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June 1, 2009

Three Quick Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 4:40 pm

The Bad

More bullshit on NPR this morning. This time, a story called “Silicone Injections May Harm Some Patients” which starts with the line “Vanity has a price.” The story starts by describing some health problems experienced by women who got silicone facial injections in the 70s and 80s – although these “health problems” sound like little more than mildly embarrassing facial deformations to me. Their most serious example is a woman who, in her 40s, had a doctor fill the wrinkles in her forehead with silicone and now, in her 60s, has small ridges on her forehead that make her look “like a Klingon” (the doctor’s words, not the woman’s.)

Towards the end, however, the story goes on to mention some young trans women – who the reporter calls “transgenders” – injecting non-medical grade silicone, which is sometimes cut with other chemicals and can result in serious burns or, in one case, a silicone-induced heart embolism. The article mentions that these harmful substances are often peddled by unscrupulous people trying to make a buck off of “transgenders” – who are painted in this article as naive, reckless, vain and impatient, and described explicitly as being “so anxious about their appearance they’re not willing to wait for medical hormone treatment to work” – but includes no analysis as to why these women are more susceptible to this kind of predation than the presumably equally naive, reckless, vain, impatient and anxious women at the beginning of the story.

Instead, with her multiple references to what transgender women do – not some of the trans teenagers who attend this particular support group at the LA Children’s Hospital, nor even any specific demographic of transgender women, but just “transgenders” (you can almost hear her trying not to say “trannies”) – the reporter blithely perpetuates a stereotype that all transwomen are poor, neurotic, vain, urban People of Color, recklessly and ignorantly buying and shooting up what apparently amounts to street drugs, in order to get “large breasts and a cuter face…in a few hours!”

Mostly, the reporter talks to the doctor who runs the support group – evidently her only source of information about this issue – but she does interview one of the participants. Here’s her quote:

“I like that my insides match my outsides. And if I feel like a woman, I wanna actually look like one. It kinda eats you up inside. So why not slowly change my outside to match my insides?”

Is it nice to hear a young transgender Woman of Color talk about herself on national radio? Hell yeah. But here’s the quote from the one other silicone-user interviewed:

“I wasn’t told that there could be any problems with it, and so I started a series of small injections into the line from the nose corner to the side of the mouth. [Now,] particularly on one side, it has been lumpy, a little bumpy.”

This woman wasn’t asked to justify her use of silicone – just to detail its tragic consequences. Furthermore, all the early quotes from doctors and dermatologists in the segment are about how silicone injections affected patients – only when they start talking about transgender women does the focus shifts to why people choose to inject it. Even though, in the case of people looking for affordable ways to transition, that answer seems far more obvious and explicable to me than why rich women from Manhattan need to flatten their foreheads.

I think the fact that some transgender folks are in a position where transitioning requires them to put their health at great risk is messed up, important to talk about, and definitely newsworthy – and, to be honest, I didn’t know anything about silicone-injection before I heard the story. So, thanks NPR. But couching it in a story about “the dangers of silicone injections” is inappropriate.

The most annoying, indicative, funniest part of this story was listening to the reporter’s commentary on each of the above quotes. Saying, with exactly the same degree of deadpan, straight-faced, What A Tragedy seriousness, both “Patients have been hospitalized because chemicals mixed with silicone caused severe burns” and “There are other lumps on her chin. And she says one side looks puffy.”

In other words: “Some rich women have lumpy foreheads and some poor women are dying in the ER – and that’s because SILICONE IS BAD FOR YOU! C’mon ladies. Why y’all gotta be so vain?”

That’s transphobic.
(Not to mention mysoginist.)

Thanks, NPR.

The Good

But! In contrast to NPR sucking, Octavia Butler is awesome! I’ve been making an effort to read more works by Women of Color lately. I haven’t been very successful in this so far, which is an issue that deserves its own post, but I have been reading Butler’s Blood Child and Other Stories this week. This is the first of her work that I’ve read. I’d enjoyed and been impressed by the first few stories, but they hadn’t really clicked with me on a deep level…

And then, this morning at the gym, I read “Speech Sounds.” Holy shit. That’s what I said as I read the last sentence. “Holy shit.” Then I started crying, on the treadmill, in front of everybody. It was one of those stories where…I didn’t realize it was coming. Not the ending; there was no major twist or Sixth Sense shocker. But my emotional reaction. Here I am, reading along, interesting story, feeling fine, and then BAM! I’m sobbing.

I don’t want to tell you what the story’s about, because it’s so finely crafted and dense that I feel like even the most cursory description would be a spoiler. But if community, language, and the relationship between them are important to you, you should read it. I can’t guarantee it’ll make you cry. That might just be me. But it’s a hell of a story. And the last line, in its aching simplicity, will stick with me for a very long time.

…And The Funny

This is one of my favorite quotes. Reportedly, it’s something my great-grandfather used to say after a good meal. It occurred to me last night that it would also make a pretty great epitaph:

I’ve had my sufficiency,
Any more would be a superfluity,
And any less would have been a calamity.

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