Marquette Journal

Marquette talks trans

By Jesse Carpender. Published Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Milwaukee filmmaker Ashley Altadonna will show two of her films about gender, transitioning and her own experiences as a transsexual woman on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. in Cudahy 001.

Altadonna is following a trend of trans speakers at Marquette in recent years in the footsteps of trans women Deborah Davis and Julia Serano. Discussion of transgender people and transgender issues is not only less taboo at Marquette, but also reflects a cultural need to discuss these topics.

Trans people have been positively represented on TV recently – MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew’s latest season features Vogue Evolution, with four openly gay crew members and out trans woman Leiomy Maldonado. ABDC has been incredibly positive in its representation of the crew and has fearlessly discussed the crew’s gender and orientation.

Lil’ Mama, who is a judge on ABDC, told Maldonado: “You’re doing this for America. Even though you’re the face for transgenders, you’re the face of America right now with this group, and it’s not about anybody else.”

Although many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were impressed by ABDC’s fearless approach, some criticized Lil’ Mama for her misuse of language about trans people.

Language is a difficulty in educating the majority about transgender people. Many people feel nervous when it comes to discussing trans people simply because they are unsure of the terminology to use in a politically correct culture.

Part of the problem is that the media is just as scared when it comes to reporting on trans people. Reporters are unsure of the issues and afraid to use the wrong words to express them. Feministe, a feminist blog, recently called out the media on its lack of self-education.

It is easy for cis (non-transsexual) people to misunderstand how to talk about trans people. A common misunderstanding is the difference between trans gender, transsexual and transvestite. According to Gay Life on

  • A transsexual is a person who alters their physical appearance either by operation or hormones to become a member of the opposite sex. Transsexuals can be either female to male (FtM) or male to female (MtF) and are sometimes referred to as “post-opt” after surgery.
  • A transgender person is one that crosses gender boundaries or a man or woman that adopts the attributes of the opposite sex. The sexual preference of a transgender person often varies.
  • A transvestite is a man or woman that dresses in the clothing of the opposite sex. A transvestite is also known as a drag queen (a man who dresses in women’s clothing), a drag king (a woman who dresses in men’s clothing) or cross dresser.

Understand that fear comes from ignorance. If you have never met a trans person, you may fear them, just as we all fear the unknown. The best way to overcome that fear is to meet people who are different from ourselves. Legitimize our common human experience.