The Dawn of the Transsexual
The transgender community is finding greater visibility in the living rooms of mainstream America. Television has been the most prominent catalyst, where VH1’s new reality series I Want to Work for Diddy features a transsexual contestant named Laverne Cox, America’s Next Top Model contestant Isis identifies herself as “a woman born physically male” and Candace Cane has become a familiar face on ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money. In advertising, Kenneth Cole chose makeup artist and illustrator Nina Poon as a face of the brand’s fall campaign, while transsexual performance artist Amanda Lepore has created a range for Camp Cosmetics. And, just this year, transgendered male Thomas Beatie was featured on the cover of People magazine when he announced that he was pregnant, and he recently gave birth this past July.
Some may argue that this is nothing new—after all, RuPaul did serve as the face of M.A.C. Cosmetics in the ’90s and cross-dressing has provided film industry fodder for decades, from Tootsie to Mrs. Doubtfire. But there’s a big difference between a drag queen and transsexuals. “I think people are less threatened than they used to be,” explains Lepore. “In the past, people were scared of a man with soft skin and breasts, and it was easier for them to handle a drag queen who was still physically male underneath everything—they were usually treated as a joke, not taken seriously. But now there’s a public fascination with transformation. A lot of TV shows are about makeovers or weight loss or becoming someone else, and a transsexual is the ultimate example of the power of transformation.”
Of course, for all those who are cheering the transsexual’s mainstream ascent, there will be just as many conservative-minded detractors. But in Lepore’s opinion, that’s just one of the natural bumps on the road to progress. “For as many people who won’t like it, there are just as many that will,” she reasons. “In the end, any exposure is good exposure.”