Politicizing the Trans* Experience

Last fall, I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark and went to a discussion featuring a transsexual male named Warren.  He began by retelling his story of transitioning, accounting moments of depression and anger that ensued from his pre-operative body.  His personal narrative was painfully honest and focused largely around the tension he felt with trying to be actively perceived as male without appearing to follow traditional male gender roles because society thinks he should.  In other words, Warren believes the performance of gender comes with a checklist, stating one should do “x” in order to be perceived as “y.”  Because Warren challenges the traditional gender binary, his gender performance has been under high scrutiny especially during his transition.  People assume his decision to wear male clothing or lift weights is because he is trying to be seen as a man (and these are activities men do).  Warren, however, argues he does these things because he prefers a more masculine style of clothing and enjoys working out.  He said that if he ever decided to live his life as a woman, he would continue to wear men’s clothing because it’s what he likes.  Thus, Warren has to struggle every day with the blurry line between being seen as doing something to portray one’s gender and doing something to portray one’s freedom of choice.

I decided today to research Warren, since I knew he had an active YouTube presence.  With over 76 amazing videos (all describing his own trans* experience), I chose to look at one called “Trans* Stories on YouTube.”  Similar to the Serano text, he talks about how media projects a singular trans* story which often makes them the bud of jokes. Additionally, Warren discusses how documentaries about trans* folk are seldom ever created by transsexuals or transgender people. The trans* experience then becomes told by cisgender people… and then becomes watched by other cisgender people.  Therefore, a real trans* experience is hard to come by in popular culture, but YouTube acts as an outlet for transpeople to share their stories.  While the fact that YouTube creates communities and connects strangers is not new, I think what’s interesting is its potential to create a large enough social movement for the demedicalization of “gender dysphoria disorder” or the singular trans* experience. In order to remove the medical definitions associated with trans* folk, I feel like a strong leader(s) that has the power to politicize a social movement that challenges high powered groups, like medical professions or major institutions, is key. Is YouTube this leader?  Are the YouTube stars, like Warren, the ones with the potential power to move a collective group?  Or is it a combination of YouTube’s global power to reach people on a large-scale and the people’s individual power to be heard on a small, communal scale that make a successful demedicalization possible? I think it will be fascinating to watch (through the lense of Youtube) the political movement surrounding the trans* community unfold.

Check out his video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKz6AQLEBFE&list=UUlUX18JHqW2-_UEpwxyZhuA&index=12

-Anna Sekine