Today as I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed I clicked on a People Magazine article. The article was an interview with the actress Dot-Marie Jones from the television show Glee, and how her character had recently transitioned from female to male. The article also added that Jones’ character is “the first series-regular character to come out as transgender and transition on a broadcast television network,” which is a big deal considering other shows that have transgender main characters are mainly through TV subscription services like Netflix (Orange is the New Black), or Amazon Prime (Transparent). But not all people are thrilled about the new storyline, looking through the comments on Facebook some people are very disapproving of the issue. One woman stated that she wouldn’t continue to watch the show, though many of the comments were far more insulting than that. Reading this article and comments on this story reflected exactly what I read this week about transgender and tranvestism. No matter what era we are in, a number of people choose to strongly express their negative feelings about this issue.
In chapter one of Intimate Frontiers, Hurtado writes about a “common” sexual practice among the California Indians called male homosexual transvestism or “berdache tradition.” (Hurtado, 4) It is not specified how long this practice had been going on, though it states that it was included in many North American tribes. Hurtado writes that the berdache acted and dressed as women, but were believed to belong to a “third gender that combined male and female aspects.” (Hurtado, 4) They took the female role in sex, and often married heterosexual men. The berdache had been accepted in Indian society until the Spaniards came along, where they then “faced persecution” for their practices. (Hurtado, 8)
As a result, most transvestite Indians withdrew from Spanish-controlled lands to avoid punishment and the violation of their social lives. The Spanish had to make everyone live according to their specific ideology or be punished therefore, the berdache had to hide away in order to be their true selves.
In Major Problems, over 100 years earlier, a similar issue took place with the case of Thomas Hall. Hall, who dressed as a women and “performed traditionally female tasks,” was asked on multiple occasions what his gender was where he responded that he was both. (Brown, 81) The town was not pleased with this answer, and in response to all the rumors there was a trial where they investigated records about Hall’s sexual history and identity. The trial consisted of a lengthy investigation of Hall’s past and interviewing many members of the community, but finally they came to a final decision. Hall would wear both male and female clothing, this was a punishment in that he was denied the right to choose one gender. Since the community didn’t agree with him to living as both genders they decided to shame him.
In both of these readings, the person/people identifying as trans or both genders had felt normal or accepted before some sort of negative force intervened. The berdache, as mentioned, were accepted in their tribe and were even thought of as having “special spiritual gifts” for being quite attractive before the Spaniards had scared them off. (Hurtado, 4) And Thomas Hall was described as “utterly at ease” with being able to choose his gender, but “his metamorphosis provoked…his community.” (Brown, 83) It was these negative views that came in and disagreed with their life choice and forced them into undesirable situations. It was after these groups expressed their negative opinions that Thomas Hall or the berdache had something to hide, run from, or be shamed for. And even though some of us, myself included, really want to say things have changed and that we are a more accepting society today, sometimes I look at the comments on Facebook or stories on the news and think how much have we?