The L Word, Itty Bitty Titties, and Trans Men

By , May 8, 2009 11:47 pm

So I’m currently trying to watch the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, and its gotten me thinking about trans inclusion in spaces identified as ‘for women.’ (I say “trying to watch it” because the DVD is giving me trouble, not because it’s a particularly bad movie.) (Although I haven’t gotten far enough into it to say it’s a particularly good movie either.)

Anyway.

Questions of trans inclusion generally involves how (or whether) to include trans men and/or trans women in women-only spaces. The “womyn-born-womyn” policy of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival is a well-known example of this debate. (I’m going to table a larger question of trans inclusion for some, whether or not to include trans people in the queer community in the first place,  as it would take me too far off-topic…)

So what does this debate have to do with The L Word and the Itty Bitty Titty Committee?

Both involve characters who are trans men, but accepted and included in women’s spaces. Both are (almost) entirely devoid of characters who are trans women.

So why is this important? Because it’s part of a larger trend which exists in the queer/women’s communities (see the above link to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival…) and both The L Word and IBTC promote it without any questioning. As is so often the case, Julia Serano says best where this trend comes from:

The popular spin given to this preferential treatment of trans men over trans women states that trans men have been raised female and therefore should have a place in women’s and lesbian communities, whereas trans women have experienced male privilege and remain physically male on some level, and therefore should be excluded. However, this argument makes little sense when examined more closely. After all, how can someone who identifies as female and currently lives as a woman have less in common with women than a male-identified person who has male physical attributes and currently benefits from male privilege? The premise that trans women should be singled out because we “used to be men” is highly suspect. Rather, I believe that this preference for trans men over trans women simply reflects the societal-wide inclination to view masculinity as being strong and natural, and femininity as being weak and artificial. In other words, it is a product of traditional sexism.

As such, viewers of The L Word and IBTC – lesbian or not and regardless of whether or not they would consider themselves part of a feminist or women’s community – are exposed to entertainment which reinforces the idea that ‘trans men = acceptable’ and ‘trans women != acceptable’ (or even ‘trans women = nonexistent…’).

This is particularly embarrasing in the case of IBTC, as the main characters are part of a radical feminist group trying to bring down the patriarchy and promote (their view of) women’s equality. Indeed, a character just said “We’re against the binary system!” I, for one, would believe it a lot more of the movie’s creaters had deigned to include a trans feminine character at all, let alone one who was presented in a positive way…

(Interesting sidenote: In looking for links for this post, I came across this petition, which called for The L Word to make its trans-masculine character, Max, more realistic and less stereotypical and – according to the petitioners – transphobic. So it seems like some people are noticing, but not many. The petition? Under 400 signatures. A petition to renew Chuck, a show which has yet to be canceled? Over 30,000.)

So. Where does that leave us? I don’t know, except to call people and media out when they continue the trend of excluding trans women from (and including trans men in) spaces that ae supposedly “women’s”.

I guess that’s a start.

-R

PS – I also found this recent post from The Trans Configuration on whether or not T was really included in GLBT. Worth a read.

PPS – Having almost finished IBTC I can pretty firmly say that it is not a good movie. It has all of the shallow depth and character development of The L Word, but compressed into under 90 minutes, so it doesn’t even have the chance to let you really get invested in the characters (which I’m ashamed to admit I did with The L Word, at least in the earlier seasons). (The final seasons sucked.) And it tries too hard to use a political theme as a backdrop for really obnoxious people. And the sex scenes aren’t very good.

5 Responses to “The L Word, Itty Bitty Titties, and Trans Men”

  1. Daisy says:

    Great post! As a cis queer woman, I’m baffled and disturbed by this phenomenon, which I see all the time in real life. What the hell. Serano is on the ball as always.

    And I second you take on IBTC. My girlfriend and I got it on Netflix awhile back and we were decidedly not impressed. The characters and their drama were just so stupid and juvenile, and the big scene at the end where they attack the monument didn’t even make sense.

    I have to disagree about the sex scenes though. I thought that was some exceptionally hot movie making out. :)

  2. trillian says:

    Daisy – Thanks for the post. I definitely agree the movie went from lame to lamer, and ended in a monumentally weird way. As for the sex/makeout scenes, I may have just been pissed with the movie in general and not been willing to see the scenes as enjoyable… I know, for example, I get pissy when How I Met Your Mother does yet another “OMG she has a penis!!!1″ joke and can’t find the rest of the episode funny, even though I might have otherwise…

  3. Daisy says:

    Yeah, fair enough — I can definitely see how the lameness of the movie could spoil even the fun parts.

    And those “jokes” are appalling. Ugh.

  4. Zebster says:

    The radical feminist views on transwomyn don’t make much sense to me either … IMHO, it’d seem to make more sense to me if transwomyn were embraced in radfem circles as those who’ve forsaken their masculinity with all of it’s privileges and supposed “Evils”.

  5. trillian says:

    Hia Zebster! I would agree, although I don’t know that (most) radical feminists make tons of sense to me in the first place. But it does seem like the argument that trans women can/should be excluded from women’s spaces or feminist discourse would fail on both the ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ ends. That is, if gender and one’s place in the world is so wholly determined by what’s between your legs (or what was between your legs) then how can men and women ever be equal if their ‘inherent’ differences are so integral to their identities as people? Likewise, if gender and one’s place in the world is so wholly determined by socialization and how one was brought up, how can women ever escape having been socialized in a sexist culture and environment to begin with?

    There needs to be a more complicated worldview than ‘penis = man = bad.’

    -R

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