Tangled Web

Deceptions of a transgender guy

Freak

Freak

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When you dwell in caves, you are bound to see shadows of life casted on the walls and try to interpret them from within your own limited experience, like in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

This post was written while I was extremely angry. Editing took care of most of the harshness (I hope) and added the research. My anger is however still simmering and I had debated with myself whether to press the Publish button or not. The little guy with the horns and tail won.

I try to avoid reading overt transphobic articles and comments, but being a “freak” in more than one way – a trans guy with a disability, sometimes others’ opinions and beliefs are shoved down my throat and I can only but gag. This happened recently and I need to vent, so I am doing it here in the relative anonymity of my blog.

I was sent a report on a conference attended by a senior person at work and diligently started reading it. This paragraph I read over and over:

“What was however shocking … was when (the presenter) showed videos and DVD’s of blind and partially sighted (people) expressing their views on the use of (…) equipment, devices for the blind and reading in braille, without their eyes being covered by at least dark (sun) glasses. This led to some people crying and others sitting in shock or walking out. This must be brought to the attention of (the conference organizers). Sensitivity should be of paramount importance and parading blind and partially sighted (people) should be avoided.”[Italics are mine – their words were replaced with more generalized words to be less identifiable.]

Then the volcano in me erupted onto this post. We had just celebrated Diversity Month in August and now this person in a leadership position is effectively saying that people with a disability offend their perception of a “normal” human being. Should I now remove my hearing aids when in their company? Should amputees only appear in public when they wear prosthetic limbs? Should any person with some sort of physical deformity cover up (if they can) before appearing in public? Etc., etc., etc.  – you get my point.

This kind of attitude in the people in my frame of reference and living world, casts enormous shadows on the wall of my mental cave.

Joseph Merrick

Joseph Merrick (1862-1890), aka The elephant Man. The photograph was circulated to members of the public c. 1889 as a Carte de visite. This photograph was first published in The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu.

We, the different, the “abnormal,” have been seen as freaks since time immemorial, especially people with visible disabilities. What kind of mental cage must Joseph Merrick not have lived in, being gawked at and ridiculed when he consented to make a living as a human exhibit, the Elephant Man? I cannot begin to imagine.

B had been diagnosed with major depression and anxiety disorder, but she looks ‘normal’, so she usually gets asked, “You are still so young and single – why don’t you have a job?” (I tell her to answer, “Because I am a kept woman.” Managing our household is a bloody full-time job, dammit!).  When she tells them why, she gets weird looks and a subtle or not-so-subtle physical distancing – do they think she might attack them? Why would they think so? Thank you, Media!  How Mental Illness is Misrepresented in the Media.

People with disabilities have been stereotyped in movies to amuse, to scare, to evoke pity, to set standards of ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’.  To cite only one example of media representation: the 1932 film, ‘Freaks‘, feature people with physical deformities. The original version was considered too shocking to be released, and no longer exists.

"Freaks" film poster

The poster for the movie “Freaks”

Lynne Roper of Stirling Media Research Institute, in her article Disability in Media, wrote that “wheelchairs tend to predominate… since they are an iconic sign of disability. Most actors playing disabled characters are, however, not disabled. The wheelchair allows the character to be obviously disabled, whilst still looking ‘normal’, and does not therefore present any major challenges for audience identification.”

Paul Hunt wrote in a book of essays, Stigma, documenting the experience of disability in the 1960’s: ‘We are tired of being statistics, cases, wonderfully courageous examples to the world, pitiable objects to stimulate funding’. It is now 2015 and his statement is just as valid as then. We, disabled people, are still are stereotyped.

And let’s not even get into racial and cultural stereotyping.

Stamped

Maybe a person without a label attached, has a chance to flourish and sustain some type of individuality outside of being stereotyped, but having such a label around your neck, will take a lot of convincing to change people’s perceptions.

Washing powder advertisementStereotypes will always be with us and impact on those who are being labeled and typed because of the way in which labels are perpetuated. While gender roles are changing slowly, socializing agents have not. (I am in awe of the creativity of people in advertising, so I suffer through TV adverts for the gem that will make me smile for its fresh approach and originality. I have yet to find a washing powder advert where a woman / women are not ooh!-ing and aah!-ing about the whiteness and colours of the washing  with a male scientist / researcher looking on in approval).

Binary gender is defined and restricted by boundaries that are created by the media and plays on society’s stereotypes with images that are presented in such a way that they become the ‘norm’ of society. To some extent they even create and re-create society.

Caitlin Jenner has just become my living and working world’s transgender stereotype. Laverne Cox might be on some’s horizon through Orange is the New Black being shown on South African TV at last – if they care about reading about trans people.

“To have discrimination, you don’t necessarily have to have negative stereotypes that are off the charts,” says Melanie Morrison, a psychologist at the University of Saskatchewan. Amen, Melanie. I came across this article from The Daily Stormer (Neo-Nazi screams from the name of the ‘newspaper’ and its logo), in which a transgender woman is labeled as, “it”, “hideous creature” and other nice things. I know this is extremist, but are they not voicing what many are thinking?

It is because of stereotyping that I cringe every time I think of coming out fully as transgender. It is this kind of viewpoint that lets B pull down an iron boundary when I dare hint at taking T. Media is claiming “The Transgender Tipping Point has arrived”. Yeah, right. Maybe in New York, but certainly not in my little corner of the world. Am I stereotyping stereotypes? Are Stereotypes Unfairly Stereotyped? You be my judge, but just be warned – I am angry, very angry.

Notes:

  1. A YouTube video illustrated Plato’s Cave Allegory with clay animation.
  2. CBS News report Transgender experience in the ER: “I was a freak show
  3. The Cup of Tea scene from the movie The Elephant Man (1980), starring Anthony Hopkins.
  4. The media perpetuates many myths about mental illness. Read a sampling of common misconceptions in Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness. I had to smile though about media categorizing mental health professionals into three types: Dr. Evil, Dr. Dippy and Dr. Wonderful. They clearly still have to meet my sage!
  5. Eight Common Ways Stereotypes Surface and Are Perpetuated, can be found in Leslie Aguilar’s Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts.
  6. Some clips from the film Freaks. See also A guide to the fascinating stars of Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’
  7. Paul Hunt has identified 10 stereotypes of disability.
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Author: Kris

Hi! I'm Kris. I live in South Africa with my life partner of 27+ years, whom I call B or Madam in my posts. We have a Pug dog child, Remi, also known as Pooch, who has graced and enriched our lives for the past 12 years.

15 thoughts on “Freak

  1. Uuuuurgh! Sorry, I couldn’t even read through it all right now. I’m so disgusted. (I’ll be back to read the remainder of your blog post later though, you may count on that.)
    Yep. We’re freaks. I guess I shouldn’t even be allowed to get out in public anymore. After all, I need the wheelchair, or at the very least my balance bike to move my transgender arse from A to B, all the while trying not to contort my body into some impossible posture.
    Well, you know what. All those bigots who take offense may kindly fuck right off and drop into a nice black hole. How about that?

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  2. I’m surprised and disgusted. You are right to vent. Sometimes a vent is necessary and does expel the poison. Part of my surprise, whether this sort of prejudice happens in a workplace is S.A. or the most liberal areas of California, comes from realising that some people still think they’re exempt from freakiness. The example you give here has personal resonances for me: after not really thinking about my myopia for 38 years, I suffered multiple bad retinal tears, a retinal detachment, cataracts and a rare form of glaucoma, that (initially) meant no corrective surgery. I came out of it pretty well, with only some vision loss, in the end, but at 44, I don’t think “why me” but “why not”? We are all only a hair’s breath away from freakdom. Actually, it’s probably truer to say we are all freaks, And not looking doesn’t make this fact go away. Well done you for writing about this and bringing it a bit more into the open xx

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    • Thank you for your comment and sharing your personal experience. Yes, venting did help, although I am probably preaching to the converted, as the people who read my blog, (I suspect) all are sensitive to other’s pain, having a huge chunk of it of their own. And yes, we are all freaks, each of us unique and wonderful in our freakishness – if only all could accept that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, but only us. I’m happy for you that your vision loss is minimal. Enjoy the visual beauty of life. If you are on Facebook, have a look at “Fascinating Places in the World”. Take care!

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  3. I’m so sorry that no one in upper management understood the deeper and discriminatory content of that letter. I truly hope change can come for you, both at work and with B.

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  4. It’s sad to think that anyone is that sheltered and sensitive that the sight of a blind person being ‘paraded’ around without dark glasses to hide their eyes is so upsetting to anyone these days. I got freaked out by stuff like that when I was a kid but these are adults who should be more worldly than a 5 year old. To me it seems pathetic that they’re that shallow and over sensitive. Oh the indignity of subjecting us to such spectacles! Something must be done to protect us so we aren’t upset in any way. How Bourgeois of them. Pitiful. You might want to start wearing ear muffs to hide your hearing aids. Wouldn’t want to upset anyone.

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  5. Saddened and angry too, but unfortunately not surprised.

    Those poor ‘normals’ are getting ‘minority fatigue’. We must return to our shadows lest they be exposed to any more horrors!

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    • Like Gandhi, I will keep continuing my passive resistance. I’m not a ‘John’ of Arc, leading my soldiers, but am campaigning in my small, determined way. Every battle won, brings the end of the war closer. All the best, Widder, hope my favourite Hobbit is holding up well. Take care.

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  6. No wonder you’re pissed, that quote is really offensive! I can’t even believe it got published!!

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    • And read by a few of the staff, who did not even think twice about the implications. If you do not live it, you do not comprehend it, but damn, they could make an effort! $#&#*! But I am whistling against a storm wind. Take care, buddy.

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  7. That quote is pretty disturbing.
    Society’s attitude towards people with disabilities has changed so much within my lifetime. Here in the U.S., my contemporaries were the very first to attend “normal” schools, starting in the mid 1970’s.
    When people are treated as normal as children, they grow up to expect to be treated normally as adults.
    The world has adapted to this easily. A few little tweaks in the workplace, and jobs are accessible to a much wider variety of individuals.
    The moral of the story: You would hope that everyone, especially in higher management positions, has kept up with social change. To see such a blunt example of a dinosaur still existing is troubling, yet not really surprising.
    By the way, Freaks is still available, in full form. The last time that I rented it was in the late 1990’s, on VHS tape. But I am certain that someone must have transferred it to DVD.

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    • We are still in the stone age in Africa…it took me almost a year of constant nagging and getting my union involved, before my manager reluctantly agreed to some minor accommodation. Now I am being victimize and accused of carrying a grudge…

      I must make a point if trying to get Freaks on DVD – thanks for the info. Take care.

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