I can’t say for certain whether or not McKenna is transgender, but all evidence I can find points to no. If he is, he’s certainly not public about it. And whether he is or not is, frankly, none of my business. Nor is it that of Dan Savage.
What’s infuriating to me here is the effect of what Savage has put forth, whether in “humor” or not.
Savage says “Rob McKenna doesn’t make a big deal about (being transgender)” in the post pictured above; his own bio on the site says, “Savage can also lay claim to being the only person at The Stranger to have actually converted his sexuality into a profession.” Savage is a gay man.
I don’t want to make a mess of co-mingling sexuality and gender, but I do think it’s fair to say both gay men and transgendered people are marginalized groups, and fit into the LBGTQ spectrum. Any false sense of community aside, there is a certain insidiousness when one member of a marginalized group attacks and asserts privilege over another.
Whether Savage is “outing” McKenna as a transgender person or leveling an unfounded allegation in the name of humor (that rises to the level of calling something you don’t like “gay”), he’s demonstrating his cisgender privilege.
In our culture, we think it’s very important to identify gender at or before birth (what is the first question you ask when you find out a friend is pregnant or has given birth?). We codify gender with everything from color to clothes to toys to jobs to range of emotion. Traits, abilities, or interests that fall outside our preset, deeply ingrained norms are called into question, often ridiculed, and can be dangerous. Being gay challenges gender norms, but being transgender blows them to pieces.
Speaking of danger:
* 33.2% of transgender youth have attempted suicide. Clements-Nolle K., Marx R., Katz M. (2006). Attempted suicide among transgender persons: The influence of gender-based discrimination and victimization. Journal of Homosexuality, 51(3): 53-69.)
* 55% of transgender youth report being physically attacked. (GLSEN. (2003). The 2003 national school climate survey: the school related experiences of our nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.)
* 74% of transgender youth reported being sexually harassed at school, and 90% of transgender youth reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression. (GLSEN. (2001). The 2001 national school climate survey: the school related experiences of our nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.)
* In a survey of 403 transgender people, 78% reported having been verbally harassed and 48% reported having been victims of assault, including assault with a weapon, sexual assault or rape. (Wilchins, R., Lombardi, E., Priesing, D. and Malouf, D. (1997) First national survey of transgender violence. Gender Public Advocacy Coalition.)
- From Youth Pride, Inc.
That Savage published a picture with this attack is no accident. We have in our minds what we think men and women should look like – again, we are taught these things from birth. Savage is giving us an opportunity to tap into those notions and decide if McKenna looks “manly,” or like a “she male,” or “delicate,” or “girly,” or any number of descriptors often levied as slurs against people whose gender we feel we have the right to examine, question, and criticize.
Whether or not the claims Savage is making are true, he has levied his cisgender privilege to successfully call into question McKenna’s “manhood.” Whether it’s a joke or an outing, the effect he’s creating is to further marginalize and ridicule transgender people, and that’s inexcusable.