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TransAmerica: Laverne Cox, Insensitive Questions, and a People Persecuted

Like it or not, we are living in a time of rapid social change. Traditional attitudes about families, marriage, and even gender have been deemed erroneous. The debate about it is supposedly over. With respect to homosexuality, extensive years of scientific study and (the decidedly less-scientific, but often far more convincing) living openly in the culture has made it so that old guard folks like Sen. Orrin Hatch can’t deny where the winds of change are carrying us.

It is in this spirit that TIME’s recent cover story feature transgender actor Laverne Cox from Orange is the New Black discussing not simply her career or her show, but life as a transgender person in America. Of course, this cover story prompted its own responses, both in support of Cox and those suggesting that she and the rest of the trans community are playing a lifelong game of dress-up.

Kevin Williamson writing for The National Review, posted the latter kind of article. Already well-intentioned folks are calling Williamson transphobic and even suggesting that his article constitutes a kind of (passionless) hate speech. Having read both the TIME article and Williamson’s response, I would argue that this is most certainly not the case.

Essentially, Williamson’s writing lacks any sensitivity for the feelings of trans folks, although he calls for it in theory. His main point, however, is not even levied at the trans community (whom he sees as “mentally ill and in need of treatment”) but at society at large for “having a culture organized around the elevation of unreality over reality.” Put another way, why should everyone have to change the way they live and think because of something that neither he nor medical professionals understand.

Now Williamson, whether by virtue of his own bias in an effort to drum the controversial quotient of his argument, is often hung up on dickish arguments, such as whether Cox or Chelsea (then-Bradley) Manning was the first trans person on the cover of TIME or that the distinction between sex and gender is a fallacious construct. Also, his utter dismissal of Cox’s feelings on the subject exhibit a kind of willful ignorance towards asking pointed questions and not being a total jag-off.

Yet, that does not mean that in his two essays on the subject, that Williamson doesn’t raise a few points at least worth considering (which we will examine tomorrow). Williamson’s essay is indeed ignorant, but the questions he asks throughout (and then proceeds to answer himself) are not illegitimate in principle (though his answers are). Everything about human sexuality is weird anyway, so what’s the harm in a little informational give-and-take?

Finally, whether one thinks trans folks are mentally ill or perhaps the most self-actualized folks on the planet, the fact remains that they are definitely a group that faces terrible treatment. For example, half of all transgender people are sexually assaulted, one in ten of those assaults happened “in a healthcare setting.” When it comes to reporting these crimes, police response has been so poor that the Department of Justice has launched an initiative to “train” police how “to respond” to crimes against the transgendered.

Societally, we’ve already come a long way and we still have miles to go.


Photo via Wikicommons

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.