Last week a story a story went around the blogosphere of Brianna Freeman, a 45 year old trans woman in Maine, who was suing Denny's after a manager refused to let her use the restroom. The Advocate ran the story last Friday and - apparently figuring that one trans woman's picture was as good as another - they posted my picture along with a caption indicating that I was Brianna Freeman.
I might have laughed it off as a stupid mistake, but glancing down at the comments I can't help but notice that Advocate readers, being the advocates for equality that they are, took the opportunity to pick apart my appearance, judge me based on whether or not I met their definition of a real woman, and discuss how scared they would be to see me in the bathroom.
First, they used a photo of the original photo on display, which was zoomed, cropped, and focused specifically to highlight some peach fuzz chin hairs that I had, so it's not surprising that some Advocate readers who scrutinized the picture noticed and started calling it a "beard." It seems that 99% of the people who look at the original don't notice any facial hair, but that once people are told that it's a picture of a trans woman they are more likely to pick it out.
He looks like a guy wearing a wig. Of course a straight woman is going to freak out when she sees that in the bathroom!
I keep telling people that the gay community needs to establish some sort of certificate issuing authority to certify real trans girls because transsexualism is WIDE OPEN TO FRAUD. It won't take long for creeps, such as the lightly bearded fellow pictured here, to take advantage of these people. It'll cost money to issue certificates but post-op girls must be able to get these certificate for free for all of the troubles they went through (and also 'cause they're so cute, hehehe)
I see the beard and no make up and I immediately think this is a guy... she needs to get rid of that beard if she wants to enter the ladies restroom.
Of course they feel entitled to judge my entire life from one closely cropped picture taken over a year ago. They assume that it is somehow obvious to everyone that I'm really a guy, but they don't account for the bias that they were told it was a trans woman who's picture they were looking at. Plenty of people have looked at that photo and assumed I was a cis woman. Not to mention there are plenty of cis women out there who would elicit similar responses if their picture was posted online along with a statement that they are trans woman who's getting too uppity.
In reality, I passed just fine even when I let the hairs on my chin grow out a little. They were thin, with little pigment, and took up less than a square inch on my face - most people never noticed them. I never had any problems using public bathrooms. And the only time anyone mentioned my chin hairs was after they found out that I was trans.
And while so many of the commenters were picking apart my appearance, I find it telling that many of them commented on my attractiveness (or lack thereof). "Me," the commenter who wants a regulatory agency to determine who is and isn't a real trans woman specifically to have an official statement that I don't qualify also mentions that he finds trans women - excuse me, trans girls - to be "so cute, hehehe." Ozzy says "And my biggest issue is that she is not ugly, I've seen people in transition that struggle and would love to have her looks." Even one commenter who takes others to task for saying that women with facial hair should not be allowed to use the restroom feels the need to comment "my only objection to her being transgendered is she looks like she was probably a really cute guy ;)"
What does my or other trans women's attractiveness have to do with the ability to file a non-discrimination suit? Unfortunately, more than it should. These commenters parrot the larger discriminatory messages that women's only value is in their looks, and that rights should only be extended to trans women based on their ability to look like a cis woman.
I wish I could say that I'm surprised to see this coming from an LGBT publication, but this is The Advocate we're talking about here. They've stepped on their feet so many times in the past few years, whether they are comparing effeminate men to bigots, using the wrong pronouns for trans women (even after being told to correct them), or making racist statements, they just seem incredibly sloppy and unaware of basic anti-oppression issues.
Their blog simply regurgitates news briefs from elsewhere and apparently they can't even do that right. Unless they are willing to clean house and get a few editors who actually know what they are doing, it's beyond time for them to close their doors. Much more of this and their legacy as a beacon of activism and advocacy will be nothing more than a joke.
Update: For everyone else confused as to how this happened, I think I figured it out. There is a blog which posts trans related news items and a brief about me and the multiracial photo exhibit this picture of me comes from is right next to brief about Brianna Freeman. Anyone paying attention would notice that the news brief about me says "(photo)" at the end and the one about Brianna does not. But apparently The Advocate does the bare minimum of work when the news they are reporting on is about a trans woman.
Further Update: The Advocate has now taken down the picture and put up the statement: "Editor's note: The photo that previously accompanied this article was mistakenly identified as Brianna Freeman. We wish to express our apologies and regret the error." They also deleted any comments referencing the picture itself, whether they were criticisms of my appearance, refutations of the other transphobic comments, or requests to take the picture down.
On one hand, I'm appreciative that such hateful comments were taken down, but on the other hand I do not think they were taken down because they were hateful. If they had been commenting on an actual picture of Brianna Freeman, I doubt the Advocate would have deleted the comments. Instead I can only conclude that they were only taken down because they make the Advocate look bad. And while there is an apology, the advocate doesn't mention what they are apologizing for. They don't say that they are apologizing for exposing a random woman to bigoted and hurtful remarks. They don't chastize their commenters or even state whether or not they disagree. And they even removed my comment and others calling out and explaining why that behavior is inappropriate. Not to mention, I personally called and emailed - leaving my home phone number - to ask for a personal apology and explanation and haven't received anything yet. I'll update further if I do receive any direct communication, but for now this seems more like damage control and/or a cover up rather than a sincere attempt to make the situation right.
Another Update: I received a written apology today and it's pretty clear the accident was not malicious. I do believe that it is indicative of a large pattern of a lack of attention and awareness paid to trans issues and will be posting an open letter response soon.