Media: Stop Making Trans* and Gay People “Confess”

“I am completely horrified by the talk show, the interrogation and confession format, the weeping, the tears of the host whose sympathy underscores the inherent tragedy of my life as a transgender person.” – Lana Wachowski, HRC speech, October 20, 2012 

Nicholas de Villiers published “Afterthoughts on Queer Opacity” on April 18th 2015 in InVisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture for the Special 22nd Issue on “Opacity.”

Why the study? Prof. de Villiers wrote the article as an update to his book, Opacity and the Closet: Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol because he wanted to see how the theme of “opacity” (privacy) is playing out in 2015 for trans* and queer celebs.

Results of the study? This article shows how some LGBTQ+ folks are pushing back hard against media’s demands for confessional coming out stories.

Quick summary? Prof. Nicholas de Villiers published a book in 2012 called Opacity and the Closet: Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol about how queer philosophers Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, and queer artist Andy Warhol played with opacity (privacy) back in the day. Instead of TMI, these men kept their sexual orientation private. Today, trans* and queer celebs are forced by the media machine to confess their sexuality and/or their gender orientation and transition stories. In the article, “Afterthoughts on Queer Opacity,” Prof. de Villiers checks out how these current celebs deal and if/when/how they use opacity.

Take-aways?

  • Coming out stories in the media are often framed as confessions
  • Sexual and gender identities are assumed to be a core truth about a person
  • Trans* coming out stories are often dumbed down
  • Being private can mean being accused of “a sin of omission”
  • Some of today’s celebs understand that timing is everything when coming out
  • HRC and GLAAD are organizations that promote TMI
  • Homophobia can include fear of the unknown and demands for TMI stories
  • Alternatives to demands of visibility and transparency include
    • Anonymity and facelessness (e.g., FB queer face technology)
    • Recognizing privacy is a right for all
    • Understanding that privacy is freedom for many

So what?

  • With this knowledge, media users can be critical consumers of content
  • With this knowledge, journalists can reflect on their own work
  • With this knowledge, students can be more informed in their interactions

Nicholas de Villiers is associate professor of English and film at the University of North Florida. He is author of Opacity and the Closet, Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol(University of Minnesota Press, 2012). He received his Ph.D. in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society from the University of Minnesota in 2004. He has published essays in Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory (2005), Sexualities (2007), and Bright Lights Film Journal (2007).

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