Rungy’s Story

Last week I introduced Alexis Meade, a fictional MTF transsexual who came out in a highly publicized moment. Now meet Brody Rungy, a 20-something FTM transgender musician. Like Alexis Meade, Rungy is eager to publicize a personal transgender history.

If any of you are fans of TLC’s Strange Sex, you may remember Brody from the episode “Right Guy, Wrong Body” (Season 2, episode 10). In this episode Brody’s name is referenced as Nat (by himself and loved ones), which I presume was a modification of his given name, Natalie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiHlQ65XPvo

 

Jamison Green asks: “what happens to the transsexual man who ‘comes out’ and admits to having been born female? (Transgender Studies Reader, 499).” In the case of Brody Rungy, TLC over simplifies a complex history and coming out story in a twenty-minute segment on ‘strange’ sex. It’s arguable that Rungy’s transgender narrative should not even belong to a show on Strange Sex, but as Green observes: “the majority of our society have not learned how to separate sex from gender, and the use of terms interchangeably (most commonly the substituting of gender for sex in an effort to avoid intimations of impropriety) only muddles the waters” (505).

 

So, it is not surprising that the episode reveals Rungy’s story within a cheesy conventional framework. Even the title of the episode, “Right Guy, Wrong Body,” implies essentialist assumptions. The show exposes Nat’s childhood inclination towards male interests such as sports, boys’ toys, and boys’ clothing as evidence of his innate masculinity. His mother reveals: “it was always obvious to everyone that Nat was a tomboy.” Clearly the show’s dramatic music and voiceovers intend for this information to be shocking to its viewers, yet I think we can all agree that this sounds like a rather predictable narrative.

 

I found another interview with Rungy, which was filmed after the Strange Sex episode (I know this because in the TLC episode Rungy said he was 23, and in the following video he says he is 24). In this video, Brody is promoting both his trans history and his music:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppVM-qle6QU

 

I find it really interesting to compare these two accounts of Rungy’s history. In the second video Brody refers to himself as a “straight, heterosexual man.” Now why would a white, straight, hetero man appear on Strange Sex? He sounds pretty normal to me. Like Green, Rungy could pass as a ‘normal’ man with ease. He can grow a beard, he dates women, he lacks breasts, and he sings in a distinctly masculine voice. Although he could be “one more horned beast in the herd,” (436) as Patrick Califia puts it, Rungy publicly puts his pre-trans history out there, and says (in the second video) that he wants to be a voice.

 

Green demonstrates how transmen: “are supposed to pretend we never spent 15, 20, 30, 40 or more years in female bodies, pretend that the vestigial female parts some of us never lose were never there. In short, in order to be a good—or successful—transsexual person, one is not supposed to be a transsexual person at all” (501). Perhaps Rungy’s comfort in sharing his female past could indicate that there’s a new type of successful trans that does not rely on secrecy.

 

-Bianca Hasten

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NOT Women who Became Men

Julia Serano’s Trans-Misogyny Primer mentions in its first paragraph that, “…Those on the male-to-female (MTF) or trans female/feminine (TF) spectrum generally receive the overwhelming majority of societal fascination, consternation and demonization. In contrast, those on the female-to-male (FTM) or trans male/masculine (TM) spectrum have until very recently remained largely invisible and under-theorized.” She goes on to say that this is “not merely a result of transphobia, but is better described as trans-misogyny.” In other words, people are obsessed with MTFs because they appear to them to be men who are willingly putting on the guise of the weaker sex, while FTM go virtually unnoticed because it is more acceptable to be a masculine woman than a feminine man.

This transphobia and trans-misogyny is difficult for any non-gender-conforming person to deal with, but for people like Jamison Green it presents a unique sort of problem. Green is a trans man who is passing – and therefore has the ability to blend into the cis population without comment – but chooses to be out about his trans identity. He gives talks for students about trans identity and is an advocate for FTM acceptance. Because of the erasure of FTM narratives it is very difficult for him to be out in this way, and because of widespread transmisogyny it is almost impossible for him to be seen as a man after he tells his story. Instead he is seen as a woman who became a man and he is searched for telling signs of “who he used to be,” even if he now looks exactly like a cis man should.

It is difficult for Patrick Califia for a very different reason. Califia did not transition until he was in his 40s, and says that his socialization as a woman makes him reluctant to call himself a man. Instead, he calls himself FTM or transgendered. He admits to “not wanting to be female, but not having much enthusiasm for the only other option our society offers.” But he also admits he feels relief now that he has transitioned. Because of the binaristic nature of gender in our society, and because it is preferable if they do not overlap too much, it is hard for Califia to find a place to fit in.

Califia later says, “Perhaps transition will be an ironic experience for me, and I will discover that I remain the same person, having changed only my physical appearance.” (p.463) This sentiment is echoed when Green says FTMs are “men who were born with female bodies, not ‘women who became men.’” (p.500) These two people talk about two different kinds of erasure: the erasure of FTMs and the erasure of anything that does not fit the binary. What they have in common is a belief that they know who they are no matter what society believes them to be.

-Caitlyn Smallwood

Androgyny Should be Okay

In the readings, I noticed a lot of ambivalence surrounding the subjects of gender, passing, and transitioning.  The main idea that Julia Serano suggested in her “Trans-misogyny primer,” that trans female spectrum people have it harder as stereotypically feminine characteristics seem to be deemed inferior, got me looking on Reddit for trans feminine specific news.

I found this article about a “First Lingerie Line for Transgender Women”:  http://www.lingerietalk.com/2012/03/26/lingerie-news/were-done-hiding-a-first-lingerie-line-for-transgendered-women.html

Throughout the article you can find examples of trans-misogyny reflective of our culture.  For instance, the co-founder of the line states, “Speaking from personal experience, I found no products that specifically cater to transgender women.  There are some things for cross-dressers and drag queens, but they’re all sexually exploitative.”

It is sad to state, but this doesn’t surprise me.  It’s no shock to see that this is the first line of lingerie with some degree of class, given the cultural image of drag queens present in our culture.  I almost talked about a clip from Anger Management of Woody Harrelson playing as Galaxia, the transsexual female prostitute, for this blog assignment, but instead I’ll just make a mention of it.  In the scene, numerous transsexual women are portrayed as being prostitutes with crazy hair and makeup, Galaxia is clearly a joke character with an overly flamboyant voice and behavior that flashes Adam Sandler for fun.  Sadly this is an image that the media often portrays of trans women.

But this article also got me thinking along the points of Jamison Green’s article, “Look!  No, Don’t!”  The women in the pictures advertising the lingerie are extremely feminine in appearance and clearly passable.  His argument that as a trans person becomes more “successful” as portraying their supposed gender as policed by culture, the trans community becomes more invisible rang through to me while reading this article.  He argues that as a trans person, one often becomes even more gender-policed and androgyny is seen as a sort of failure.

I think it is good to give people options, as this lingerie line clearly does, but as most things do, it has its drawbacks of continuing the polarity of genders.  Despite this downfall, it does bring attention to trans women as being regular people and not freaks or prostitutes as well.  I think it would be awesome if our culture could recognize gender as being fluid, and that androgyny is perhaps more natural than hyper-femininity or masculinity.  We need more options, more acceptance, and people to generally feel that they can be themselves without feeling that they are being policed by societal restrictions.

-Chrissy Goss