Cassandra Keenan

VH1 to bust out the beautiful trannies

Filed By Cassandra Keenan | March 01, 2010 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Jamie Clayton, Laverne Cox, Nina Poon, trans portrayals, Transform Me, VH1

Trans girls have to be beautiful. Isn't that what most people want? That's certainly what people are going to get when they watch a new cable TV reality show set to debut on March 15 on VH1.

transform_me.jpgThe eight-show series, called Transform Me, will feature a trio of trans goddesses traveling around the country giving other women makeovers, arriving on the scene via a deluxe fashion ambulance to respond to urgent calls for image assistance, according to a press release cited on the VH1 blog.

The subjects expect to be made over in typical reality show fashion, but are in for a surprise when a team of three transgender women arrive to give them an expert transformation.


The show features Laverne Cox, Jamie Clayton and Nina Poon. But despite the cast of stunning trans girls, Transform Me won't be all about pretty faces, according to promoters. In an attempt to inject some actual substance into each 30-minute episode, the threesome also will help their subjects improve on the inside.

Regardless, I am more than a little skeptical due to the heavy emphasis on physical attractiveness. There's nothing wrong with looking delectable, but there is in fact something wrong when most of the time, that's how transwomen are depicted -- be it on the screen or in print media. This is particularly bad because many people don't seem open to accepting transwomen as "real women" unless they are easy on the eyes.

Transwomen are routinely held to unreasonably high expectations of beauty. They're scrutinized for "feminine" perfection. If they don't measure up, prejudice and discrimination are apt to ensue. The sad thing is that VH1 isn't doing anything that many queer media outlets wouldn't do. Namely, playing up beautiful trannies and depicting them one-dimensionally.

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Hmmmm, I agree. And it looks like trans women in particular will now be relegated to roles similar to that of gay men who are constantly being picked up by straight women to be their resident "fag hag" accessories. Powers above forbid that a gay man ever have "bad taste" and not be able to perform the task of helping his straight female friend put her wardrobe together. After all, that is his function in the world! And forbid than any trans woman ever NOT look exactly like a perfect woman, whatever that might mean to most people. And she better spend all her spare time teaching others the virtues of looking "beautiful."

The part about "inner beauty" strikes me as the usual b.s coming from the media. Who knows what that means anyway, and how are you supposed to develop it on the instructions/orders handed to you by complete strangers?

This is also just a deeply misogynistic idea, and raises unrealistic and bad expectations of bio-women and trans women. Overall, the idea in all these shows seems to be: Women will just never measure up. But the rest of us can have a good laugh at their expense as they fail trying.

There are three count 'em three projects involving uber-femme trans women (or people who are promoted as trans women) coming up the pike. I wrote about it in my blog:

While I think Mses. Cox, Poon and Clayton are interesting women, this is a pretty fluffy/disposable use of their skills and personhoods.

Some of it, I believe, is related to what Julia Serano writes about in "Whipping Girl" where femininity is devalued as so artificial even "people born as men" can master it and teach it to cissexual women who have long since not bothered with its importance. I truly believe there is an undercurrent of assigning this to trans women because, ultimately, trans women are viewed as "fake/artificial" women... and to prove it, they try to express themselves in a fake/artificial way. The underlying message of the show is... look, even 'men' can look this good!

In fairness, I suspect Laverne Cox pitched this idea because it's incredibly cheap to produce and something VH1 would buy up as opposed to a show about trans-discrimination. Regardless of the show's sexism and underlying trans phobia, I do believe the series will have a side benefit of raising a generation of cissexual girls who will grow up, on some level, being more comfortable with the idea of women of transsexual history.

A takeoff on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, eh? Except this time with trans fashionistas instead of gay stylemongers and women instead of men as the targets.

I share your skepticism about this program.

Transwomen are routinely held to unreasonably high expectations of beauty. They're scrutinized for "feminine" perfection. If they don't measure up, prejudice and discrimination are apt to ensue.

And don't forget that if they DO have this subjectively high feminine beauty, they're called deceptive traps out to trick straight men into gay sex, or else they're called fakers who think womanhood is all about clothes and make-up. Complete no-win situation.

I'm not sure who I feel more embarrassment for;
Us or the volunteers getting these makeovers.

I think the volunteers will look worse, could be a step up for us not be at the bottom of a reality show.

Can I just also say how I really, truly dislike using the term "trannies" in this mixed Internet environment, even in a sarcastic/humorous way. I don't think it's fair/respectful to the trans women in the show and I don't think it's respectful of the transwomen who post to Bilerico.

I don't like the idea of this show at all. It is disrespectful to everyone involved. But, even more, I hate that you think it's acceptable to use the slur "trannies" to refer to the trans women who are appearing in this show. It's not funny; it's not sarcastic. It just reinforces the demeaning images of trans women in the media. Frankly, after the Ron Gold debacle, I hoped to never see such disrespect to trans women on Bilerico.

The title of the post is a reflection of the apparent mind-set of the people responsible for producing the show. It's certainly not me hurling insults. Sheesh, I am trans myself.

Still, if anyone was offended, I apologize. Also, it's interesting because I know several trans individuals who actually believe the word tranny is acceptable and not a slur at all. I believe Kate Bornstein is of that opinion and mentioned it when she visited Vegas, if I remember correctly. If you research the word, you will probably read about how it actually came about to be sort of an umbrella term for the different trans communities, eg. transgender, transsexual, transvestite.

Anyway, it's a topic that's seems totally worthy of a post in and of itself, I think.

There also seems to be a cultural difference about the use of the word. In the UK, it seems to be a common term among trans people (women anyway) used without shame. To them, it's just slang.

Funny. I don't use the word myself, but I didn't react to the title of your article. Maybe I got the point. ;-)

Believe it or not Kate Bornstein is not my final arbiter on manners related to womanhood and trans-dismissive comments.

"Tranny" historically meant "transvestite" (this is way before the term "transgender" even existed). It is still fundamentally a sex industry term and if anyone doesn't believe that, then try Googling "Tranny" and see what comes up.

I don't think transwomen are expected to look beautiful, but we are expected to look fake (and sexualized) so as to confirm cissexual assumptions about who we are as wannabe women and our relationship towards other women (which is fetishizing and objectifying them). Ihe greatest danger from these shows is having a lot of GQ, Queer and second wave leftover feminists reinterpreting this as our commitment towards "binary" gender and sexist typing. And, unfortunately, as happened in the 70s-80s, that kind of response eventually gets filtered into mainstream academia/culture and hangs around for 20 years after that.

battybattybats battybattybats | March 3, 2010 9:08 AM

Transvestite has different meanings in different countries too of course. In the U.K. according to the self-identified transvestites I know from there it does not have such a negative connotation that has lead to crossdresser becoming the polite acceptable term in the USA.

Tranny is used by a transsexual friend of mine here in Australia as a general positive term for the 18 or so years I've known her as do several other Australian Transsexuals I've met so for some of them at least it's not a stigmatised word. Perhaps it too is very dependant on where the word has been used and how?

That's B.S it has different connotations. Again, "tranny" is used throughout the world to siginify 1) a trans sex worker 2) a trans woman with a hyper sexualized look ("a phony looking wannbe woman). It is a denial of womanhood and, is such, is right up there with "shemale."

Believe it or not, England (I can't speak for Australia, but it's not especially progressive on those issues either) is a rather transphobic country with some of the nastiest ridicule of trans women in their papers, tv and films. That it's more accepted in certain the transgender communities in different countries is possible. There are many countries where trans women are often referred to as "gay men" (which is basically what kathoey means, not to mention "Ladyboy") Does that mean there aren't trans women in their country who are upset about that? No! Don't assume because people tolerate a situation it's okay. And one transperson using the term does not give anyone a free pass to use it.

battybattybats battybattybats | March 3, 2010 9:01 PM

Of course things have different connotations. That is largely the critical point.

Yes there is transphobia in Britain that was not my point. My point is that those who prefer to be called Crossdressers in America that I have spoken to living in Britain are happy to call themselves Transvestites. When the tv show Transvestites Wives was aired they were not upset with the title.

And if the Transsexuals I know in my own town are fine with the word Tranny as it means different things to them than it does to those who find the word offensive it's not my place to tell my friend what word she should accept and what reject.

My decision is which i use in what company, so I don't use the term in online discussions where there's a lot of American and British Transsexuals who may find the term offensive. That i think is a valid decision for me to make respecting everyones different language-use and self-identification rights. And as the term Crossdresser is rarely seen as offensive by British Transvestites then it's the term i usually use, but again i'm not going to tell British Transvestites to stop calling themselves Transvestites because it means something different to Americans. That'd be privileging one groups rights over another group. How can that be ok?

I must respect that the word means different things to different people. And it's the right of my transsexual friend to call herself whatever term she prefers.

The Aboriginal English word for crossdresser or transsexual is the same word. Sistagirl. I'm not going to tell them what word to use for themselves either or how to translate their own languages into mine.

But i will personally try and make the choice most respectful of the people involved at the time. Including peoples right to self-identify however they wish to and their right to be free of villification. I try and respect peoples sensitivities but when my very existence offends some i have to draw the line at individual equal human rights. And if one person finds the word Tranny offensive and another finds offensive the erasure of that word which they use for themselves then i have to respect both wishes and both rights and call each how they want to be called.

I see no other human-rights respecting alternative but would be more than happy to find others.

Last time I looked, this is a US program involving US citizens being discussed on a US web site. If you want to make excuses about hate speech being slung in Australia, then do so, but please don't blur the impact of it being used to refer to trans women here. And this story doesn't even involve cross-dressers so please stop trying to blur the issue.

battybattybats battybattybats | March 4, 2010 9:34 PM

Look again!

Your tv gets exported worldwide!

The Internet is worldwide!

This blog is read worldwide!

And if it aint hate-speech on these shores according to those who have the right to determine if it is or isn't then it's not hate-speech on these shores for them is it?

While imposing one countries culturally-dependant rules over everywhere is far from easilly legitimate now is it. Re-read what i said and consider the human rights of others for whom the words have different meanings. You'll find that shifting class, city, age group and more can drasticly shift words meanings.

I still support your right to not be villified so please be sure to argue against my actual point too.

And you raised transvestites as part of the slur so I'm not blurring the issue by bringing in those legitimatly called transvestites now am i?

Ever thought the word itself, a legitimate identity in many countries, being construed as a major slur might itself be offensive?

Try considering that the acceptance of Transvestite and any derivitive of it as a slur might be as offensive as accepting 'That's so gay' as a legitimate derogatory term. Gay is not derogatory and using it as such is offensive.

So maybe you ought to respect the fact that the use of Tranny as derogative was definately wrong but that as referring to transvestites which is a legitimate identity without the offensive connotations it has gained in America (much of which stemmed from Transphobia in the first place as there was some internalised transphobia in much of the USA crossdressing community that was involved in the translation of transvestite into crossdresser as the polite USA term) then the word itself is not the wrong but the use of it and that by supporting that demonisation ofthe word you are yourself potentially supporting the oppression of transvestites especially as the Internet spreads that demonisation of other peoples identities worldwide.

Maybe tone down the cultural imperialism a little? And remember we are going to see your countries tv shows on youtube, cable and our own network tv too. So we are legitimate stakeholders in these discussions. And our Human Rights are as legitimate as yours.

That's the most absurd comment I've ever heard. You're arguing for the right to refer to trans women as "trannies"? Worry about your own country and your own community of crossdressers and the considerable transphobia which occurs there. I don't need you telling trans women in the US what should or shouldn't offend us. Last time I looked, you're not entitled to make that decision for us.

battybattybats battybattybats | March 7, 2010 12:23 PM

Whats absurd is your disregard of others identities and diversity and rights and disregard of my ACTUAL argument.

* I respect your right to self-identify

* I respect the right of others to self-identify

Now go re-read the post above from March the 3rd so you understand it this time. That as your use of language particularly the meaning of this term is not universal nor is mine nor those of other Transgender people so then it may not be universally offensive. Consider again what course of action then respects everyone's human rights.

* Note where I say i do not myself use the word amongst those it may possibly offend. I DO respect that they may be offended by it because of the terms different meanings in different places classes etc. That does not mean i will impose the non-use of it over those who have a valid claim to self-identify however they please, even with that term as that is also their Human Right!

* Of course i recognise their are Internalised Transphobia and Homophobia issues in the Crossdressing community and I address those often on my blog and comments here and elsewhere and forums i'm a member of etc. I am active in issues in my own country and international ones and as i said American programs get exported to other countries giving international people a valid stakeholder place in this discussion!

* I'm not telling anyone what they should or shouldn't find offensive. I respect your right to not be villified. I just don't place your right above those who self-identify with a term you find offensive. Nor their right above yours either. I DO respect that the words mean different things to different people.

* If as you seem to claim the association with transvestites is where the offensiveness of the term Tranny stems then that is suggesting there is something bad and wrong with being a transvestite! Supporting the stigmatisation of transvestites is wrong! Note the big distinction in my comment: "the word itself is not the wrong but the use of it". The comparison to 'gay' being used as a slur remains apt. You can assert your own self-determination and speak out against villification without implying suggesting or claiming that transvestism is denegrating bad or wrong, that too would be villification.

See the difference? See where Human Rights and Equality come into it? See where your claiming your right to self-identification requires you to respect the self-identification of others? See where your desire not to be villified means you shouldn't support the villification of others?

Now rather than irrationally dismissing my points about Human Rights, Self Identification and not Villifying Transvestites why not lets seriously discuss ways to ensure that your anti-villification concerns which are a valid human rights issue, and the self-identification of others which is also valid and neither you nor they being entitled to trample the others rights, as well as the rights of Transvestites not to have their identity be considered a denigrating slur which is equally valid and should not be ignored might all be dealt with in a compassionate, just, respectful and consistant manner?

Human Rights are Equal. Sometimes that makes things complicated but it also makes them fair.

I am against tranny because:

1) Is irrefutable connections to the sex industry which has exploited and degendered trans women for years;

2) Tranny is a term of de-gendering/third gendering towards trans women, meaning: men pretending to be women for sexual purposes. Tranny is never a synonym for woman, therefore it should never be used to describe women;

3) It was and continues to be a term of ridicule towards transwomen.

4) It is overwhelmingly being "reclaimed" by people who haven't been oppressed by it. They are claiming entitlement to reclaim a term which has never been about them.

5) It's a term of familiarity and intimacy with the community of trans women which is being assumed by people who haven't earned that right. It's often used in an attempt to mask other offensive/oppressive attitudes/behaviors towards our community.

5) (and this is the lowest on my list of reasons) An attempt to make historically incorrect connections between crossdressing and trans women which aren't there.

Now stop projecting your own issues onto this which, in truth, really doesn't directly even concern you, now does it.

battybattybats battybattybats | March 7, 2010 8:40 PM

1. Gay is also used by the sex industry. And Lesbian. And Bi. And if the word applies to transvestites and third-genders how exactly did it degender people if they were the ones in the porn? Is there a historical market of post-op transitioned transsexual women in porn referred to as Tranny in it? I'm far from well versed in it but thats not it's reputation.

2. The word means different things in different places, a concept you seem to have trouble grasping. Other peoples self-identification is up to them not you and not me! And if it properly means transvestites (who are regularly falsely denegrated and villified as "men pretending to be women for sexual purposes") then the wrongful application of the word is the problem not it's existence. Just as calling something someone dislikes 'gay'. And as saying 'that (thing i like and you dislike) is not Gay' would be a problematic response actually supporting the word Gay as an insult so is there a problem with your argument.

3. And Gay continues to be used as an insult too. The problem is the use of the word as such. If tranny is a valid self-identification by people who choose to use it, especially transvestites who your words support having a particularly valid claim to it then supporting it having an offensive meaning is to oppress those who it is an identity.

4. Except it was about transvestites historically! So they DO have a valid claim to it. And MtF Transsexuals in Australia I know haven't re-claimed it, just claimed it. That the term was not considered by them demonised in the first place means it doesn't need re-claiming. And they either validly claim it or perhaps are guilty of participating in the appropriation of Transvestites label.

5. Again a valid point about the use of the word that i support you have a right to object to but not a valid reason to demand that those who do have a right to the label must abandon it! Or to support the offensive notion that being a transvestite or associated with one is a slur!

6. Except that a significant percentage of self-identified crossdressers go on to transition. That both communities have suffered historical oppression with the same laws by the same oppressors. Except that any biological conection between the two has yet to be scientifically ruled out despite the predictions of bi-gender neurology and comments attributed to Dr Swaab of the entire gender spectrum likely having biological causation because crossdressers have not been studied with the same biological tests as transsexuals and Gays (who show cross-sexed neurological phenomena) and Lesbians (also showing cross-sexed neurological phenomena).

7. (yep I'm adding some numbers cause your still avoiding these points) I RECOGNISE your right to not be villified. I have stated that repeatedly and reiterate it.

8. The Universal Human Right of Self-Identitification.

9. That the use of the word Tranny has been different in different groups both in different countries but also different communities within countries resulting in some being offended by it and some not and making it a complex issue.

10. That the Internet is International. That this site covers international issues. That this tv program will reach other countries. That termnology issues can and will have cross-cultural effects and interaction.

11. That Crossdressers are every iota as valid as transsexuals, lesbians, gays and bisexuals deserving the same rights and the same respect and the same agency. Regardless of causation, even pure choice is a valid basis for human rights.

12. Same as above for all third-gender and other non-binary people.

13. That as you say Tranny refers to transvestites, third-gender/non-binary people and sex-workers and all three of those are valid groups of people with valid human rights then they more than others have a particularly valid claim to the term and a stake in all discussions of it's usage.

14. That as a bi-gender genderqueer Crossdresser Transvestite (and i use the term in the non-Americanised meaning) I have a valid claim to the term if i chose to (which I don't at present, don't forget what my ACTUAL arghument is about the balance of both your and other peoples human rights... which you have not yet addressed at all!)

15. As in 14 so too do i have a valid entitlement to call out any support of any anti-transvestite and anti-non-binary gender oppression. Including the idea that association with said is in itself a slur! Yes i do recognise the severe wrong of being un-gendered. And of having ones self-identification disrespected. And of the harm of villification. all of those are valid human rights concerns. None validate any anti-transvestite implication suggestion statement or action, any anti-non-binary, any disrespecting anyone elses self-identification or the support and validation of it being derogatory to be associated with them.

Now let me make this totally clear. I DO respect your right not to be villified. But i MUST also respect others Self-Identification as should everyone. I oppose the use of transvestite/crossdresser identities or association with them as a slur! And I'm VERY much entitled to do that!

Your own words: ""Tranny" historically meant "transvestite"" and remarks about the 'third gender' aspect of it makes me one of the valid stakeholders in discussions of and decisions about the term. That and the other Human Rights issues i have raised will not go away. Now we can try and find ways to resolve everyones human rights issues fairly validly and consistently. I am not at all in favour of the villification of any people. So do not mischaracterise my argument.

@ Yasmin I agree with you that it's an issue that's common among all women, as far as never measuring up. It's unfortunate because transwomen seem to be held to extra high standards.

A good rule of thumb--don't use the word 'trannies' in mixed internet space. I don't care if a trans person somewhere said it was okay one time. Many transpeople, myself included, find it hurtful. It's like dropping the word f*ggot in mixed company.

Posted this on their website. Doubt they put it up, but I said what I had to say.

WOW! Does this suck!

In case you are not aware, and apparently you are not, artificial standards of beauty are not the point of gender transitioning. We transition to be ourselves, not a product of the artificial standards of beauty that have been inflicted on women for years. We are real woman and we don't appreciate being told that you have to be beautiful all the time or your not a "real" women. I don't think we need to be depicted as hyper-glam fembots.

Apparently you folks don't get us.
We don't transition because we think it's a fashion statement. We transition to be ourselves. If that's being fabulous, then so be it, but the theme of this program makes it seem as through we are ALL constantly looking in the mirror to see if our hair is out of place.
Most of us have far more pressing matters, such as being gainfully employed and not getting murdered by the ignorant general public that you are trying educate with this dreck.
Stereotyping us is not a compliment.
It is another slap in face in a culture that spends far more time stereotyping us and not enough time listening to what we need to survive. Hey, just like natal woman.

Hey, Christine Jorgenson the doors have opened for us!!

If you are trying to educate the general public, you could have picked a better theme. Like maybe a transwoman going to work everyday. But, I guess that''s not very sexy is it? And we're supposed to be sexy.
After all, we're all whores. Right?
I'm an engineer and a daughter and a sister.
I'm a business woman and a friend.
But I am not a fembot or a stepford wife constantly preening for a glam shot or to attract a guy.
I'm busy I've got a life.

Do I like to look beautiful? Yes, I do.
I think most women do.
But I don't obsess over it.

A reality show not based on reality.
Hmm, that's new.

Rolls eyes on this one but Yasmin you have a point about TG girls being the new best friend a striaght girl can have.Im over in Second Life and openaly TG you would not be surprised at the girls who hit on me even when my SL girfriend who is also TG but not as open as me is with me go figure!

i just need to chime in that the show was created by trans women and activists, not the "media" as someone posted above.

i, myself, will wait until i see the actual show before i comment any further.


Certainly food for thought.
SO thank you to the commenters and especially the author.
As for me and my house LOL
I'll tune in to the first episode and judge AFTER.
even though I am skeptical and not expecting much.
At least though we have our own show.
ME personally I dont try and be some ultra glam chick.
We all try to be passable as can be.
But beyond that I'm a woman no matter features you clock me with
either you like me or not.
And for those who want to try me I carry Pepper Spray,screwdriver and a homicidal/suicidal mindset.
SO no we aren't the punks as they think LOL
so anyways Just sayin!

battybattybats battybattybats | March 3, 2010 8:45 AM

While i agree that there are many problematic aspects of this I still feel it may prove of some benefit.

Trans-attraction is of course a valid attraction and a stigmatised closeted one. This program may help nudge people a little more towards open tolerance and towards a few more people being open about their trans-attraction which i think could have a positive benefit on much of transgender. For one it'd draw a lot of people out of the closet who hide there for fear of being forever alone if out.

Sure this program has plenty of problems from the basic nature of the genre and more besides. Yet if next time i'm accosted in the street if it's not the demand of 'Are you a man or a woman?' with a clear hostility but instead 'could you advise me about my makeup/hairstyle/home decor' well thats a false steretype i'd find far less of a danger and burden.

As i'm a Goth how happy they might be with the new look i don't know unless they too are Goth but hey i can live with that reaction. I already get asked about my nails plenty. It's not a cure by any means, but maybe it might be a help.

Ashley Love | March 3, 2010 8:18 PM

im offended of the title of your article by the use of the slur word "trannies" which even GLAAD says is offensive. Who are you to talk about transphobia when you yourself are calling transsexual and transgender women "trannies".