A Case Study in Transmisogyny: The Daily Beast’s “Jared Leto’s Tr-nny Turn”

tr-nny turn

By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly

I would assume a picture is worth a thousand words on this one.

For those unaware, however, “tr-nny” is the most offensive, dehumanizing slur that can be applied to a transwoman. It implies shamefulness, artificiality, and a general unworthiness to belong in society.

Like the “n” word, it is sometimes used by people within the community, but off limits to those outside it.

Unfortunately, The Daily Beast seems to have been unaware of this.

The article accompanying this transmisogynist headline is a September 10 interview with actor Jared Leto about his performance as a transwoman prostitute in the film “The Dallas Buyer’s Club.” (Check out the full piece here.)

The writer Marlow Stern begins the talk by asking Leto how he summoned his “inner tranny” for the part.

Wow. Amazing. For a comparison, you might imagine a reporter asking Michael Douglas how he summoned his “inner f-ggot” to play Liberace. How well do you assume that would go over?

Apparently transmisogyny is just a little more in fashion than homophobia, though, because I don’t remember seeing any questions like that for Douglas.

Shortly after this piece went up, complaints started piling up in the comments section, and by the next day the headline had changed. You can still see Marlow’s question, and Leto’s reply that “It’s inside all of us; our inner tranny.”

Is it? I guess mine’s just bigger, and on the outside.

This conversation, and the fact that Leto, rather than an actual transwoman, is playing this part underscores a central tenant of transmisogyny: that transwomen don’t actually exist.

We’re like sasquatch. There are rumors about us dwelling in the sex industry, but “you,” meaning cispeople, never actually come across them.

For this reason people don’t need to treat us like we’re human. Sitcoms can throw an “edgy” punchline about “transvestites” or “transsexuals” or the “prostitute who turned out to be a guy” in their scripts, everyone can squirm, and the show moves on.

Likewise, Stern can ask Leto, with evident titilation, what it was like to wear dresses and makeup, and whether he ventured to grocery stores in his wardrobe, because “real people” don’t do that.

All of this dehumanizes actual transwomen and makes our lives drastically less safe.

If it’s ok to defame us in headlines on major websites, sensationalize our existences, and ridicule the thought of ever being romantic or intimate with us on popular television shows, then it’s ok to harass us at work, bully us at school, and react violently to us in private – or so all the evidence suggests.

It was heartening to me to see the Daily Beast change their headline. Comments, many from transwomen, worked, because they showed we do exist, and when we’re insulted we speak up about it.

“The Dallas Buyer’s Club” looks like the worst kind of movie, with regards to sexual minority representation. It’s about a heterosexual, homophobic stud who gets AIDS in the early 80s and starts running a smuggling operation to bring black market AIDS drugs from Mexico into Texas to sell to other patients.

Along the way he bonds with Leto, which according to the film’s logic means he’s no longer homophobic, since she’s not really a woman, or something. It’s a little unclear from the trailer.

I almost want to see it, since I’m so starved for transwoman representation, but I’ll probably think better of it, since, if the filmmakers are making a straight guy an AIDS hero, and casting a male heartthrob as a transwoman, it’s hard to imagine not coming out upset.

I still sort of like Jared Leto, having been just the right age to enjoy “My So Called Life” when it aired, and he seems fairly thoughtful in this story, despite saying “transgendered people.”

(Side note: “transgendered” is (a) a past tense verb, and (b) not a word – we don’t say “African-Americaned,” because one’s identity is not something that happened to them in the past).

Over the next few months, though, we can prepare to see a raft of articles praising Leto’s courage for losing a bunch of weight and “bringing humanity” to a marginalized character.

Leto’s gender slumming will reinforce his “quirky artist” cred, as it did for Johnny Depp in “Ed Wood,” but will do nothing to counter the myth of the Sasquatch transwoman.

Instead it will reiterate the message many of us received growing up: male assigned people who wear dresses (a) are named RuPaul, or (b) sell their bodies in the bad parts of town.

I say this not to criticize sex work or sex workers, but to call out, instead, the emptiness of projects that trade on these well-worn images for their perceived exoticism and glamour, without ever exploring the circumstances – stigmatization, transmisogyny, etc. – that create the environment in which they develop, or broaden the view of transwomen’s existences.

When a transwoman generates Oscar buzz for playing a part that has nothing to do with her gender, that will be representation . . . and I can guess what word won’t be in the headline when they write a profile of her.