This presentation defines the phrase “transgender exigency” as a situation marked by an urgent need; in this case, the need to address the political and definitional challenges evinced by the need for transgender rights. The presentation provides evidence for substantial prejudice against transgender people, as well as the dramatic increase in transgender visibility and rights in the 2010s. The collision of prejudice and visibility has led to a series of controversies that involve “regulatory definitions” imposed by institutions or legislatures, some of which are the subject of Schiappa’s forthcoming book, The Transgender Exigency: Defining Sex & Gender in the 21st Century.
Edward Schiappa is the John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His work in rhetorical theory and media studies has been published in journals in Classics, Psychology, Philosophy, English, Law, and Communication Studies. He is author of a number of books, including Defining Reality: Definitions and the Politics of Meaningand Beyond Representational Correctness: Rethinking Criticism of Popular Media.
The following is an machine-generated transcript, with human corrections. For any errors the human missed, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edward Schiappa 00:48
So I guess what I’ll do is I’ll just go ahead and jump in. And then by when I when I get done with my part of the presentation that we have plenty of time for
Edward Schiappa 01:00
q&a. So let’s just jump into the slides here. So the title here is the transgender exigency the role of media representation. That’s partially a riff on a book I have coming out that is also titled the transgender exigenc- exigency. So the first question I have is, why am I using that word exigency? Well, I like it. And I think it’s accurate because an exigency is a situation marked by an urgent need. And I describe the current situation is one that because attitudes, practices and laws are changing rapidly, particularly in the 2010s. And there is an increasingly at times vehement clash between opposing viewpoints. And I literally believe that lives are in the balance. And I think that that’s one of the things I’ll talk about during the talk is the threats of threats and reality of violence towards the transgender community. So I think we are in an urgent situation where we need to think about the issues that I try to address in the book, much of what you’ll hear tonight is drawn from one chapter in particular, that focuses on the rise of visibility in various forms of media, particularly in the 2010s. So I do want to make it clear that the scope of my comments today, in terms of what I mean by media, I will delineate exactly what I mean by that in a little bit. But there is a broader view, if you’re interested. Here’s there’s a recent issue of the International Journal of Communication, which is an online journal that you can access for free. There’s a discussion by TJ Billard, and others that take a much broader view of the media landscape in terms of transgender issues. And you can see the title there rethinking and re theorizing transgender media representation. So I want to give a quick shout out to that, that roundtable discussion. So the first point that I want to make is that visibility, trans visibility is pretty much at an all time high. And I can say that, in part because I’m old. And I remember the decades of coverage of different kinds of issues, social movement issues, including those dealing with LGBT issues before we get got to an increased visibility of the T. So for example, in 2012, then Vice President Joe Biden was quoted calling transgender equality the civil rights issue of the time, he has said that again since that time, the 2015 State of the Union address was the first time in history where a US president uttered the word transgender in public. And as a more recent barometer in 2020, literally a record number of openly transgender candidates ran for political office. And when Joe Biden was elected, literally the first day in office, he signed a number of executive orders that dealt with transgender issues. So visibility is no all time high. However, visibility is not equal acceptance. I’m going to dive into that, for part of tonight’s presentation. The main point that I want to make for the next few minutes and document the various empirical evidence that’s available is that there is still substantial prejudice against trans people in the US, may be obvious but it needs to be laid out in a scholarly manner, I don’t use the word transphobia. I remember in the 80s and 90s, when we advocates moved away from homophobia, and tried to use more precise terminology, including simply prejudice, Gregory Herek, who’s one of the foremost psychologists who has done a good deal of research on public attitudes towards the LGBT community also calls this sexual prejudice rather than reducing it to a phobia, which in some cases is not particularly accurate. Trans prejudice is a term that I’ve heard that I like.
Edward Schiappa 05:43
So one of the earliest studies, in fact, was by Herek and Norton. And the data was actually collected in 2005, even though it wasn’t published til 2012. It was a survey of 2281, heterosexual, so pretty good size N there for that study, and they found some things that I think are noteworthy. One of the things that they found was that the attitudes towards transgender people correlate with attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. As you can see, the correlation here is between .66 and .84. That’s not .99 however, there is some differentiation going on. The other thing that Norton and Herek point out is that the attitudes are less favorable towards transgender people as a category than they are towards gay men and towards lesbians. So the measure that they used of that Herek has developed a number of different scales, but then for this particular study, what they use is, is a fairly straightforward and easy to use tool called a feeling thermometer. And this is particularly good for short phone interviews, where you where you say, on a thermometer, where 100 is the high, 50 is lukewarm, kind of take it or leave it in zero is as cold as you can get. How would you describe your feeling towards this group, and I’m going to show you a chart on that in just a minute. But for transgender people, women responded with a 36.2, which is, again, substantially below lukewarm. So that’s a chilly reaction. And it’s even lower 27.63 for men. So, you know, this data is now 16 years old. And we do know that there are changes happening in terms of attitudes towards transgender people, but it is one of the more thorough studies, and therefore one that I think still informs the landscape, the political landscape that we’re in right now. So here’s a chart from that study. And I’ll just walk you through it a little bit. That top line was what I just described you the thermometer score for women in men towards transgender people, you will notice right below it, or is the category men in general. And notice that women scored men more warmly than men did, right? Women scored men at 65.71. Men scored men at 59.03. So we’re talking even in the most favorable categories here on this whole chart, you know, we’re in, it’s not the exact same as temperature. But you know, we’re, we’re not in high heat of 80s and 90s here. And you can see the score for women in general is is comparable, actually, both groups around 67. And then you can also see the scores for gay men and lesbian women and bisexual men and women. So it drops down but the lowest group on this particular chart is in fact, transgender people. At the very bottom, by the way, you’ll see two abbreviations there, ATG and ATL. What that refers to are two instruments that a Herek has developed. One is called the attitude towards gay men. And the other one is the attitudes towards lesbians. And, you know, it is a I can’t tell you what these particular scores mean, because I have to go back and take a look at the article. But but that’s those are frequently used measures of attitudes. And in fact, in some of the research that I’ll talk about later, that my colleagues back in Minnesota and I did with respect to media representations of gay men, we use the ATG instrument to assess those attitudes. Okay. Slightly more recent surveys 2011, 2013, it’s interesting this top statistic here that was found in 2011, is that less than 10% of people said that they know someone who is transgender. That’s significant for two reasons. One is, as we will see, that means that stereotypes and media coverage are more likely to influence people who do not have direct real world contact with a social group. The other is that we’re going to see that that number has climbed substantially in the last decade.
Edward Schiappa 10:34
There’s still an acknowledgment in these studies that significant discriminat- discrimination exists the HRC survey from 2011 also use the feeling thermometer. They report the data in the pie chart there at the bottom. If you add cool with with not particularly warm or cool, you’ll see that that’s over 60%. You’re about to almost 75%. And so still pretty unsupportive attitudes when asking in this particular form. Now, despite this, the existence of this prejudice and relatively tepid scores towards the category of transgender people, in the last 20 years, and particularly last 10 years, there’s been remarkable success in many jurisdictions in securing legal rights against discrimination. And there’s a book that I wanted to share with you here by Taylor, Lewis, and Haider-Markel, called the remarkable rise of transgender rights. And, you know, they’re, they’re quite clear, and that is that this is a really rapid and remarkable rise that in some ways, bootstraps on the the rights movements and the successes of the gay rights movements, which arguably culminated in the Supreme Court validating same sex marriage not that many years ago. And so what we know is that that attitudes towards LGB is not the same as attitudes towards T. But as I noted earlier, they are correlated. So there is some related effects here. Now, one of the things that’s particularly interesting is that if you ask people straight up, should discrimination against transgender people be legal? Most people will say, No. So this particular prompt in this study was transgender people deserve the same rights and protections of other Americans. 67%, two thirds completely agree. And it goes up to 89%. If you add the next group, which is mostly agree, that’s really strong support, and you’ll see that, you know, even in the lower categories here, Republicans 54% agree, 32% mostly agree that’s 86% combined. And similarly, with the Midwest, those are the two lowest scores. But even those, if you combine the completely with mostly agree, you’ll find strong agreement with the notion that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections. However, that is, in part because they are being asked the question in more broad terms, when you push more specific issues, that support drops dramatically. Or for another example that they that they talk about, is, you know, they will support general rights. But then if you ask them, will you support a trans transgender candidate for office, again, support drops dramatically. Now, there are various predictors, as you may have seen in that earlier, some of that earlier data, but one of the effect let me just go back to that for a moment. See if I can, yeah, I think I actually skipped over this chart accidentally. These are some of the correlates of attitudes towards transgender people. And so the column that’s important here is the one under number one. This is what correlates with attitudes towards transgender people. So the ones with asterisks are statistically significant. Okay. The ones without asterisks means that was not statistically significant. So you’ll see if you look basically from 7 down to 11, political conservativism means more prejudice or cooler.
Edward Schiappa 14:57
Cooler temp right. Anti-egalitarianism which is sort of similar to authoritarianism, I might add. Religiosity. Gender binary beliefs. .29, right? So you know, you can a lot of people today understand gender binary well enough to say, do you? Do you favor gender binaries? Or do you think we should be breaking them down? And a significant number of people still strongly believe and support the gender binary binary, including, by the way, some transgender people. And, but what we find is that that correlates, not as strong as religion does. But it’s the second strongest factor on this list in terms of predicting negative attitudes towards transgender groups. Okay. And the strongest factor there at the very bottom is that ATG score that I talked about earlier, meaning that if a person has negative attitudes towards gay men in particular, they are more likely to have negative attitudes towards transgender people in general. Okay. Alright, so. Alright, so one of those, as you recall, was this belief of the gender binary. And one way to describe that is belief in what is commonly described as biological essentialism. Biological essentialism, or biological determinism, are terms that refer to the belief that sex determines gender, that, and that’s genetic, right. So if you believe that, you know, again, to throw in the religiosity part, you know, God made boys and girls gave them this genetic code. And that’s what makes them naturally feminine and masculine. That’s a belief in biological essentialism. That, of course, is a belief that feminists have been battling since the late 60s, early 70s. Sandra Bem has a wonderful book called the lenses of gender, she identifies three core beliefs that inform sexism. And this is number one, the belief in biological essentialism. Similarly, studies that find that if people are supportive of what we call gender traditionalism, that also correlates with anti trans prejudice. You know, there’s there’s literally a beer commercial that says men should act like men. And that’s an example of gender traditionalism being reinforced, right. A couple studies here that support that. I’m happy to share these slides, by the way with anybody who wants a PDF of them later. And I can also provide citations, I’m hoping that I provide you with enough that you could look it up yourself. But if you want further citations, happy to provide any of those. So let’s talk more about the media now and the media’s role. First thing I want to recommend if you have access to it is a documentary that’s available on Netflix called Disclosure. And if you remember the celuloid celuloid closet, from a while ago, that gave a narrative about how gays and lesbians are just were portrayed in popular media, particularly fiction. This is sort of the updated version of that applies specifically to transgender issues. And I think they do A a good job with it. I want to point out a few examples from the early 90s. That again, I’m old enough to remember pretty vividly when these came out, upper left hand well actually start with the lower left hand corner. This is a highly talked about scene from The Crying Game, where the protagonist is about to make love with a character named Dil, who in this moment in the film, Fergus realizes has a penis is a trans woman, and responds by punching Dil and then running to the bathroom and vomiting. In the upper right hand corner is the comedy Soap Dish. The villain of the movie is the one yelling No, no, no here in what’s happening is on a live broadcast of the soap opera.
Edward Schiappa 19:43
characters come out and reveal from a yearbook that in fact, she’s a transexual, as the terminology was at the time, and this is apparently such a humiliating revelation that she goes running off stage and is plot wise defeated in the movie. And then in the upper left hand corner is Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. And this is the big reveal scene, where again, a female character is is revealed to be transgender. And it is, it actually parodies the crying game a little bit, because one reaction that some people have to the revelation is that they throw up. And again, you know, these portrayals are examples of pretty negative portrayals that were, most people kind of went with the flow in the early 90s. And these, these movies, all three of them were successful in their own in their own right. And the point that I want to make here is if you put these things together, his prejudice is really bad. We’re not just talking about people saying rude things. We’re talking about real consequences here, and want to share some of that data with you. So the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network reports that 75% of transgender students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression. And in the most comprehensive gathering of data, the US Transgender Survey in 2015, that transgender students indicate 54% being verbally harassed, 24% physically attacked, 13% sexually assaulted. Those are pretty unfortunate statistics. There is a meta analysis in the sense of kind of actually a meta literature review done by Zack Marshall in 2019. That found that between 2010 and 2014, looking just at studies at transgender, non binary and gender diverse individuals that there are 99 studies, or articles exploring discrimination, and marginalization of transgender people, another 47 documenting violence and trauma. So a very well documented phenomenon. In a survey of just from last June 2020 1500, self identified members of the LGBTQ community 62% of transgender Americans reported facing discrimination of some kind in the past year, that would have been 2021. Two thirds report that that discrimination moderately are significantly affected their psychological well being with roughly half recording moderate to significant physical impacts as well. So there’s a lot of prejudice in the media has played a role in that. Well, let’s, let’s unpack that a bit more. But before I get to that, one last slide here, in 2019, again, you know, less than two years ago, both the Human Rights Coalition and the arguably nonpartisan American Medical Association described violence against transgender people as an epidemic. And it’s not all stranger violence, there’s a lot of documentation on partner violence against transgender people as well, in this particular study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, found that as many as 50% experienced that violence continues. This is a headline from May 2021, the US hits record for transgender killings. And they’re actually not one but two Wikipedia pages that are devoted to trying to keep up with documenting these unfortunate killings.
Edward Schiappa 24:01
Okay, so there’s a problem here, and the media plays a role. And that’s what I want to talk about two ways in which the media plays a role. The first is through the way the news frames issues. TJ Billard, who I mentioned a little bit earlier, did a study in 2016, where he analyzed a number of different dimensions of language used in media coverage, and argued that there are certain kinds of language that are very delegitimizing for the trans community. misgendering would be an obvious example. And that that kind of language can detrimentally impact both the projected legitimacy of transgender claims, particularly political claims, and in general public perceptions of the transgender community. So how stories are framed that involve transgender people can play a attitude, influencing role. Barry Tadlock political scientist did a study that covered over about 20 years worth of news coverage. He looked primarily at these newspapers that are some regional, nationally read newspapers, and found some interesting things. Most articles about transgender people were highly individualistic about this transgender person or that transgender person. And that is processed by people very differently. And that’s different than a systemic or a policy oriented kinds of orientation. In fact, systemic orientation only occurred in 1.7% of the articles that Tadlock looked at. The dominant frames that Tadlock found were things like education, which means educating the reader about transgender issues, equality claims, Liberty claims, safety and security, which sometimes refer to the safety and security of transgender people. Sometimes the safety and security fears that people have transgender people. Pathology, is as it sounds, a negative frame that describes transgender people as having a pathological issue. Tadlock found in about half of the study studies, or articles that she’d say, analyze, there’s actually pretty evident positive or negative perspective being proposed about half the time. And of those 29 articles 10 of 29 were explicitly negative and anti transgender rights. So the media framing plays a role. Now recall that Tadlock’s analysis ended in 2011, I think it would be a good research project to update that analysis. And if anybody’s interested in working with me on that, otherwise, I do know of some potential collaborators across the river. Anecdotally, I tend to notice in the last year or so, two sort of frames that, again, I’ve noticed I can’t claim empirically that they’re dominant, but one is framing that clearly makes it a statement that there are policy proposals that are attacks on transgender people. And this one from CNN from April of this year. He says this record breaking year for anti transgender legislation would affect minors the most. So you know, that positions transgender people, as in this case, you know, victims of policy assault, if you will. The the alternative framing that I think is also pretty common this is this is one from television is the more typical, pseudo neutral frame of It’s a battle, right, the battle over transgender rights, and which case the news author is ostensibly not on either side, but is reporting that there’s a battle that kind of in that kind of framing of course, equalizes matters and normalizes the conflict. So my working hypothesis that I’d like to explore empirically is whether or not those in fact are predominant frames or not.
Edward Schiappa 28:43
We also know is an interesting study that that came out this year. That framing impacts transgender people as audience members as well. And here you see the headline for yourself. This is in a journal called LGBT Health, negative transgender related media message, our messages are associated with adverse mental health outcomes and a multi state study of transgender adults. In fact, in some instances, that kind of reaction was described as like post traumatic stress, because the coverage forced some viewers to kind of relive prejudice or attacks that they’d had to experience themselves in the past. The other way that media can influence attitudes that potentially I think is more positive, is through entertainment media. There’s a great deal of research, some of which I’m going to talk about here. That indicates that media representation really does matter. It’s not only the if you can see it, you can be it coverage, which I think is also important, but it can also actually decrease prejudice towards specific social groups. And remember that statistic I said earlier were only 10% said they know somebody who’s transgender. We know from the research that I’m about to describe that the the entertainment media is effect is the biggest, with those people who don’t have real world contact with those groups. So, to to get us there, I want to quickly recall what’s known as the contact hypothesis that dates back to the 1950s. It’s most often credited, although you don’t think he actually originated it, but he certainly popularized it, Gordon Alport. And he believed and argues in his his 1954, very, very influential book on prejudice, that prejudice is fueled by ignorance, that we don’t know a social group, and therefore we reduce them to the stereotypes that we’ve heard about them that are frequently false and negative. So Alport helped to popularize the contact hypothesis that says contact facilitates learning about a social group. And if you the more you learn about a group, and recognize how diverse they are, and that, you know, the stereotypes are wrong, and overgeneralize, then the more you can reduce prejudice. Now, there’s been six decades, almost seven, seven decades of research on the contact hypothesis is been supported by literally hundreds of studies. And the last meta analysis, I saw I think, had over 600 studies that have supported the contact hypothesis. But in the process of articulating it, there are certain conditions that need to be met for contact contact, to have a beneficial prejudice reducing effect, there needs to be a perception of equal status. That’s why in the Deep South, blacks and whites had a lot of contact. But until the Civil Rights legislation established equal, more equal rights, you know, Jim Crow laws were still essentially reinforcing the prejudicial attitudes that many southerners had. It helps to have common goals, it helps to have situations where there can be intergroup cooperation. Importantly, this next one deserves sort of an extra star, it needs to not be opposed by authorities. And the law, which again explains why in the south, it took major legislation to begin to break down the level of prejudice and, and there of course needs to be sufficient contact both quantity and quality wise to
Edward Schiappa 32:47
permit people to learn about groups and for their prejudice to be reduced. A movie that really nicely illustrates what I’m talking about here is a movie called Remember The Titans which is actually based on a true story in Virginia, where they, the first year they integrated the football team. And both sides start off very distrustful of the other. And particularly the white students were, you know, obviously in the in majority group, and were many of whom were pretty racist. But the coaches eventually work together and they create that situation where there was the black and white players had to room together at camp, they had to learn about each other, they had to report something that they learned about their their roommate. And then of course, they had the common goals have success in the game. And by the end of the movie, the the two featured characters, one white, white one, black, had become essentially best friends. And of course, the team was very, very successful. But what I like about it in particular, other than it’s based on a true story, is that it it really does illustrate the contact hypothesis in the various conditions involved with it being met. Yeah, as I just said, It met these various conditions. Now, what happened in about 2005 is the development of something that my colleagues and I called the parasocial contact hypothesis. Parasocial simply refers to the fact that the contact is not face to face, but as mediated. And there’s already a body of literature going back to the 50s that talked about parasocial interaction and parasocial relationships. Hortman and Wohl turn that phrase back in 1956. So what we did was we basically smooshed together the notion of parasocial interaction with the contact hypothesis, and did a series of I think we did a total of five or six studies that found that people can learn through that parasocial contact, in ways that are analogous to the contact hypothesis, face to face learning experiences, and it can reduce prejudice. So, five of those studies were published in, I guess it was five studies. Communication Monographs, the 2005 article was simply titled The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis. In the Journal of homosexuality, we published a study specifically on the TV show Will and Grace. And in my book Beyond Representational Correctness, I talked about a film class that I talk that we found that watching certain films decrease prejudice towards sexual minorities. The studies or the shows in the communication monographs article included Six Feet Under, and the original iteration of the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which was a great stimuli set of stimuli because there are five different gay guys on the show. So there was a lot of opportunity for viewers who might not know any game men in real life, to learn a lot about that category. And this research was actually the first empirical research that documented that prejudice could be reduced towards sexual minorities. And
Edward Schiappa 36:24
yeah, so that’s the parasocial contact hypothesis. And again, I want to emphasize that the sort of the amount of change depended on prior contact. So if you had a person who already had two or three gay friends, their attitudes were not changed all that much, if at all. But it was that group that had little to no real world contact, and therefore you didn’t know much about other than stereotypes. That is the group where we saw the most dramatic decrease of prejudice. And I love this quote from Gordon Alport. A differentiated category is the opposite of a stereotype. So when you learn that members of a particular social group are actually quite varied, it is a key cognitive step into breaking down that prejudice. We actually also included a study I forgot this one this was on about Eddie Izzard, who is a actor and stand up comic. And Eddie in those days, referred to themself as a transvestite. And in a stand up routine that we had people view at differentiated between weirdo transvestites and executive transvestites, and he does this whole thing about it being a broader community. That’s category work. That is exactly the kind of benefit that contact help provides. Our research has been out there for a while now. It’s been replicated by scholars literally all over the world, working on mediated contact between a wide variety of majority and minority population. So as an empirical proposition, it’s it’s, it’s in pretty good shape. So what does that have to do with transgender issues? This is Jazz Jennings, if you don’t recognize her in this photo? Well, again, you know, I had a picture on the very first slide of the when Time magazine declared a transgender moment. We had increased visibility, particularly in 2015. You had things like Orange Is the New Black with Laverne, of Laverne Cox, featured in it she was on the cover of that time magazine article I had earlier. Transparent was hitting the airwaves and had several seasons. Diane Sawyer had her interview with soon to be Caitlyn Jenner. And there were three new reality shows that all featured transgender lead characters I am Kate about Caitlyn Jenner, I am jazz about Jazz Jennings, which has six seasons and becoming us that was a one season reality show. And I am actually not going to show this film clip in the interest of time.
Edward Schiappa 39:17
And, but this was a an article about Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, which was actually right before Jenner came out as Caitlin. But it was announcing the intention to transition and that created quite a media moment that is been studied are going to turn next up. Nope, there we go. Later that same year is when the the famous Vanity Fair issue came out. Call me Caitlyn. And what there’s very interesting research that specifically is about the impact Caitlyn Jenner had in particular. So, Li in a 2018 study found that news framing of transgender issues improved after that 2020 interview. By improved I mean things like less misgendering and more sympathetic framing of transgender issues. Study by Patrick Miller and colleagues. And there’s a an unpublished version in 2019, and a published version in 2020, both of which provide empirical support that particularly among older viewers, who remember Jenner, as an Olympic athlete in 1976, I confess that I’m in that group that remembers that found that that group in particular older viewers who generally are more conservative in their attitudes on on issues of sexual minorities, that gender story was meaningful and prompted a more empathetic response. They found that exposure, the gender gender story predicted reduced prejudice and quote, following the gender story itself, as a form of parasocial contact may have caused ameliorated attitudes towards transgender people and rights. Okay, so that story by itself was quite noteworthy in 2015. There were other shows, as I mentioned earlier, some of these documentaries and and of course, mirror reality shows rather. And one of the things that Li notes in 2021 article is that the depiction of the site of the transition itself the psychological shifts and coping mechanisms of trans gendering with transgender loved ones guide out-group members, that is to say, cisgender viewers, through the process of learning what transgender identity is, how to live with it, and unlearning gender hegemony so very much consistent with what the parasocial contact hypothesis would say. Learn about the group by seeing transgender people portrayed in this works by the way, regardless of whether it is reality or fictive television fictional narratives also have this, this can have this prejudice reducing effect. A couple others that I’m going to run through fairly quickly in the interest of time here. If there’s a YouTube channel, NickieTutorials, who is a makeup, makeup in fashion, primarily makeup, I think, I am not an expert, but she came out as transgender. About a year ago, I want to say, and that video has been viewed over 37 million times. And there is another study that I cited in the book that looks at YouTube content talks about how important YouTube content is for transgender youth in particular, to connect with others. There’s a study 400 viewers of an episode of Royal Pains, which is a dramedy that is not ostensibly about transgender issues, it’s a medical dramas. But there was an episode where a transgender character was central. And they found that even a single episode with a relatively brief storyline can infer the influential for decreasing prejudice. And that was a study that was published in 2018. Visibility and representation of transgender people and TV is up you see two examples here of Nicole Maines and Supergirl, who she is transgender, and she plays a transgender character. And on Grey’s Anatomy, I don’t know I don’t watch the show. But this character was on there for a while. I don’t know if he’s still on there. But Alex Blue Davis, again, a transgender man playing a transgender man. So representation is increasing.
Edward Schiappa 44:11
As I mentioned at the outset, visibility can be a double edged sword. On one hand, we do know that prayer, social contact has the potential to decrease prejudice. On the other hand, remember those conditions that our ports, subsequent research, so all the hundreds of studies that were done on the contact hypothesis demonstrating opposition from a salient authority can mute or moot the impact or some or all of the impact of positive pair social contact, if it is opposed by a salient authority figure. So and we just had four years of that right. We had pretty pro the emergence of pro transgender issues in the in the at the end of the Obama administration in particular You know, and that came under a crashing halt under the Trump administration. And we now find various Republican politicians taking pretty anti trans positions that matters study just published in 2020, here by Jones and Brewer, basing, they’re doing a study of data from 2015 16 found that politically aware citizens tend to follow their elite cues along ideological lines. In other words, it matters if the head of the Republican Party takes an anti trans position, and the head of the Democratic Party takes a pro trans position. That is a doesn’t have to be translated that way. But the fact is, that it is it is for many people. And that’s why they conclude that the future trajectory of public opinion on transgender rights with us seem to depend significantly on the behavior of elites, okay. And, in general, yeah. So I’m going to have to look at the chat stuff when I get done. But I promise I will do that at that point. So in general, what’s happened with transgender issues is that they become the latest front in the so called culture wars. There’s a recent just last week, column by Judith Butler in The Guardian, where she describes what she believes is a worldwide effort to quash LGBTQ in general, with transgender issues being sort of the wedge issue, if you will. And she says the attacks on so called gender ideology have grown throughout the world stoked by electronic networks and backed by extensive right wing Catholic and evangelical organizations. And we might add in the US, in many places, the Republican Party. And her point is, is that, you know, even those these efforts may be in terms of their leadership, nationalistic, transphobic, misogynist, and homophobic. The aim, they believe, is to reverse progressive legislation that has been won over a period of decades, decades of progress by the feminist movement and LGBTQI issues. And there’s a link to her article from last week in The Guardian, you find it pretty easily by looking at that date, October 23. So it’s definitely been activated. I’ll give you a couple of quick examples. There have been efforts in some states to deny medical care for transgender minors, particularly puberty blocking, or her hormone therapy drugs. The red states are states that are have either passed it or considering passing it. Another example is dealing with bathrooms in particular, you’ll see that North Carolina is no longer red. It was actually one of the first states that pass such a law. But there was so much backlash to it that they largely have backed off of that with the election of a Democratic governor. But you can see there are some states that are green, that means that they actually have passed legislation to protect transgender peoples from being discriminated against for bathroom access. And some of those laws have actually been on the books for years and years now. So we actually have a lot of empirical data showing that there’s no harm done. And we do still have some conservative states there that are considering or passing. There’s actually a number of states where this has been proposed, but relatively few where it has passed so far. Sports is a particular hotspot, there have been I think, 10 states now that have passed laws, that they that in public schools that forbid
Edward Schiappa 49:05
they’re primarily aimed at transgender girls competing with on the girls teams. You can see these are all sort of recognizable as fairly conservative states. South Dakota was a state where the governor actually vetoed the law, but then did very similar things through executive action. Texas, Governor Abbott just signed that that law this in this past week, there are other states including Massachusetts and Connecticut, that have the opposite kind of laws that specifically protect students access to sporting teams, based on gender identity. So it’s definitely a flashpoint going on right now. And that’s what essentially led to this book, the transgender exigency defining sex and gender in the 21st century. This is the book that I started on as my pandem- Actually, I started before the pandemic, but basically have written over the last two years, it’s going to be out in December. What I’ve talked about today, in terms of media is mostly stemming from chapter three of that book, what the rest of the book looks at, are these controversies over how sex and gender should be defined in context, specifically, that have been traditionally segregated by sex slash gender, including single sex schools, bathrooms, the military, sports, in prisons, obviously, I don’t have time to talk about those tonight. But those are, that’s what makes up the bulk of the book. And so what I try to do in those case study chapters is understand the history of sex segregation in a particular context, because they have very different historical roots. And thereby, try to identify what are the values and interests that competing definitions represent. And in some cases, the value is plain misogyny, or sexism, and in or were trans prejudice in the case of the military. And so that’s what I tried to do is unpack in each chapter, what the values are that underlie competing the competing definitions in there. So I, I’m going to skip over this, this was gonna, I was gonna talk a little bit about the bathroom chapter. But since it’s already six, I’m going to I’m not going to do that. But what happened in that case, just as you can see here is that the bathroom, the ordinance simply said, Don’t you can’t discriminate against people, based on gender identity, turned into Oh, this is a law that’s going to let men use women’s bathrooms. And that’s a threat. And that was what the whole campaign was, that ultimately ended up reversing that Houston City Council ordinance. And I’m not going to show you the ad. On the other hand, this is one of my favorite visual arguments on the other side. This is Michael Hughes on the right, trans man. And when this was all hitting the airwaves a few years ago, he had a series of photos like of this of himself in women’s bathrooms, these are friends of his that are helping him make the photograph to show how absurd it would be to require him to use the women’s restroom.
Edward Schiappa 52:35
As I said, the battle particularly in bathroom bills is far from over. It turns out that the latest surveys are indicating that a growing number of people are actually supporting restricting bathroom access. I think that goes back to the fact that those they’re getting their cues from certain political elites with whom they want to identify. And this is a headline from just September 29. Featured about a month ago. Most Americans generally support pro LGBTQ policies, as I documented earlier, but are getting increasingly divided over specifics, such as transgender sports and bathroom policies. And that’s a study that was recently released by the Public Religion Research Institute. There’s their link, if you want to take a look at the study as a whole. We do know, by the way, I just want to say that the empirical evidence makes it very clear that there is no threat in these bathrooms. There are jurisdictions that have had bathroom bills on the books for years with no problems. On the other hand, we do know that there are substantial psychological and physical harms that are imposed on transgender people when bathrooms, bills are passed. And that includes everything from increasing rates of UTI, for people having to hold it too long, to physical violence, and increase suicidal ideation as documented by CME and study in 2016. So pretty clear call in terms of what the relative harms of the two definitions are there. There’s a wide range of what I call regulatory definitions, that is definitions that regulate who counts as male or female man or woman in a particular context. They range from single sex colleges that only require like Wellesley only require you to say I’m going to live my life as a woman to be eligible to apply for admission. Others want a matching birth certificate. So even in single sex colleges, there’s the variety, sports is another example I gave you. There are 10 states that now have a biological essentialist definition of sex, where there there are a fewer number of states on the other hand that allow self identification as the means of defining gender for sports purposes. The same is true with jails and prisons, there are states that require that you go to the jail that your birth certificate says you belong in, and California, Massachusetts, and there’s at least one of their state are trying to empower self definition for being a presumptive, not necessarily final, but presumptive means of assigning whether you go to the men’s or women’s facility. So to cut to the conclusion of the book, basically, I argue that look the more onerous definitional criteria, with, you know, the surgery being the highest demanding criteria, which the Olympics require, if you want to compete in sport, outside your assigned birth, sex, with self identification being the the least restrictive, that the more you move up that that ladder, the more compelling and powerful the rationale needs to be. The book is, as I said, it’s coming out actually in December 17, I want to give a shout out right here to MIT Libraries, thanks to a generous grant from them, the book will be available open access. So if you don’t want to buy it, you don’t have to, you can download it, I believe it will be like a PDF that you’ll be able to download. And that’ll be on December 17. And maybe, maybe sooner, but probably December 17. I’ve also referenced a couple times in this book. The other books and articles that I’ve done that are relevant to this talk on the parasocial contact hypothesis. The previous book I did on pragmatic approaches to definitions is called Defining Reality. I have all this in PDF form. And if anybody would like a copy, I’m more than happy to share that with them. And there is my email address, just my last name @ mit.edu. And you can see some of my early gender socialization going on there with the way my parents dressed me on the left hand side there. So I’m going to finally end it there a little bit longer than I meant to be. And I’m going to turn it over to whatever questions we have time for in the remaining minutes of the of the talk.
Heather Hendershot 57:33
Thank you, Ed. This is Heather on oops, I’m in the dark. Hi, I apologize for missing the very beginning, I had an unstable internet signal and everything went to hell in a handbasket. But I’m on my hot spot on my phone now. So I should be fine. I wanted to make two very, very quick comments and ask two questions just to kick us off. For the comments. I just wanted to say especially for some of the younger folks out there watching this talk, that this this argument about the dangers of different sexes being in bathrooms, goes back to the ERA, of the Equal Rights Amendment. And we were talking about Phyllis Schlafly in my grad class, just the other day. And so I just wanted to, like fill people in that like this as a kind of crisis rhetoric has it has a history going back, I would say to at least the 70s and I it just fascinating how it just sticks.
Edward Schiappa 58:31
I interrupted for just two seconds because I have a bathroom related comment. So if you’ve ever used the restrooms in building 14N, right, where CMS/W headquarters are, yeah, the women’s room on the third floor is much nicer than the men’s room. And there’s an interesting, sexist history behind that. Because laws requiring bathrooms to be separated by sex are actually not all that old. They’re actually only emerged in the late 1800s. And a lot of the rationale for having separate bathrooms was based on this idea, not only a privacy, but of protecting women. Yeah. And that’s why a lot of women’s rooms are on there. Sometimes they’re called lounges even that there’s an extra couch in there things of that sort. And not every place, of course, but in many places, and that actually has its historical roots in this sort of differential treatment between of the sexes with, with bathrooms. Yeah,
Heather Hendershot 59:41
that’s an interesting point that these spaces for women are treated as kind of aesthetic spaces, in some ways the place to fix your makeup and that they’re treated as utilitarian spaces when they’re targeted to men. So yeah, thank you for filling us in on that. My other comment was about just quickly about Caitlyn Jenner that she is you know, are very aggressively pro Trump supporter. And so it’s just it’s a, it’s ideologically sort of incoherent to me and speaks to
Heather Hendershot 1:00:10
some of the complications, what you’re saying about the importance of authorities, and how that influences attitudes. My questions, were first about Disclosure, which I will watch, I’m very glad you drew our attention to that. And I’m a I’m a, I’ve seen the Celluloid Closet several times. And I also recommend that to those who haven’t seen it, and one of the most fascinating things about the Celluloid Closet is that the focus is relying on interviewing people who wrote for Hollywood, in the 50s, and 60s, and maybe the 70s. But it’s really that that earlier era, and you get to see people behind the scenes talking about, you know, something that seemed like […] against the grain when you saw the film, and they’re like, oh, no, we totally meant that to be about gay people, or Yeah, camp is not a, you know, a hidden thing. It’s what we were doing, because we wanted to express ourselves. And so, so it’s the behind the scenes stuff in that film is really fascinating. And I’m wondering if, if Disclosure gets into that at all, or if you’ve just thought about the role of trans people as producers, as opposed to just on the representation side of the equation. And my other question was also about rep is more about representation. And just if you’ve thought about or seen any studies, about trans people appearing in media or in television, say, where it’s not an issue, it’s not a very special issue about trans but just you know, you have a trans actor like saying that in the in the Queen’s Gambit where it’s not discussed, it’s just sort of there. And this, of course, was a tactic for African Americans, in particular, in the 60s, of just sort of casually incorporating African Americans into cast and not making it an issue that had to be discussed. So those are my two questions. All right. And also, I didn’t say this, but thank you very much for your talk, I should have opened with better
Edward Schiappa 1:01:53
Let me address those questions in reverse order. So I don’t forget the second one, for a representation to have the possibility of decreasing prejudice, the viewer must recognize that that person represents that group.
Edward Schiappa 1:02:11
So even if it’s not, it could to answer your question. It could have a positive effect, as long as the viewer recognizes, oh, that’s, that’s a trans woman, or that’s a trans man. But if if it’s not called attention to in the narrative of the show, then it depends on how savvy the viewer is. Right? So you know, that they do, on the other hand, with African Americans, you know, or certain other groups. And again, people are not necessarily fine grained. Right, then what I mean by that is, most people are not, this is there’s a long history here of Japanese people portraying Chinese people, and you know, but they get grouped under Asian, which means Asian representation, tends to end up being a more holistic set of attitudes. So anyway, yes, I think actually, the more normalized it is to have trans people in a narrative, the better, but it won’t reduce prejudice unless viewers recognize them as trans. And then to go back to the point about disclosure particularly, or we Celluloid Closet, disclosure, I think, I think they learned some lessons about Celluloid Closet. What I mean by that is it ends on a more upbeat note that I recall, Celluloid Closet ending, which is, you know, I mean, the basic narrative is, here’s all these horrible, horrible, horrible representations, you know, which is not a shock. And but devoting a non trivial amount of time towards the end of the documentary, documentary, noting progress in some of the some of the shows that I’ve talked about before, and the issue, I believe, of trans writers being in the writing room is also I think, that’s also talked about if my memory is correct. I, I know, I certainly am aware of that discussion being taking place, but so I hope I answered your questions.
Heather Hendershot 1:04:25
Yeah, thank you. That’s very helpful. Um, let’s, let’s open up. We could go to we have a few things actually in the chat if we want to take a look at that. Or actually, maybe we have actual question fully fleshed out in in the q&a here. Thanks for a great talk. This is from Tom Sca-, Scahill your example supporting the parasocial contact hypothesis involved visual representations. Do you know of any studies that discuss the efficacy of non visual media written and maybe even strictly audio media such as podcasts, or parasocial contact changing attitudes towards trans people.
Edward Schiappa 1:05:00
And Hi, Tom, first of all, secondly, yes, as a matter of fact, I’ve got the cards. And I don’t have the sites memorized, but they are cited in my chapter three of my book. And I’d be happy to look up their sites, but they included, like, short stories. And obviously, the portrayal has to be not negative, right? You can’t have a trans character who’s the villain and expect it to change attitudes in a positive way. But sympathetic portrayals and even relatively short vignettes, you know, like a few paragraphs about my experience as a trans person found, and again, when we talk about changing prejudice, I want to make it real clear, it doesn’t mean real. Like that. It’s not necessarily 180 degree turn. But that’s okay. Because what the research on prejudice reduction shows is that you do work by stages. If you can get the foot in the door, and get people away from highly negative attitudes, then they’re more likely to actually maybe interact with a transgender person in real life, boom, you move the dial a bit further, or the watch a show that, you know, it has transgender characters boom, little bit further. And so these things can can build on each other. But it really is interesting. I haven’t heard anything, any research about podcasts. But I would think that the logic would be the same if you are learning about a category of people with whom you do not have real world face to face contact. Yes, mediated contact, if you learn about the group, and its positive representation, can reduce prejudice. The way we operationalized positive representations in our studies was we had a series of measures that we did about how people felt about straight characters, the main straight characters, as well as the main gay characters. And we wanted to make sure that people were not seeing them substantially. Inferior, negative to those.
Heather Hendershot 1:07:09
That’s interesting what you say about negative characters, because of course, negative characters can be written such that they are incredibly appealing. So you know, I would just wonder if it’s a kind of victory for a subjugated group, when they when having a negative character from that group is no longer problematic in the way it was. Earlier, I was thinking of like, Giancarlo Esposito and
Heather Hendershot 1:07:36
the Mandalorian, right. He’s a villain and he is probably, you know, one of the very best characters on the show. But if that character, that type of character in the 60s would have seen been seen, as you know, very problematic, perhaps can compare to now.
Heather Hendershot 1:07:50
So I see Sulafa as her hand up.
Heather Hendershot 1:08:06
You’ll need to unmute.
Sulafa Zidani 1:08:08
Sulafa Zidani 1:08:11
Thank you for your talk. A really interesting topic. I actually have a follow up about the parasocial relationship. And I’m mainly thinking about like how many of us now practice binge watching a show rather than like watching once a week. And I haven’t really studied parasocial relationships. But my hunch tells me that that might form like a different type of relationship to a character where we’ve entered an entire season in a day or two, rather than like, Wait weekly to meet with them. Do you? Do you think that that might have a different effect? Or have there even been studies about that?
Edward Schiappa 1:08:48
I think there’s actually been one study on that. And I have to do a little digging to find it.
Edward Schiappa 1:08:55
Not so much that the study was on. It was not necessarily about prejudice reduction, but it was about the kind of parasocial relationship that you might have with characters. We do know, for example, that when that people respond, psychologically speaking, similarly to the loss of a beloved character, in not unfamiliar ways as they would lose when they lose somebody in real life, there’s, there’s grief involved. And and there are, you know, I miss that character kind of reactions, and I do or I either I think I read maybe reviewed a study I don’t know if it’s in print yet, but I think I reviewed a study that was trying to address this very issue about a periodic experience of a show versus binge watch binge watching. And I think that it’s the periodic watching that builds sort of grows deeper roots. I mean, you binge watch your it’s like The difference between getting drenched in a drip drip drip effect over time. drip drip drip is actually will have a bigger long term impact because you’ll remember it in memory is where these reactions live. Whereas binge watching, you know, whether those attitudes that are encouraged by by spending a couple days deeply invested? Well, those last over time. Depends how much you like if you go back and re binge, you know, which some of us have done during the pandemic. Rewatch the series we’ve already seen, you know, that’s a good way to dig the roots in deeper as well. So, I hope that answers your question. As I said, I know I read a study on that. I might have been a reviewer at the time to check to see if I can figure that out.
Heather Hendershot 1:10:59
Thanks, Ed. We have a question in the q&a from Karl, how do you think about, excuse me, how do you think about or account for the backlash effect of increased visibility?
Edward Schiappa 1:11:09
Yeah, I wouldn’t take advice Tucker Carlson offered on anything. But he’s got millions of people who do and the guide is anti trans. And that’s going to influence viewers. So I say Ámbar has a question. So let’s go to her.
Ámbar Reyes 1:12:42
Thank you. For you, Ed. It’s fantastic. I have a question.
Ámbar Reyes 1:12:46
Do you have a sense about how reception or prejudice might change if we are the issue of like race and class to trans people in media representation?
Edward Schiappa 1:12:59
Absolutely. And thank you for raising that I do address the issue of intersectionality. In the book, I did not so much, obviously, I didn’t mention those terms today. Yeah, I mean, the most vulnerable group and the group that is victimized and the most violence against our black trans women, that is the group that are for lack of a better way of putting it murdered, the most of all trans of all trans groups. And that’s because within certain cultures, they’re, they’re violating the norms that are expected by some who believe in those gender binaries. And so, again, I think that that’s why you know, in the book Beyond representational correctness, one of the points that I make is that there’s no such thing as a perfect representation, just no such thing. There is also no single representation that’s going to solve a problem of prejudice. So the solution is more and more and more and diversity. And so if you want to reduce prejudice towards trans people, then you need to have trans men as well as trans women. And you need to have you know, Hispanic trans women, Hispanic trans men. And you need to have, again, the full spectrum because it is intersectional there’s a HBO show called we’re here that if you have not watched I encourage you to try to catch it if you get a chance to it’s aired on HBO and then you if you miss episodes, you have to go to HBO max to view it, which I’m not real fond of, but and it’s mostly about it it’s a it’s a show about three drag queens who go to bless their heart, you know, conservative rural areas and put on a drag show and Take three people who are in the LGBTQ community there who participated in some cases, and they’re very dramatic stories. Some of those stories are transgender stories. And they are also pretty diverse stories because of where they travel, the episode that I just recently watched. They were in Del Rio, Texas. So there was a added dimensionality of people who live on the border, and who have Hispanic background and Latino background, Latino background. So that’s I don’t know if I’ve answered your question. It is it is an important added dimension. Absolutely. And I do discuss it some in the book. And I have a chapter actually on how feminism is wrestling with issues of transgenderism. And that’s a place in particular, where I do a quick call back on the history of the rise of intersectionality as a important topic and feminist theorizing in particular.
Ámbar Reyes 1:16:06
Heather Hendershot 1:16:11
Um, do we have any other questions? I’ll look at the chat says,
Heather Hendershot 1:16:18
from Narbal. Brilliant, professor, always pretty good to listen to you and your reflections. I would love to hear you talking about the possible connection between pch and human rights. Greetings from Brazil.
Edward Schiappa 1:16:30
Hi, Narbal. Nice to see you. Or, nice to hear from you.
Edward Schiappa 1:16:36
Yeah, so the part of the problem of answering this is something I’m going to limit myself to narrative media programming. That is to say, whether it be reality or fictional, they’re both narratives. And that means they have recognizable characters. And what television and film are good at, is evoking an emotional response between viewers and characters. Again, whether those characters be fictive or real, not so good with more abstract philosophical concepts like human rights. So what that means is, is that you could get sympathy for a group of people that may be related to the fact that their rights had been denied. You betcha. You betcha it can do that. But what we found was we did we did a one of the research projects we did, we wanted to see if if a class devoted to masculinity changed anybody’s attitudes about masculinity. And in particular, how they saw themselves whether they’re biologically considered male or female on birth or not, whether their attitudes about their own gender norms was was changed. No, people did not get into the abstractions, nor were they willing necessarily to change how they would describe themselves. What it did do, though, is again, it provided elicited a sympathetic response with the characters that they saw. So it reduced prejudice against gay men against transgender men in this we have a film that featured that against drag queens, so they had a sympathetic response with the characters. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to broader political abstractions. I wish it did. I wish it did. It’s hard to do systemic critique through narrative media.
Heather Hendershot 1:18:54
Well, we’ve just about hit 630. But do we have one last question before we sign off?
Edward Schiappa 1:19:01
Thank you, normal normal for joining us. Professor from Brazil, great guy.
Heather Hendershot 1:19:08
Well, that’s great. Um, okay. Well, I think we will stop there, then. Thank you again, Professor Schiappa, for your talk. We really appreciate it.
Edward Schiappa 1:19:18
You betcha. And I’m putting my email address one last time in the chat box for those who are on Zoom. Otherwise, it’s just my last name email@example.com. So if there are any sources that I’ve described here, that you would like more information about any of the publications that I’ve discussed. Just reach out
Heather Hendershot 1:19:42
and we will also have a recording of this available shortly. So if anyone wants to revisit any of the slides or the citations, you can also do it that way. Okay, great. Thank you.
Edward Schiappa 1:19:55
Heather Hendershot 1:19:55