nor could I in good conscience impose my need, call it a fetish if you wish, on a female partner, but I know is much more and much deeper and really reflects a deep respect and regard for the feminine. I ‘ve had the good fortune to urge other women to travel alone or with a dog, and to be brave and trusting as long as it’s daylight and not the wrong part of a big, esp. unknown town. Even showering at rv, camps was never an issue; I kept my bra, panties, or swimsuits close by and “folded up my parts’ quickly and neatly, even Swimming in motel pools. Hannah’s advice to be nice and ladylike is the best she could give. Most people accept what they see, smell, and hear as acceptable reality. It does help if you have a good degree of somatic compliance for sure. Speak softly, not often, often ending a short statement on an up note. Be polite, and deferential. Be the nice girl that you know you are at some level.

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  3. “…and the character’s story arc falls into the same, boring, inaccurate, damaging tropes…”

    Some of those clichés are laid end to end during the Disclosure documentary. While they are frustrating, it fits start to get a bit comic in the programme, once you see the same old guff wheeled out.

    That said, writers and producers can do better. We’ve been through that arc with gay characters in the media. Perhaps now is the time that gender non conforming folk get better treatment. Plus, it’s not all about us, as a viewer, don’t we want richer, fuller, characters, rather than predictable stereotypes?

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