There is a lot of “controversy” surrounding Chaz Bono’s appearing on Dancing with the Stars. Sadly, none of it has to do with the loose definition of “star” that DwtS has. No, the trouble is that Chaz Bono is a FtM transsexual.
Now, on the surface, it would strike many that the privileged throwing the trans community a bone by “allowing” one of us to appear on national television is a good thing. Finally, we are getting a representation in the mass media. Only not.
An important question to ask is “why?” Why Chaz Bono? Why now?
The way I see it, and I reserve the right to be proven wrong, trans issues have been in the news lately. From multiple “bathroom bills” being put before state legislatures to “high profile” cases in the news involving trans-individuals. Such as the brutal beating of a transgender woman in a Baltimore McDonald’s in the spring. Gay rights are high in the social consciousness as well. It only makes sense that big networks are going to want to cash in on the publicity of LGBT issues. But gay is not really the bleeding edge of controversial anymore.
Sure, there is still the Conservative Right throwing hissy fits every time a gay man is so much as hinted at on television. But, for the most part, the idea of being gay as a socially acceptable state of existence has been absorbed by the mainstream. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to downplay the homophobia and gay hate that is out there. I am just suggesting that, by and large, the gay community has passed through the majority of the gauntlet and is starting to come out on the other side.
Trans issues are still in the first few steps of running that particular gauntlet. Even large portions of the gay community still discriminate against transsexual people. Which, in terms of an easy publicity stunt, makes using transgendered individuals ideal.
So why Chaz Bono? Because transsexuals* are the next big thing. I have nothing against trans issues getting lots of publicity. I have nothing against transsexual men and women gaining wider recognition within the media. I do have a problem when transsexuals* are represented because it is a spectacle to behold. It harkens back to the days of freakshows and carnivals. And as good as the intentions are, I can’t help but feel that that is what is happening with DwtS. Chaz Bono was chosen not because he is the son of Cher but because he is an elusive and strange transsexual individual who happens to be famous enough to be openly out and still fall within the realm of marketable oddity rather than stigmatized freak to be avoided at all costs.
But maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am being too sensitive. Maybe I am letting my own distaste of exploitation get in the way of what is otherwise a great opportunity to show the mainstream veiwer that transsexual folks are just people who want to live their lives in peace and be happy.
Maybe. I hope that Chaz does well. I hope that, at the very least, his participation can open a public dialogue about transgender issues beyond that typical “trannys: people or not?” that gets played out again and again every time a transgender person reaches the news. Maybe we can run this gauntlet and get past the “gimmick” phase of our representation in the mass media.