Amid the brouhaha surrounding Channel 4’s My Transsexual Summer, many may have missed ‘Models, Misfits and Mayhem’, episode 5 of which went out at the same time on ITV2 on Tuesday 8th November and is now available on itvplayer. This features a trans woman named Toni, who up to this point seems mainly to have served in the role of ‘The Misfit’, the butt of jokey innuendo in the voiceover and apparently well-meaning indulgence from Debbie who runs the grand sounding ‘The London School of Modelling’.
Well, this week featured the brilliant Jackie Green as one of the contestants. Jackie is doing an incredible job with her mum Susie to raise awareness about trans kids, the lack of acceptance in schools, in society more generally and the denial of the medical therapy from which a percentage could so hugely benefit.
In one touching scene this week Jackie sat down with Toni and revealed that she herself has a trans history, something which left Toni with her mouth hanging open in astonishment. However at first hesitantly but then in a rush a transformation came over Toni as she realised Jackie was in earnest. Her armour of jokey self-deprecating humour, designed to combat the years vulnerability and hurt, dropped away and we were left with a lovely, genuine young woman who felt safe to talk about her life on totally equal terms with another young woman.
I couldn’t help feeling that Donna in MTS could gain something from watching this exchange. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing but admiration for Donna. Donna is a force and she has dealt brilliantly with the world which as a result seems not to have hurt her too badly. But when Donna proudly announces that she is ‘reclaiming’ the term ‘tranny’, I have to ask myself: Is that really what you are doing? From where I’m sitting it looks very much more as if those who say they are reclaiming this word are in fact most usually saying:
“Look, I’m calling myself ‘tranny’ so you can’t dismiss me with that term first because I’ve already put myself in a place where you don’t have to worry about asserting your own cis-privilege … certainly not questioning it. I’ve already accepted my ‘otherness’ and asserted it for you.”
To me calling yourself ‘tranny’ is and will continue to be the verbal equivalent of a submissive rictus … totally understandable, sensible, sometimes quite charming and even admirable in a world which is often hostile and frequently dangerous for trans people but it’s a game I feel we should be refusing to play any longer. It’s a difference in attitude between Jackie who, with the self-confidence and self-esteem gained from her gender-affirming upbringing, demands to be treated on equal terms and Toni, who has faced a far greater challenge establishing acceptance of her gender and has perhaps up to now gladly accepted toleration and indulgence where she can find it. I hope Toni will have learnt a lesson from Jackie because Toni is fantastic and should be very, very proud of herself … as should and is Donna.