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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Transamerican Love Story on LOGO: Trans Culture in a Nutshell

From the LOGO channel website: "Alec Mapa hosts this groundbreaking and frolicsome elimination dating show. Our transgender bachelorette, Calpernia Addams, finds herself in a modern day fairytale as she's being wooed by eight dashing men. With the help of her trans best friend Andrea and a parade of challenges and dates, Calpernia whittles down her group of suitors in hopes of finding her prince charming." (Mondays, 10PM with frequent repeats - also available on iTunes)

Dashing? That may be a bit of an exaggeration.

The show stars Calpernia Addams, an out transsexual woman whose picture is on the left. It features Ms. Addams' quest for love among a cast of eight men. If you want to get a flavor of what the dating world is like for transwomen - this is a great show. In fact, I think one cannot truly understand the world that transwomen inhabit without seeing the strangeness that goes on in the world of dating and relationships. It's nothing like the dating experience of gay men and it's not like lesbian dating, nor does it seem to bear much similarity to the dating experiences of bisexuals that I know. It's truly sui generis (Latin for "really awful.")

The show is less depressing than my personal experiences in the dating world (with a couple of happy but rare exceptions) , but then again, this is Hollywood. (If you want to read about some real experiences that ring quite true to my ears, try the "Being T" blog here and here). Furthermore, Ms. Addams' sunny disposition, witty reparte and campy approach raise this show above most other "reality" shows, which are pruriently fixated on people's worst qualities. It is light-years above the train wreck of "There's Something About Miriam," and several notches against even relatively sensitive TV portrayals of trans dating relationships, such as ABC's "Dirty, Sexy Money." It avoids the one-dimensionality I decried in a Boston Globe article last year on transgender characters in the media. The show is difficult to watch at times. But I locate that discomfort in an internalized transphobia. I surmise that my discomfort comes from my own uncomfortable experiences in the dating world.

As a transgender woman, who has met exactly these sort of men (and in far less glamorous surroundings and without cameras to inhibit bad behavior), I find it a tad disturbing that Ms. Addams, who is an accomplished actress, author and violinist, would want to choose from this bunch. And yet, as transgender women know all too well, the available pool of interested men is very small, and finding the ordinariest of the ordinary is out of the ordinary. Most men (though there are a few happy exceptions) who seek out transwomen are well aware that we can't expect normal male-female dating behavior, because even those who are mature enough to understand their own feelings are usually extremely reluctant to acknowledge the relationship to friends, family or the public on the street. Remember, "Something About Miriam" got their cast of men by omitting the pertinent facts, and when they did find out, they sued the show for conspiracy to commit sexual assault, defamation, breach of contract and psychological trauma.

I tried to come up with a clear explanation of how these men made me uncomfortable, but failed miserably. Everything I wrote was either too harsh or too tepid. Too much baggage there. However, Kenneth in the 212 did an incredible job of describing the suitors in his "two-second evaluation," which I've adopted with some edits of my own. You can view the men being described here (and I've put the descriptions in the order of the pictures so you can match the name to the face).

Barry, the chubby actor, who tries too hard and reminds me of your middle-aged dad who showed up to score a tranny

Blaine, the creepy G. Gordon Liddy lookalike (used?) car salesman who ran a "tranny porn" site

Jim, the angst-ridden, timid writer who belongs back on his therapist's sofa

Mark, the short, bald professional wrestler, crammed with macho roid rage, who goes by the stage name "Razor Rizzati El Italiano Stalliano." But he should just go by Dork.

Mike, the painfully awkward but good-looking personal trainer who mumbles, lives with his parents and seems to have little experience in the romance department

Peter, the bouncy semi-cute bisexual media consultant who looks like a teen Zippy the Pinhead come to life

Rich, the handsome but short yoga instructor who turns out to be wayyyy more uncomfortable with the situation than he lets on

Shawn, the "straight" concert promoter who's attracted to "overexaggerated womanly features"

Despite my cut-them-off-at-the-knees bravado, however, I am prepared to give these guys a chance. Most of these guys are likeable after a while. (This is why I am not cut out for the world of romance). Anyway, it's harmless, because I don't have to date them - I can leave that honor to Calpernia. There's a delicious sort of schadenfreude here. I also enjoy her girl-talk with friend Andrea James, which provides some useful insight into the calculations necessary to transgender dating. Host Alec Mapa provides gay fabulousness and comic timing. More significantly, LOGOonline.com is hosting a website (LGB to the T) featuring trans issues in an entertaining video format. Because trans rights are tied, for better or for worse, to gay rights, it's imperative that the gay community (who comprise most of LOGO's audience) understand trans issues. This is the perfect vehicle for it.

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