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

Manliness, Masculinity, and Liam’s FTM

In the article Manliness, Patrick Califia describes his transition from female to male at the age of 45.  Califia’s definition of masculinity is different from what he considers to be the societal norm.  He attributes this to his identity as a female to male transgender person. 

Califia takes issue with society’s definitions of masculinity because he feels as though he doesn’t fit in these categories.  He says that he has a reluctance to embrace manliness because his father would beat him when he didn’t conform to femininity.  Califia’s article talks a lot about how he feels like he doesn’t fit in society’s categories.  For example, he says “In a world where women are supposed to feel and men are supposed to act, I stand in the middle and comprehend what both of them are doing, and why. But I remain a stranger in each of these territories.”

In this short youtube clip, Liam discusses masculinity and what it means to him as a FTM identified person going through transition.  Liam is similar to Patrick Califia because he doesn’t fit the normal mold of masculinity.  In the video he talks about how he doesn’t know how to change the oil in a car (or much about cars in general) which is considered to be a masculine trait.  Liam also mentions sports and how that seems to play in to masculinity.  He says that not liking sports makes him less masculine in some people’s eyes.  One of the comments on the video is also interesting because it is from a “straight dude” who hates sports and says that he can get away with his opinion because of how he looks (6’4 and 350 pounds).  I find it particularly interesting that this commenter can get away with not liking something that is generally considered masculine just because his physical appearance is overly-masculine. 

Both Liam and Califia have their own ideas about what constitutes masculinity and I think it’s interesting to see how they are alike and how they are different.  Both the video and the article specifically mention that knowledge about cars is something that screams masculinity.  Both also specifically mention that changing the oil in a car is something that is considered masculine and that their lack of knowledge about this subject doesn’t make them less masculine than someone who does know how to change the oil in a car. 

 The article and the video do a good job in showing that masculinity is subjective.  Each person has their own ideas about what is masculine and whether or not people should conform to this norm.  I think both pieces help the readers or viewers to think about masculinity in a way that they might not have thought about before. 

 

-Jalyn Phifer

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