Recently I was shocked when I noticed the ad campaign being run on social media by my internet service provider Webafrica.
Not only did I find it harmful and offensive, I was highly disgusted because they highlight a destructive transgender stereotype in their ad campaign. Below are examples of three of their ads as found on Twitter:
Looking at these ads that morning, I was fuming. As trans women, we fight daily to break down all kinds of stereotypes and this notion that we are men in dresses. These tropes often lead to violence being committed against transgender women.
In the US so far this year, 21 transgender people, mainly black transgender women have been murdered. Many of these women were sex workers, and they were killed by men because of being seen as men in dresses and not the women they truly were.
In an interview with London Channel 4 news, Laverne Cox said: “When we say that transgender women aren’t women, that is a way to discriminate against us. That is a way that folks use to deny us access and deny us healthcare and jobs, and it’s a reason that people perpetrate violence against us.”
Our battles to exist in the world are constantly highlighted in the media through debates on our existence or news articles on discrimination. Just this year we have seen a transgender military ban announced in the US.
That is not the only battle trans people face in the US, they constantly have to battle against “bathroom laws” that Republicans want to pass because they want to protect women from “men in dresses” or from “paedophiles and predators” that want to rape them.
Notice the trope?
Living as a transgender woman in a conservative South African society has never been easy.
Those battles started from the moment I was looking for medical assistance but it happens on a daily basis.
When I first walked into the psychiatrist's office, I had to prove I was a woman, not a man in a dress. Despite presenting as feminine, I'm regularly misgendered.
Sometimes I let it go because I don't want to make a fuss, but other times I correct the person. If they refuse to address me appropriately I know they don't accept me for who I am. I've also noticed how easy it is for people to misgender or deadname (refers to the birth name of a transgender person) me when in an argument.
Two specific incidents made me extremely aware of how dangerous our society can be for a transgender woman.
I was groped once by a person because they wanted to know if I was a man or a woman. A similar incident happened a few years later when I had to go to a hospital for treatment and another patient thought he was having innocent fun.
This has made me fearful to be alone in public. I don't go out anymore. If I do, I go out with someone I know and trust. I only use the female toilet when they are with me, otherwise I try and use the disabled facilities.
Sometimes the thought of the struggling to find a toilet to avoid confrontation leads to me cancelling plans.
I've become a recluse.
Transgender people like myself have had a long battle with the media and our representation in the media. If we don’t battle insensitive and hateful ad campaigns, we often have to deal with terrible articles in the news that either uses hurtful or problematic language or in the worst instances, deadname a transgender person.
I have a mixture of feelings every time I have to deal with the media and their horrible representation of transgender people. It fills me with anger, but in some instances it makes me depressed because I feel like I don’t belong.
I feel worthless.
I decided to do some research to find out if other transgender people felt the same way I did. I found an article on “How Transgender People Experience the Media."
Their piece focused on a study conducted in 2009/2010 on Transgender visibility in the media and how it affected transgender people.
The vast majority of transgender people (95%) in this study felt the media didn’t care what transgender people think. After a three day battle with Webafrica about their campaign I have to agree.
I don’t think Webafrica care when I say something is wrong or offensive. I wrote three emails and logged two calls on their website and I haven’t had any feedback.
70% of transgender people felt the representation of themselves are negative in the media. I think we have moved forward to a large degree over the last few years mainly due to the hard work and support from trans activists, organisations and feminists.
My personal frustration however is that troublesome content like the Webafrica ad campaign hardly attracts attention or outrage in South Africa.
It makes us feel excluded from society and to a lesser extent even fearful.
We are often portrayed as “jokes” and in some instances disgusting, freaky or in this case, fetishised.
The ridicule of transgender people in the media and regularly portrayed as “stubby blokes in dresses” was a common theme and of major concern of all respondents in the Trans Media Watch study.
The study concluded that most transgender people view the portrayal of transgender people in the media negatively and this leads to real life suffering including verbal and physical abuse.
The WebAfrica ads specifically are nothing more than transmisogyny. They take our femaleness and relate it to maleness and devalue who we are and open us up to ridicule, hatred and violence. This is where sexism and transphobia (trans antagonism) meets.
Transmisogyny just like sexism needs to be called out because it goes unnoticed far too often and if we want to eradicate transphobia, homophobia and sexism, we need to address issues of transmisogyny as well.
I’m tired of being a punchline for cis people’s entertainment!
This post originally appeared on Juanita's blog.