Open Letter to Lauren Smiley @ SF Weekly

Dear Ms. Smiley,

I'm a bit confused. It seems from your title that you're excited about having a transperson as a city supervisor but I can't figure out why. After the disaster of your "Border Crossing" article - the WANTED posters for you are still hanging about - it seems you would want to improve your reputation with the trans community.

Obviously not so much.

Let's start with the bublegum pink cover with heeled pumps and curlicue script. These are symbols of conventional, stereotypical femininity. A woman who served as a CEO, overseen the transition of one of San Francisco’s most notorious businesses, served as SFPD Commissioner and currently heads a commission that’s constantly under attack from all sides is the kind of woman – say, like Hillary Clinton – who gets labeled as “exceptional”, “barrier-breaking” and quintessentially “unfeminine” along with a host of more crude epithets. Hyperfemininity is a trademark of drag queens, female impersonators and some cross dressers, all of whom are often confused with transwomen but not by anyone who researches the population for more than a few minutes.

Then there’s the outright repulsive habit you have of critiquing Ms. Sparks presentation. Would you comment on Medea Benjamin’s shoe size in your first line? Would you spend space repeatedly discussing Sandra Bernhardt’s baritone voice? And what do you mean with verbs like “gives away” and “belying”? What is given away or belied are your personal stereotypes of what a woman voice should sound like. How well your prejudices are serving you is your business. I have never heard Ms. Sparks states she possesses telepathy and I sincerely doubt that with her busy schedule she has the time or patience to ascertain everyone’s subconscious perceptions of femininity, much less perform them simultaneously or satisfactorily. Maybe all cisgendered women do this flawlessly and without apparent effort or maybe you just give each other more space for expression since you’re in the club by birthright. It’s quite clear from your patrolling of appearance that you may accept Ms. Sparks as a mascot but never a true member.

As a second wave feminist I will always cringe when a political candidate, especially a woman, is introduced hair-and-wardrobe first. And I will always be appalled when people decide to create a freak show presentation for a transperson by focusing on transition as the primary goal of their life. Puh-leaze. The “tragic/triumphant tranny” has been old in anywhere that gets satellite television for years. Was that really the best use of more than two pages of print?

You came so close so many times but never asked the relevant questions. What types of discrimination do African Americans and transpeople have in common? What issues are transpeople in the tenderloin facing? What about cisgendered people in District 6? Why are unemployment figures for the trans community double that of the general population? What kinds of workplace discrimination has Ms. Sparks experienced? How has her transition impacted her views on sexism and how has sexism impacted her career? How does she feel about the cultural shift from blatant transphobia to tokenization of transpeople and does she feel this has been part of her appointments? The abbreviated sections on items pertinent to Ms. Sparks as a candidate: comparisons between her and Harvey Milk, her consensus building, and her career were tantalizing but stopped just as they generated relevance.

What you in particular and San Francisco Weekly in general continue to do is no different really than so many self-proclaimed trans activists. You just do it more publicly and in print which influences your readers which in turn encourages the atmosphere of hate and intolerance that keep those unemployment figures ridiculously high. The trans community is firmly closed to outsiders for very good reason and your body of work, and the work of your paper, will keep you far away. The considerable privileges that you flaunt so readily will cost you dearly in the end. How? Well, that’s a real story.

Tom Birch

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