Transparency, Ms. Magazine, and the Media

Hey everyone!  It’s been a while–as it turns out, being a college student requires a great deal of time and intellectual energy!  But we have something we need to talk about.

Recently, I was approached by Avital Norman Natham at Ms. Magazine about being included in a series of blog posts she’s creating for Ms. called “The Femisphere.”  She’s highlighting the oft overlooked sections of the feminist blogging world–mama bloggers, for example–and plans to create a post about trans feminist bloggers soon.  She’d like me to be included.  We would be doing a roundtable discussion with other trans bloggers about trans feminism on the internet, as far as I can see.

Now, I’m a fairly intelligent trans guy with a blog who has read a lot of bell hooks and Judith Butler, but there are a lot of those, and let’s be real: if I weren’t the son of actors, I probably would not receive an invitation to participate in this.  (Or maybe I would and that’s self doubt talking, but either way, that’s the feeling I get.)  I don’t want to behave in an entitled manner.  I don’t want to strut into the world expecting people to listen to what I have to say when I am working my thoughts out and unlearning my fucked up shit just as much as the next white guy.

I have other concerns about working with Ms, or indeed most outlets that aren’t my blog–on top of not wanting to appear entitled, with Ms. there’s a long history of transmisogyny to consider.  (To be clear–in our correspondence, Avital has owned this fact about the magazine and expressed the desire to fix the problem.  The last thing I want to do is be unpleasant about Avital, who was very kind even to ask me to participate here.)  One of the magazine’s cofounders, Gloria Steinem, was and to all appearances still is a committed transmisogynist.  I say this as someone who’s valued her non-trans related work over the years, mind you, but the woman said stuff like this:

Instead of serving more lifesaving but often less lucrative needs for their surgical and hormone-therapy skills, some physicians are aiding individuals who are desperately trying to conform to an unjust society. It’s a small group of successful physicians she [Janice Raymond] names ‘the transsexual empire’.

And that essay’s still out there, being published and distributed in editions of Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.  Of course, institutions can move beyond their roots, but it’s hard.  For example, my now heavily granola crunchy college was founded by a committed sexist and racist, and while much has changed, it’s still a place where students of color are frequently erased, ignored, and disrespected; it still remains economically inaccessible to many due to (I’m not kidding) the explicit and profoundly fucked up intentions of our asshole founder.  So you see what I mean about institutions, participating in them, and considering critically to what degree one should participate.

More recently, Ms. published this blog post about the apparent “conundrums” in trans feminism.  It’s written by a cis woman–WHY?!–and, as I remarked on Twitter, one only finds conundrums in trans feminism if one admits the possibility that trans women may not be women, in which case HI YOU’RE A TRANSMISOGYNIST do not pass go do not collect 200 anti-capitalist intersectionality points.  But then!  They published this dazzling rebuttal by Julia Serano, so there is room to grow in terms of Ms. dealing with their transmisogyny and unfucking what’s fucked up.

So what do you think?  I really want to be transparent with my readers and have a symbiotic relationship with you all.  Avital has been very kind to me in terms of how much I insist on thinking about doing things like this, and I appreciate that.  (She was referred to me by the sparkly Avory Faucette, who organizes #transchat and #queerchat on Twitter, and is absolutely magic.)

Right now, here’s what I’m thinking:  Am I the voice that’s needed here?  Can I maybe be just one voice among many?  The majority of those voices need to be trans women, because those are the voices that need to be heard in trans feminism most.  (If there aren’t more trans female voices involved in this roundtable than people of other identities, I am not okay with doing it, to be totally clear.)  So tell me what you think.

Can I help here?  What should I do?


ETA: I’ve ended up deciding to participate, based on my own thoughts about it and your input.  It looks like the trans female voices are going to way outnumber the male ones, thankfully, plus some non-binary representation!  Thank you all for being so affirming and willing to help me out with decisions!

14 Responses to “Transparency, Ms. Magazine, and the Media”

  1. 1 RES April 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Stephen –

    First, YES! Please participate in the round table. Your voice is needed because of all the reasons you hesitate to jump in (to clarify — all the things that make you conflicted about Ms).

    As for why you are being asked to participate, and whether you would be asked if you weren’t the son of actors, well…you *are*. But I do not think Ms would be inviting you to participate if that was your defining characteristic. I do not follow your blog because of who your parents are. I follow your blog because you are smart and thoughtful and articulate and a great writer, and you’re writing and thinking about issues that are important and constantly challenging yourself and your readers. You created this opportunity for you by your work. Grab it. If you want.


  2. 2 farmboyz April 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    You’re overthinking. There is some integrity to be had in speaking/writing whenever and wherever you have something valuable to say. Also, invitations rarely arrive 100% pure. We are always someone’s son, or someone’s trick or someone’s ride. What you do at the party and who you’ll meet there are more important than how you got in the door. Cheers!

  3. 3 Kristen from MA (USA) April 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Well, I’m not trans (but trying to be an ally), so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

    Do it! Son of actors or not, you’ve got a great way with words, and participating will expose those words to a wider audience. On this point: If there aren’t more trans female voices involved in this roundtable than people of other identities, I am not okay with doing it… Agreed.

  4. 4 Chita April 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    You should do it because NOT doing it means you’ve squandered an opportunity to spread the word. Political in/correctness should not interfere with the simple practicality of addressing an audience that’s likely to LISTEN and think over what you say.

    I say this as a gay woman in her 60s who once had a hard time seeing a transvestite male hairdresser doing his impression of womanhood as if he had not been living a life of privilege based on his cis origins.

    Speak up. You will not regret speaking out. If you believe every voice must/should/deserves to be heard, why stop your own voice?

  5. 5 sarah epstein April 20, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Well using your privilege in the context of Ms Magazine is different than exercising entitlement – for me any way. I am a Ms Mag reader (on and off) and a trans you tube watcher and a straight white jewish woman and an active feminist engaging in maternal practice everyday… and I find your positions interesting and contributive to my own. Maybe you could use the opportunity to bring in to the round table (as a condition) someone who reflects a different social position than yours?

  6. 6 Jennie Havel April 20, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I think I first heard about you due to publicity that stemmed from who your parents are. But, I hadn’t actually heard of your parents before. I still don’t know anything about them. Who your parents are doesn’t mean anything to me, they’re just names. And actually I don’t even think I can remember them off the top of my head.

    The reason I started following you, instead of hearing about you and then forgetting you exist, is because you are awesome when it comes to writing about social justice issues. Especially trans misogyny. You are one of the first people I encountered who wasn’t a trans woman who seemed to get it, and that really meant something to me.

    So yes, while being the son of actors did play some role in your publicity, none of it is even slightly undeserved.

  7. 7 Jen April 20, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Stephen, regardless of what factors brought you to the table*, you have a voice and I trust you to use it appropriately. As a trans woman, as a human being engaged in critical inquiry, I’ve found your writing consistently thoughtful and inclusive, and the concern evinced in this very blog is exactly why I would like you to participate. Go for it!

    *There are many, many children of celebrities in the world, and while there is no separating that factor from people’s interest in you or your work, rest assured that such superficial motivation is wholly insufficient to retain the depth of attention you’ve already enjoy. You’ve earned it.

  8. 8 kadin April 20, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Yes, you’re voice is needed as part of the whole. While I agree that the conversation must include a very large number of trans women, trans men can still contribute to that conversation even if it’s to ask the question “can trans men be trans feminists?” Ms. Magazine as an institution won’t change unless writers and voices like yours tell them how fucked up they are – from the inside.

  9. 9 Sig April 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    You’re a great blogger and have much to say about social issues, you should consider participating for all the reasons people above said.

    Here comes the BUT! Be wary though and make sure to go over all the details and angles before publishing. Recently, I’ve seen a mad influx of self-proclaimed radical feminists who hate trans* women like it’s their job (men are mostly spared). We definitely need more strong trans* women voices around. I’d suggest referring the magazine to few others, maybe they’ll add someone else as well. Anyhow, good luck and I’m sure you’d be brilliant!

  10. 10 purplemary54 April 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    One of the things I’ve always thought feminism should do is create room for more voices, including male voices. Feminism is not, and should not, be thought of as a political philosophy that is exclusively female or that it only benefits women. Everyone wins in an equal society. As a transgendered person, you have the unique ability to look at issues from both of the social genders you’ve experienced. Your voice matters in the greater debate just as much as anyone else’s.

  11. 11 Lia April 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Like other people, I see plenty of good reasons for you to do this. Who your parents are should not matter. On the other hand, here’s what I think regarding your not wanting “to strut into the world expecting people to listen to what I have to say when I am working my thoughts out and unlearning my fucked up shit just as much as the next white guy.” There is nothing wrong with learning, unlearning, changing and growing in public view. You should not take yourself so seriously as to feel that you always have to be unambiguously right. On the other hand, it seems that you have a tendency to be a little tough on yourself (and others) and I wonder whether you’ll allow yourself the freedom that you need to change your mind in front of a large audience. This is essential. External pressure and a sense of responsibility to others make it sometimes hard to evolve. You also need to ask yourself whether you’re ready for the increased mainstream exposure that would result from taking up this job. Perhaps this is something to discuss with your mom and dad?

  12. 12 inoculatedcity April 24, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Given how recently Ms. published that terrible blog post, I don’t trust them, at all, since the Julia Serano piece was only published a month later when they got tons of backlash, thus risking their bottom line. It also seems like something that they should be having (at least primarily) trans women, particularly trans women of color, do. That said, though, I’m sure you’ll do an amazing job if you do go for it – definitely no critique of your work here; I thoroughly enjoy your blog – just my 2 cents about Ms. Magazine.

  13. 13 Lee April 26, 2012 at 3:43 am

    First I was like, whatever, do it. But then I went over to Ms and read the post and the trollfest that followed and I am now thinking “why feed this beast?” Who even reads Ms these days?

  14. 14 writealiving April 28, 2012 at 1:36 am

    I read this late and see you’re going to do it but still feel the need to comment.

    Who cares if you’re only being asked because your parents are actors. Don’t worry about seeming entitled. Worry that there are people in the world who need to hear a voice like yours present the struggle as well as the beauty of who you are. Not doing it for the wrong reasons is the same as walking away from the great education you’re getting and going to a sub par school. What exactly would that prove and who would it benefit? You have an opportunity. Use it. I hate saying that because I know you have your own shit to sort out, but I firmly believe everything happens for a reason. You are a gift to people who need you.

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