Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace: How "Rolling Stone" Got Her Story (Almost) Right
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The lack of well-known trans people also serves a misconception that Eells's piece furthers. Eells quotes Brandon Hill of Indiana University's Kinsey Institute as saying that 1 in 30,000 “men” is trans. (By now, you may have noticed the scant attention that science and society pay to trans men, a subject that deserves its own piece). I suspect that 1 in 30,000 statistic likely has its root in any number of small scale European studies of the number of trans women to contact local physicians over a given period. Work by Femke Olyslager and Lynn Conway (as well as personal experience) suggests that trans women are at least an order of magnitude more common than Hill and the Stone piece suggest, if not more.
Even though I'd hazard that most cis people know at least one trans person, many seem to think otherwise. Once more for emphasis: we're everywhere. This naivety on the part of the general populace has special significance for celebrity transitioners. As unfair as it is, Grace will likely spend her time educating the public on who trans people are. As far as her fans are concerned, she likely will be the first trans person they know of. The same is true for relatives of trans people just coming out, who will look to her for an unspoken explanation of who trans people are.
It's not fair. It's not fair to the trans people who don't see themselves mirrored in the newest trans people to make the rounds on daytime TV. What's more, transition is, according to virtually all trans people I've had the pleasure of knowing, incredibly difficult. I can only imagine how much harder it is to do so while serving as a role model and spokesperson for countless others.
If there's one thing the public likes, it's sex. Barring that, a discussion of genitals posing as a medical dialogue will do. It's hardly surprising that popular narratives of gender transition reflect changing clothes, changing chests, and changing crotches. We all have our own priorities. In the Stone piece, Eells mentions the medical aspects of transition that some trans women undergo- taking hormones, potentially having surgery on her genitals.
The clothes-tits-cunt narrative about trans women (and alas, all women) is an old one. Hormones and surgery(ies) have varying significance to different trans people. Easily lost in this shopping list version of transition is the fact that celebrities have fan clubs. Most trans people are relatively anonymous, and any loss of anonymity post-transition can have negative financial consequences (loss of job, loss of income, loss of home, let alone loss of life).
The danger is that in focusing on this shopping list narrative, the public will get an inaccurate picture of trans people 's lives. Not only is there variation in who trans people are and what we want (in the Stone piece, for example, Grace is non-committal about genital surgery), but we also vary in what we can afford. Facial hair removal typically runs thousands of dollars, hormones are not cheap, and genital surgery costs tens of thousands of dollars (even more for trans men, in which case the results are also less realistic). Very few trans people have insurance that covers these expenses.
I expect fans will follow Laura Jane Grace on her journey. I expect they'll mark her medical and emotional milestones (many of us congratulated her as she Tweeted pictures of her first hormone pills *squee*). Why not? It's just unfortunate when we forget the complexity of gender transitions and trans people's lives.
Media coverage of transsexuality that focuses on celebrities and then turns trans lives into a series of medical procedures fail s twice over. They give the impression that transition is nothing more than a series of easily accomplished trips to the doctor, while simultaneously overlooking the diversity of our lives.