Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lady Gaga Leaves out Intersex, Trans Individuals In National Equality March Speech

So, after the Lady Gaga debacle, turning her accidental skirt-hoist into a viral video incurring massive speculation about her sex and gender identities (predominantly intersex and transgender), one would think that Lady Gaga would be especially attuned to issues affecting intersex and trans individuals. This is apparently not so. I mean if she had time to call out Obama on not coferring equal rights to queer individuals, then surely she had time for a brief shout-out mentioning trans and intersex folk.

Although this last item doesn't have to do with intersex, I think it's important to say. First, the new channel covering the event incorrectly dubbed it the Gay Rights Rally. Second, Gaga herself, who identifies as bisexual, almost exclusively states that GAY individuals need equality, and that GAY peoples' demands won't be ignored any longer, and that she has "the most beautiful GAY fans in the world." Um, is the National Equality March really exclusively about GAYS?

No. The National Equality March is supposed to represent all individuals with sexual orientations falling outside heternormativity (= being straight). This includes lesbians (which can be umbrella-ed under "gay," fine), bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, and many individuals whose sexuality doesn't have a nice, flashy little term associated with it (i.e., it's not in the books, but that's worlds different from saying that it doesn't exist!). Since the transgender and intersex identities often overlap with queer ones, it would not have been inappropriate at all to mention that their equal rights should ALSO be met, and furthermore, that awareness of these peoples' existence should be championed. This last one is no trivial issue; I can't articulate how many individuals don't know that transgender or intersex people EXIST, let alone what they mean - non-celebrities and celebrities alike. For an example, check out this awfulness vomited out by Kathy Griffin and Larry King from June 6th of this year:

There are so many things wrong with this interview. Just to put it in context here's a play-by-play of the entire sequence, from 8:05 to 9:23 of the video:

* Moments before, Griffin brags about how ratings are highest on her show, Life on the D List.
* Proceeds to talk in a morbidly fascinated way about Chaz, a transgender celebrity, as King seems unabashedly befuddled. Nice.
* Griffin states that she's a strong supporter of the LGBTQI community. King proceeds to ask her what that is, and Griffin names what the letters denote. (Interesting, she includes the "I," which many do not, and also identifies the "Q" as questioning, when others identify it as "queer" in general.)
* Griffin states that the "I" stands for intersex, where this little gem unfolds (8:51 to 9:01):

Griffin: And then the other one is called intersex.
King: What’s that?
Griffin: I don’t know. I was hoping you would. I think maybe the Jonas Brothers might know.
King: (profoundly puzzled) Intersex.
Griffin: I- I- you know what, I support them, whatever they are. (Emphasis added.)

* Griffin goes back to Chaz, stating she doesn't know what to call him, so "[she's] just treating her like Pat from Saturday Night Live...I'm just calling her Chaz." Griffin has called Chaz "her" for the entire interview. Why is it difficult to call Chaz by the pronouns he prefers outside of this interview? And if she really has a problem doing this, it's curious how easily she jumps this hurdle on national television. Another thing worth considering: how might Chaz feel watching this interview on national television?
* King remarks that having a "neutral" name like Chaz is great "...for this." For this what, Larry King? "This," meaning the fact that Chaz is transgender? Surely this fact isn't so upsetting to you that you can't verbally articulate yourself on air. Right?
* Griffin starts a pissing contest with King as though that whole fucked up conversation never happened, asking how many Emmy's he's won. He says one, and she gleefully counters she's won two. (Oh, joy of joys, readers! They're disricminatory for sure, but at least they're fancy, EMMY-WINNING discriminators!) Ugh.

So, let's review the evidence.

* Griffin is a great LGBTQI supporter and doesn't know what intersex is. Riiiiiiight.
* Griffin incorrectly thought that King would know what this meant, perhaps thinking mainstream awareness of intersex is really common. As you know , it's not.
* Why might the Jonas Brothers know about intersex? Clearly this is a jab in stating that they're not heterosexual, but what isn't clear is why she thinks they might be intersex. We can safely chalk this one up to not having her facts straight. It is also unclear why the Jonas Brothers' sex, gender, or sexual orientation would be any of Kathy Griffin's business, and why these might be news-and-gossip worthy.
* Intersex is apparently something to puzzle over as though it's a great mystery of life, instead of looking it up on Google and educating oneself. (Larry King, I'm looking at you!)
* WHATEVER they are is a much different statement than WHOEVER they are. Kathy's use of "whatever" in this context de-humanizes intersex individuals, and reduces them once again into the realms of the freaky, fetishized, shameful others that they are. ("And thank the gods I'm not one of them!" Right?) That's absolutely unacceptable, Kathy Griffin. Intersex indivuals and their allies aren't on Larry King Live to refute your inane and discriminatory views; in light of that, don't strip them of their human dignity, too. A public apology would not be uncalled for.

So, quite a long aside, but a worthwhile one, I think. Intersex people haven't been featured much in the news or the media at large, although there have been several Oprah episodes devoted to intersex individuals, several documentaries, and intersex individuals' use as a major plot device in single episodes in medical drama like ER and House. (And not flattering or necessarily biologically accurate portrayals, either. Clinicians helping write for medical shows should know better, but this is a subject for future posts.)

In light of the lack of intersex and transgender visibility, it would've been nice to mention these individuals into Lady Gaga's speech at the National Equality March. The real question is, were these individuals simply not on Gaga's mind, or was she purposefully trying to distance herself from them given the recent media onslaught (othering herself from "them," once again)? It's just not clear.

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