In May 2012, Argentina passed law number 26.743. This landmark gender-identity law gives people have the right to change the gender on their identity cards without undergoing any gender reconstructive surgery or psychiatric analysis. In addition, all public and private health providers must grant gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy to those who want it, at no cost.
Last month, Argentina became the first Latin American country in which Facebook users can choose from 54 gender identity options. Facebook collaborated with LGBTQ rights group Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (CHA) to create the options, which includes the likes of andrógino, mujer trans and puto.
With these kinds of actions, Argentina has put itself on the forefront of gender identity acceptance. But the existence of progressive laws doesn’t mean that widespread perceptions of trans people are equally progressive. Case in point, Jorge Lanata
(Lanata reminds me of another male journalist with some very choice words for women whose body politics disagree with him, but I digress).
In no uncertain terms, Lanata has made it clear that he does not agree with any identities that do not conform to the gender binary. He started with his discomfort with the new Facebook gender identity categories, making a joke of the inclusion of androgynous and trans options, and then erroneously conflated gender identity with sexual orientation, asking, “Why do we have to put sex on our documents? “Why does it matter to the state whom you’re sleeping with?” No one’s asking you to indicate whom you’re sleeping with on your DNI, but go on, Lanata.
When the topic of the gender identity law came up, Lanata ridiculed the idea that anyone might identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. He went on to target transgendered actress Florencia de la V, who has changed her DNI to reflect her status as a woman, addressing her by saying, “You are not a girl. You are a transvesti.” “But define yourself however you want, I don’t care,” Lanata said. Nonetheless, he addressed the topic again two weeks later, standing by his earlier remarks, and adding to his diatribe that while de la V may call herself a mother, she is no Maru Botana (Meaning, I can only presume, that she does not make delicious cakes).
Hugo Corto, mayor of Tres de Febrero, agreed with Lanata’s remarks, referring to transgenderism as a “sickness,” adding that it “is not normal for a man to be a woman, and a woman to be a man.” Like Lanata, he also insisted that he is not “discriminating” against trans people. It became an official scandal, Darío Grandinetti joining the debate, calling Lanata a “pelotudo” on Radio del Plata, leading Lanata to threaten to sue him. Mario Ishii, a senator for Buenos Aires Province, stated that gender is determined by genitalia only, and only an operation can make a transvesti a woman.
And as with any online article dealing with LGBTQ issues, the intolerant masses came out to make their hateful opinions known on every article related to the debate (My favorite online comment repudiating the gay and trans bashing bullshit: “They’ll have to make a PELOTUDO gender category because I see a lot of them here.”).
Florencia de la V responded with an open letter to Lanata. In the letter she not only affirmed her right to identify as a woman, but also called Lanata out for his absurd comparison of de la V’s decision to change her gender on her DNI to asking Argentina to recognize someone’s desire to be Napoleon Bonaparte.
While public figures continue to add to the slew of transphobic and discriminatory remarks, anti-oppression groups have condemned them. CHA denounced the comments from Lanata, Ishii and Corto, adding as well that statements made against trans people those lawmakers in violation of the aforementioned gender identity law. The Instituto Nacional contra la Discriminación (INADI) rejected Lanata’s transphobic remarks. FALBGT also spoke out against the hateful comments from Ishii, Corto and Lanata, asking those who made them to retract their statements as well as for the public to universally reject those intolerant views.
While Lanata continues to insist that Flor de la V is not a woman, he claims he finds the whole debate pointless, so it would be nice to accordingly dismiss his comments as inconsequential and uninformed. Lanata’s words represent a common attitude towards trans women, however. His viewpoints are part of a larger discrimination against trans people that seeks to erase their right to self-identify, and one that ultimately condones violence against them.
Accepting that a spectrum of gender identities exists means accepting gender is not as fixed as we’ve been raised to believe. Considering how much of our daily lives and actions revolve around our gender and the perceived genders of those around us, seeing gender as anything but black and white can be an uphill battle for some.
This is reinforced by the fact that we encounter situations that seek to maintain a strict gender binary – the idea that men are one way, women are another – all the time. When buying a cell phone case recently, the salesperson picked a pink-colored one to show me. “This one is good,” he said. “I like this one a lot.” Looking at the pink case again, he added quickly, “But not for me! For girls. Men come in and they buy any simple black case. Girls like the pink cases.” “Yes,” I thought, “I’ve been told.”
I can’t imagine how that salesperson would have talked to me if I didn’t display my femininity in an obvious way. So when we encounter someone who is openly trans or genderqueer, we become uncomfortable. We don’t know how to act around them. We haven’t been socially conditioned to handle anything outside the gender binary, which leads to uncomfortable, intrusive questions and microagressions like, “What’s going on between your legs?” “Does that mean you’re gay or straight?” “But what’s your real name?” “Wow, you look like a real woman!”
Piers Morgan displayed this type of behavior on national television when he interviewed trans activist and author Janet Mock on his show, Piers Morgan Live. Morgan starts the interview by saying that “the amazing thing” about Mock is her ability to pass as a cisgendered female. He wouldn’t even have guessed that she was trans, he marveled. Writing a book, being a public trans advocate, whatever. Conforming to Piers Morgan’s idea of what a woman should look like, a verified magnum opus. Morgan’s tone-deaf introduction reinforces the idea that the validity of a trans person’s gender is contingent on their ability to pass as cis.
Translation: “Thanks for conforming to a traditional feminine ideal, Janet, because now I can make sexually suggestive comments toward you later on in the interview and not feel confused about my heterosexual masculinity!” Mock dealt with him politely during the interview, but later revealed she was having none of his faux-kindness and condescension.
It’s likely that many of the mainstream portrayals of trans women that Lanata and Morgan have encountered depict them as men in dresses, rather than as women. This trope was most recently personified by Jared Leto in the movie, Dallas Buyers Club. Leto won an Oscar for the performance, allowing Hollywood to yet again pat itself on the back. Not only are those character frequently portrayed as men in dresses, but they are also often a source of ridicule and caricature.
As has been noted many times before, Orange is the New Black stands out for actually using a transgender actress to portray a transgender character. For her work on the show, Laverne Cox became the first openly trans person to be nominated for an Emmy.
But an Emmy doesn’t mean anything. As long as public figures like Jorge Lanata feel comfortable making such grossly misinformed and insensitive statements about gender – as long as he gets away with it – our society has a ways to go.