22 January 2014

Sneaky Queers And Treacherous Trannies

When I was growing up, one rarely saw an LGBT character in a movie or TV show. 

In fact, one almost never heard about "queer" people or characters in the news or other parts of the media.  On those rare occasions when one appeared, he was almost invariably a gay man.  And, if his sexual orientation was not denounced, there was an implication that it defined--in overwhelmingly negative ways--every other aspect of his character and life.  

So, the few gay men we saw or heard about were shadowy, sneaky figures.  They were seen as vaguely--or not-so-vaguely--dishonest.  They were often double-agents or simply double-crossers, or their homosexuality was used to depict them as such.  

One example is Clay Shaw, who according to his onetime lover (and male prostitute) Willie O'Keefe, discussed the JFK assassination with Lee Harvey Oswald and others believed to be involved in the killing. All of this is depicted in Oliver Stone's film JFK.  Stone, of course, does not imply that either man's proclivity or interest in each other was a root cause of their involvement in the killing.  But he shows how people commonly believed that such a thing was possible--and that O'Keefe's and Shaw's preferences and relationship (as well as the prison sentence O'Keefe served for solicitation) was used to discredit them.

Although some people have moved away from such attitudes--or, at any rate, wouldn't publicly express them--about gay men, transgender people are being portrayed as devious in almost exactly the way gay men were not so long ago.  (Interestingly, there doesn't seem to have been a similar stereotype about lesbians.)  Even people who have gay or lesbian family members, friends and colleagues--or who themselves are on the "spectrum"-- may hold or express the notion that trans people are fundamentally dishonest.  In fact, I have talked--before, during and since my transition--with gay men and mental-health professionals who said, in essence, that trans people "just don't want to admit they're gay," as a onetime friend of mine put it.

So, although I was upset, I was not surprised to learn that Caleb Hannan had not only "outed" Essay Anne Vanderbilt; he used the fact that she was born male--something, apparently, only a few people knew--to explain her true dishonesty:  lying about her academic credentials and work experience as a scientist, much of it as a private contractor to the Department of Defense.  She apparently used those fictions to convince someone to invest in a new golf club she'd invented.   

About all I know about golf is that Tiger Woods plays it (and the field).  So I couldn't tell you whether Vanderbilt's club was everything she claimed, and her investor believed, it to be.  But, apparently, some swear by it.  Even Hannan acknowledged that he played a better game when he used it.

Now, if people like the club, they're probably not going to care whether she actually worked for the DoD or went to MIT or whatever.  On the other hand, I can understand that someone would hold her, as a person, in low regard for lying about her credentials and just generally being a difficult person, as many have testified.  After all, great ideas and creations don't always come from good people:  Wagner was one of the greatest composers and most detestable human beings who ever lived. I'm not so sure I would have wanted Bach as a father, husband, brother, friend or neighbor, either.  And T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Fernand Celine were notorious anti-Semites.  Still, their flaws don't degrade the quality of their work, any more than Vanderbilt's fabricated resume makes her golf club less of a marvel than its enthusiasts say it is.

However, to imply that someone who was born with one of the most fundamental conflicts a person can live with cannot be anything but inherently dishonest as a result of that conflict, as Hannan does, is simply ignorant at best and vicious at worst.  I can't help but to tend toward the latter interpretation:  He portrayed Ms. Vanderbilt as one born to manipulate even though he knew about her suicide attempt--which he uses to further the idea that she was congenitally unstable.

But the real reason I am so upset at Hannan is that while he was "researching" his article, Ms. Vanderbilt took her own life.  Now, I realize that it's probably not possible to "prove" that his outing her caused her to off herself.  Still, I think he should be taken to task for "outing" someone who has the sort of history she had--or, for that matter, anyone who does not disclose that information about herself.

I realize that in writing this blog, and some of my other works, some people might think I'm giving them permission to "out" me to people who would use that information to portray me as a monster, criminal or worse.  However, there are still many, many people who do not know my history and never will--unless, of course, someone "outs" me.  As an example, I was renewing my state ID last week.  The clerk did not know that, at one time, my name and gender weren't the ones on the card I was handing him.  And, really, there was no need for him to know.  I don't know whether knowing that aspect of my history would have changed the way he treated me (He was, in spite of the stereotype about Department of Motor Vehicle employees, friendly:  Somehow we found ourselves talking about our cats!) or added another layer of bureaucracy to a transaction that, for most people, is routine.  

I will probably never see that clerk again--or, for that matter, most people I encounter on any given day.  They don't all need to know about my gender history and, really, have no right to know unless I disclose it (which, of course, I do on this blog).  More to the point, neither they nor anyone else has the right to use it to paint me as anything other than I am, for better or worse.  

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