The weather has once again turned cold, and the television hawks Clappers and Chia Pets. Soon the barrage of weight-loss and self-improvement goods begins as we head into an uncertain 2014.
Everywhere, columnists like us look back on the year that was and try to make sense of the actions and activities of the last 12 months.
This year, individual members of the transgender-rights movement have driven more than probably any other.
First and foremost has to be Chelsea Manning. Manning came out Aug. 22 in an announcement on “The Today Show.” This was at the conclusion of her trial for leaking several-thousand documents to WikiLeaks. She was sentenced to 35 years, a reduction in rank from Private First Class to Private, a dishonorable discharge and the loss of her military pay.
While the debate over what Manning did will rage on, it was the way the media treated her coming-out narrative that made it important news. MSNBC, Slate and the Huffington Post were quick to revise their use of names and pronouns, while CNN and USA Today expressed caution, expecting more “evidence” before changing their stories. The Associated Press and NPR seemed to change their policies back and forth, and Wikipedia ended up in a firestorm over page edits and transphobia among its scores of volunteer editors. The Wikipedia Foundation ended up locking several editors out of the Manning page.
Laverne Cox is part of the hit television show “Orange is the New Black.” Her portrayal of Sophia Burset, a credit-card defrauding transwoman of color — as well as her involvement in past programs such as “I Want to Work for Diddy” and “TRANSform Me” — has helped make her a public figure, known not only for being trans, but a dynamic actress. One need look no further than Time Magazine, which named Sophia as one of the most influential fictional characters of 2013.
Hers was not the only trans-identified character to hit screens in 2013. Much like the late 1990s saw an upswing of gay and lesbian storylines, 2013 saw transgender characters and stories that made their way into popular television shows such as “Two and a Half Men” and “Glee.” While we can argue over how well these portrayals have been done — and there may well be room for improvement — they are a far cry from Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas character on “Soap” in the 1970s, or horrible situation comedies like “Work It” or “Ask Harriet.”
The big screen was less affected, though many have pointed to the movie “Dallas Buyers Club” and, in particular, Jared Leto’s performance as Rayon, a fictionalized portrayal of a transgender AIDS patient in 1985. Leto’s performance has been floated as Oscar-worthy. I don’t doubt them, though I do wish that it were a transwoman in that role.
Yet some of the bigger heroes of 2013 have been children. Cassidy Lynn Campbell won as homecoming queen at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., while Jeydon Loredo’s photo in a tuxedo was banned from the La Feria Independent High School yearbook. Loredo, a transman, was told that to be included, he would need to wear a “drape or blouse.” The La Feria School District eventually approved the photo after a threat of possible legal action on the part of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In Fountain, Colo., a 6-year-old transgender student named Coy Mathis was prevented from using the girls’ restroom at Eagleside Elementary School. The school originally accepted Mathis, agreeing with her parents’ insistence that she identified as and should be treated like a girl. A few months into her first-grade year, the school changed its mind, barring her from the girls’ restroom and restricting her to staff restrooms or the gender-neutral facilities in the school’s health office. Mathis’ parents responded by lodging a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which ruled the child was discriminated against.
On the heels of the Mathis victory was the passage of AB 1266 in California, which requires all of California’s K-12 schools to let transgender students choose their preferred restrooms and school sports team. The blowback on this bill’s passage has been large, with the Pacific Justice Institute looking for plaintiffs for a legal challenge to the bill, while many others pushed for a ballot initiative to repeal AB 1266. The fate of the initiative remains in doubt as of this writing.
We are a community composed of many strong individuals, and one that has definitely gained notice, even notoriety. There are still plenty of people out there, however, who will seek to hurt us. It is together that we will need to move forward.
Gwen Smith will not be sorry to leave 2013 behind, even if 2014 worries her. You can find her at www.gwensmith.com.