So Joss Whedon doesn’t think about trans people when he tweets

 @thatkylemcmanus: any advice on writing strong female leads in a comic?
@josswhedon: Must value #strength but also #community & not have peeny/balls

Okay, I get it. Joss Whedon tweets without a constant acknowledgment that a female can have “peeny/balls.” He also tweets about not knowing personal hygiene, time management or how a child pornographer does it

‏@josswhedon: It’s hard out here for a pimp. Human trafficking also perilous, takes many skills. Child porn, training boy soldiers, a grind. Genocide…

I also get that he is not a man who seriously calls a penis a peeny. What? A writer we all love for his sarcasm and biting wit actually tweets with a lot of sarcasm and biting wit? Holy crap! This is my shocked face!

And finally, I get that he is a writer and a human being who evolves. And that is why I’m not unfanning him. (Rest easy, Joss, I’ll still see Avengers!)

But now I want to talk about the reaction from the community and why it happened, because this is very important, much more important than the Whedon-sphere.

1. We had a loss. A huge loss in the trans community happened this month in the publication of a piece on Dr V, a scientist outed against her wishes. It was supposed to be about her creation of a magic golf putter, but it became about her gender and her suicide. It was by Grantland writer, Caleb Hannan and it was published never really considering Dr V or her circle or the trans world. This is tragic because it is about the avoidable death of a woman, the insensitivity about a community, and the ongoing downward spiral of journalism. I will only link to the editor’s apology, but please google more. It’s the whole whirlwind that I’m talking about. A thorough read through the reactions will show just how gut-wrenching this is for us as human beings. This is what our ignorance does to us. The trans community is feeling a fresh evil pain. And our media is at fault. The fall of journalism is at fault. Our own ignorance is at fault. And there is no logical defense of it.

2. We got a tease. Seeing a strong trans character in Orange is the New Black and also seeing Laverne Cox be an amazing interview was a huge win. It showed us that we don’t need binary gendered characters in fiction to reflect the non-binary world we live in. It was the win I remember feeling over a decade ago when I watched The Puppy Episode with my girlfriend. It was a bittersweet win, also like the Puppy Episode because along with the amazing interviews comes ignorant reactions. And I must go back to my own past when after the Puppy Episode, Ellen went on Oprah and it was great…and awful. See 6:48. I remember feeling elated and downtrodden, a complete roller coaster for weeks while sexual preference as an identity was on the media battleground.

I still cry watching that clip because I remember how much that hurt and how much I admired Ellen for taking that hit on stage, on tv, and in public. It was a necessary step forward, but it hurt the whole way. And now I see the trans community going through this painful growth spurt and my heart goes out to every identity that struggles because I know it is not easy doing it alone, and it is all the more wrecking to do it when 24/7 you are bombarded with uninvited opinions about your journey. Hey ignorant person, YOU don’t like it when we’re on the cover of every magazine? Neither do we. We just want to live our lives without being pushed into closets and confined by labels and stereotypes.

3. We got an awakening. We are finding out our leaders in the LGB part may not know anything about the TQIA part. So Joss Whedon’s tweet hit a raw, soft nerve. I love Whedon’s characters. I love that they can be strong as females and males and as gay or lesbian. And the gay and feminist community loves that, too. But they are binary gendered and we expected more. Looking back, why did we expect more? The gay and feminist world overlaps with the trans world. So we expect our gay and feminist “friendly” straight cis-male filmmakers, writers, and artists to also know the world we overlap with. But very often they don’t. Today, Whedon is caught in that because he implied peeny/balls can’t be on strong female characters. This will change. But it isn’t now.

So, about that tweet. As a woman with my own identity journey, it gave be a gut reaction of “hey!” As a writer, it gave me a gut reaction of “Wow, they asked the dumb question again.” I’m sure a woman with “peeny/balls” was not on Whedon’s mind while he typed those 140 characters. He just wanted to make a joke that a strong female character shouldn’t be so much a challenge that he has to be asked it every single fucking day. How do you make a strong female character? I don’t know, asshole, MEET ONE. Ugh, I hate that question. So he heard a shitty question and gave a shitty answer….on purpose. He was being sarcastic. When I’m frustrated by being asked the same dumb question, I give shitty answers, too. Now, this is not justification of his response. This is empathy to what he may have been feeling at the time.

So, about his response to the response to his tweet. Whedon is one of the more evolved writers for identities not his own. I am deeply disappointed that he did not respond to the backlash with a trans-friendly tweet, but also very hopeful that in time, this will change. I know only a year ago, maybe only six months ago, I would have done the same. I may still do it. I’m just lucky no one sees me because I’m not famous and scrutinized by fans (not for lack of trying).

I won’t bother trying to make a prediction about what Whedon will do next (or has done while I wrote this blog). But I will say what the month has done for me as a writer. I’m going to stop writing only binary gendered characters. I stopped putting ages on my characters (unless for story).  I will now start the difficult and rewarding writer exercise of not identifying gender unless necessary in the storyline. I’m doing this because at some point in the future, that is how we all will write. And I might as well start now.

Finally, this only reminds us of how far we have to go. I still have to look up LGBTQIA to even remember what the letters stand for.  Even as I type this, I see the trans community I’m just now starting to know and the communities beyond I don’t know at all. The asexual community has so little exposure. I’ll be honest I know nothing about them. And if getting out of the binary is this hard, imagine the “a” of asexual getting acceptance. I’ve learned as a bisexual, the outside world has a really hard time with people they consider “haven’t made up their minds.” Shiver. Ugh, the shuffle of baby steps.

Okay, Finally Part B. End on a high note. It gets better. It’s not cliche. It’s true. For me, I got lucky that what applies to me got better in my lifetime. I wish the same for everyone else, knowing full well the world doesn’t work that way. I can only do my part in trying to get awareness to happen sooner so more and more in the gender identity and gender preference realms can live without having to react to a tweet or an article or a death and feel alone. We all can do our part by simply remembering there are identities different than ours. That we all have a journey whether it’s about sex or gender or career or whatever, we all are people coming out and simply wanting to be loved when we do.

PS I am certain I have made trans language mistakes all over this blog, so feel free to PM me or tweet/facebook comment corrections and clarifications. I will update.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. queenfred says:

    Well said. But I don’t know if your conclusion to remove all references to gender is the right way to go. Especially in fiction, readers want description. The more information we receive the better we are able to envision the character. So, if a transgender character in your story is passing as female in gender, and wants to be referred to as ‘she’, it would be nice for the reader to know this. I think the better way to go is actually to provide more information, not less. A lot of writers unintentionally omit certain descriptions because they are default, or obvious to them. A white writer might not introduce his/her white characters as such because he/she envisioned them as white and assumed that the readers would have the same default mode for picturing characters in their minds. So, when it comes to gender and sexuality, include all the information for each character, including the cis ones.

  2. Desiree G says:

    Eeeek. I feel like a failure as a trans person now. I never would have read Whedon’s tweet as anything more than a joke. I never take comments like that as a slight against trans people because, as much as we have gotten away from the binary world of penis=man and vagina=woman, that is still the basic reality for the vast majority of people (even for many surgery tracked trans people). In a quip like Whedon’s I don’t expect (and wouldn’t really even want) him to qualify every word with all possible exceptions.

    Also, he was asked (yet again) a dumb, patriarchal, question. Had he somehow made allowances for non or pre op trans women there, his point wouldn’t really have been made since to many lay people, he is describe a man. Yes, that’s wrong, but then, I don’t need to assert myself as a trans woman every time someone does something for women in general: “Hey don’t forget bout me! I’m a woman too!” I’m happy to take broad steps for gender equality while gtting smaller movement on trans issues, if overall it means the world is just a little more fair in total.

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