Laverne Cox, an articulate and increasingly high-profile voice for trans people, joined trans activist Janet Mock, scholar Mark Anthony Neal, and The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith in a recent HuffPo Live chat about the latest prostitution scandal bedeviling New York DJ Mister Cee. During the half-hour discussion, host Marc Lamont Hill steered away from the titillating particulars that are, frankly, nobody’s business but Mister Cee’s, and instead focused on the way the media generally talks about trans people in stories like this is pretty shitty.
For one thing, being attracted to trans women is unfairly stigmatized. As Mock writes in a recent critical essay posted on her site, “Many men are attracted to women, and trans women are amongst these women.” She adds,
The shame that society attaches to these men, specifically attacking their sexuality and shaming their attraction, directly affects trans women. It affects the way we look at ourselves. It amplifies our body-image issues, our self-esteem, our sense of possibility, of daring for greatness, of aiming for something or somewhere greater.
This was the tenor of the HuffPo Live discussion, with Cox echoing the sentiments of stigmatization and dehumanization in Mock’s essay. If we just talk about Mister Cee’s sexual proclivities, we’re gossiping, but if we use this incident as a way to talk about how we, as a culture, talk about trans people, maybe it’s not time wasted.
Focusing on the how, Cox said:
There’s consistently an erasure of trans identity when we have these discussions. The reason I’m here is because whenever we have these discussions, trans women’s voices are not included… The extent to which men who date us or are attracted to us are stigmatized is so intense.
Conversations about the Mister Cee “scandal” get hung up on questions about the DJ’s sexual identity, as if his professed heterosexuality is somehow less legitimate if he has had sex with a trans woman. The constant urge to place people neatly on a sexuality spectrum, to have them defined, one way or another, as definitely gay or straight, misses the bigger issue, and issue that Cox and Mock both made sure to address — we dehumanize and stigmatize an entire group of people if we reduce their sexual identities to proofs of someone else’s sexual identity. It certainly doesn’t matter whom one regionally famous DJ is attracted to, but it does matter that the media’s first move, whether conscious or not, with a story like this is to invalidate trans identity.