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TransAmerica: Soft Violence and the “Tranny Prank”

While researching the brutal attack of two transgender women on Atlanta public transportation, I discovered a video by internet “prankster” and DJ Josh Paler Lin. In this video the “prank” is that Lin dresses up as a “transsexual” (an outdated term that conflates biological “sex” with “gender”) and then proceeds to ask unwitting men for their phone number.

Lin approaches a number of men while dressed as a woman, often paying them compliments and then asking them for their phone numbers. Throughout the interactions Lin affects a feminine voice and then “the punchline” is that the last thing he says is in his actual voice. Often the reaction is simply one of bewilderment.

Simply put, there is nothing at all funny about this “prank.” Sure, comedy is subjective and there is no doubt that Lin is attempting to be funny. Yet, the bit is uninspired and trivializes the trans experience. Surely this was not Lin’s intention, but there is already enough about the trans issue that makes people uncomfortable without doing it intentionally.

Lin is not the only person to attempt this kind of prank either, sadly there are dozens each more insensitive than the next. In another video, posted by what appears to be a minor so I will neither name him or link to the video, a young man dresses up in women’s clothing and walks through WalMart. The primary engine of his bit is that he walks past people and, essentially, sexually harasses them. The first thing he says in the video is “Mmm. Look at that ass,” to an elderly man walking past him.

Essentially that is the strategy in all of these videos, harassing people for hilarity’s sake. The transgendered are disproportionately victims of violence and harassment. These videos don’t help. Although in this latter video, something unexpected happens when it comes to the reactions from women.

While most of the prankster’s targets are men, out-of-the-blue two young women walk past him and say, “Excuse us, but you look very pretty.” Later, when “hilariously” showing a woman a pair of underwear, two other women come up and engage the young man dressed as a woman in a heartwarming way.

When the first woman notices the prankster, she says, “Hey girl!” and offers up a high-five. She then continues to shower this young person with affection. They have “girl talk” about cute underwear, finally posing for a picture and another round of supportive high-fives, which gives me a modicum of hope.

The unintended result of this teenager’s prank was in showing that there are people out there who react with positivity and without judgment. If an actual transgendered person ran into those women in a store, he or she would have found the acceptance from a pair of strangers that many don’t even find in their own home. The real “gag” is that where these pranksters thought they would encounter revulsion and horror, they discovered that people still have a depth of sensitivity that can surprise you.


Image via screengrab

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.