Trans Guy on Daytime: Tyra Banks Dehumanized Me
I am the epitome of an outsider. It’s rare that I am surrounded by people alike me. I don’t mind being an outsider at all. In fact, I have sort of accepted the fact that I am dissimilar to most of the people I interact with on a daily basis. The thing I have not accepted, that I will never accept, is the way other people mislabel me and mistreat me and the others in my community, especially the media.
It all started with Tyra Banks. Tyra Banks is the archetype of overly dramatized media. I thought that going on her show, getting to share my story with the entire nation, and bringing awareness to the transgender (gender variant) community would be a great experience. However, it was not. Tyra Banks dehumanized me.
This is how that day went:
My mother and I are picked up in a Limousine from our home in Brightwaters, NY and dropped off to the Tyra Banks studio in busy and beautiful, Manhattan.
We go into the building and we are asked to go through a metal detector. They take away our cell-phones, our cameras, and all other devices that we might possibly illegally record the show with. (This is a standard television procedure).
We are then escorted to the tiniest green room, which we are sharing with at least seven other people that will be taping on the show that day as well. The Tyra Banks staff only gives us one sandwich, not one sandwich each, one sandwich for all eight of us, to share. Craziness! Madness! We sit in the green room for seven hours and there is barely any food. Still, I don’t think anything of it. I am excited to go on the show.
Every thirty minutes, producers take me to another room to “prep” me. They ask me all of the questions that I would be asked on the air. All of the questions are very well thought-out and they aren’t rude at all. My answers to these questions would provide insight as to what it is like to be a transgender teen. Finally, it’s show time!
I walk on stage and I know that I must look extremely respectable. I am dressed like the average dressed-up teenager, expensive-looking button down shirt, sweater vest over it, and my hair done nicely by the dressing room staff. I look neat, to say the least.
I greet Tyra Banks. She shakes my hand, no hug? Alright, that’s unwelcoming. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … ACTION!
The “professional” Tyra Banks reads from her notecards, asking me the most impersonal, most offensive questions I have ever been asked. Plus, they were all planned out on the notecards. Nothing that I was prepped for over and over again in the green room was asked! At that point I realized why Tyra Banks had the nickname ‘TYRANT Banks.’
The worst question that Tyra Banks asked me was “What size bra are you?” It was like she had completely forgotten that the only reason I was sitting on her couch was because I identified as a transgender male. TRANS…GENDER…MALE. I sat there and panicked, how would I know what size bra I am or was? How would I know what size my chest is? Why would I care to measure one of the major parts of my body that betrayed me and disgusted me? Why would I wear a girls undergarment when my brain so obviously told me I was male? I wouldn’t.
Tyra Banks didn’t even have the decency to do her research about transgender men before she had me on the show. If she had done her research she would have realized that the majority of transgender men wear some form of a chest binder, not a bra. Yes, she did also eventually ask me about my chest binder on the show but she still should have known that because I was wearing a chest binder, I clearly hated my body enough to not want to think of the part of my body that I was hiding, let alone to measure it. I shrugged my shoulders in embarrassment in front of the live audience.
The main problem with the show was that it seemed like Tyra Banks wanted to portray me as a freak because of my gender expression and transgender identity. She was flat out rude to me. She kept asking humiliating questions, like the bra size question, and I kept shrugging my shoulders unable to answer most of them.
A few months later the show aired. I taped for at least 10 minutes with Tyra Banks. Only 1 minute and 30 seconds of the show aired on National Television. I knew exactly why most of the segment was cutout. It was because Tyra Banks asked very offensive questions and her staff recognized that and edited those questions out. Even though the segment was cut short, I was still portrayed as leading some “crazy” lifestyle on the show. You could tell by the way I dressed and spoke on the show, that I just an average teenager who happened to be trans. My lifestyle was a little different, at the time, but in a good way. I was 15 years old. I had perfect grades in school, I was on the principals list, and on my way to graduate a year early. I was just starting to play music festivals. I was doing speeches around the New York area, educating about the trans community, in a very positive way. I was a volunteer with the Long Island Gay Centers’ Safe Schools team where I was able to educate even more people. I was doing a lot of good, especially for a 15 year old. I wasn’t a freak and I definitely wasn’t living some outlandish lifestyle. I was an advocate from an early age and was living a mostly positive life.
After the Tyra Banks episode aired I took another media opportunity with Closer Magazine, hoping that it would be a more positive experience for myself and for my community. The experience was also humiliating. The reporter, Mel Fallowfield, addressed me using the wrong pronouns for most of the article. What’s even worse was that she quoted my mom using the wrong pronouns, something my Mom did not do. The page was labeled “Teen Sex Swap.” I hear it over, and over again. “Sex swap,” “sex change.” – These are not words and phrases I like to use or hear for myself. I’d never say “I’m having a sex change.” The media likes to make things seem bigger than they are. What these people don’t understand is that not all transgender people get these surgeries or even want them.
Many times throughout my life, I have been asked “Did you fully complete the transition yet?” or “Did you get all of the surgeries yet?” Most people, including a very small amount of transgender people, believe that in order to “transition” from one gender to another, one must have every single sex reassignment surgery available and be on hormone replacement therapy. Most transgender people do not get every single surgery offered and some do not even have hormone replacement therapy. I was finally able to express these thoughts in a positive way and also in my own words at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference. I was appointed to be one of the keynote speakers for the conference. I got to share my thoughts with the community and our allies. Below is an excerpt from my speech at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference.
“We need to understand that there is not one way to transition but many.
Transition looks different for all of us.
There is no wrong or right way to transition. We need to understand that medically transitioning is a privilege and that some trans individuals may not have this privilege.
We cannot judge them based on this.
We need to support them and make room for them within our community.
We need to also understand that medically transitioning is a choice
and some trans individuals may not chose to go down that road.
That does not make them any less trans
than anybody else.”
- Ryan Cassata, Philadelphia Trans Health Conference (June 2012)
This is the part of our dialogue that people from the media should especially listen to. Transgender people sometimes believe what the media is saying and then belittle and judge themselves and the rest of the community.
Just last March, Michael Block wrote an excellent article on me for Pulse Magazine. This was the first article in which I was portrayed as who I really am. The title read: “Ryan Cassata—Civil rights icon, fearless performer and headstrong teen.” Finally, someone wrote something that truly matched who I am and what I am about. Michael Block published nothing but the truth about me. “[Ryan] began posting spoken word videos that dealt with such core transgender issues as gender dysphoria (a strong negative association with the gender that one is assigned at birth), bullying and the astronomical suicide rate among society’s least understood demographic. At school, Ryan fought a prolonged and successful battle to have his current legal name, not his female birth name, appear in his yearbook. He used his “senior cut day” to educate ninth grade students regarding transgender issues. Ryan’s efforts resulted in his reception of the first Harvey Milk Memorial Award presented at Bay Shore High School.” Michael Block accurately portrayed me, finally giving society a positive and accurate image about the transgender community. I am not a freak show like Mel Fallowfield and Tyra Banks claimed. I am a “Civil rights icon, fearless performer and headstrong teen” as Michael Block told the world so genuinely in Pulse Magazine.
A few years ago word spread about the first pregnant transgender man. His name was Thomas Beatie. The media and other folks labeled Thomas Beatie a “tranny” in their news stories and articles. This term is the most offensive thing you can call a transgender person, and most people are well aware. Saying this term is committing an act of transphobic hate. I’m sure that any person that is oppressed in anyway can think of a word that would hurt them so badly, more than anything else, if they were called or labeled it. Hearing the word “tranny” has caused many transgender people, including myself, to be emotionally hurt. The media not only used transphobic words but also published a transphobic cartoon in the newspaper, something that made Thomas Beatie look “insane” and “weird.” Sean Delonas, also made a “joke” of Thomas Beatie in this cartoon presented below. (New York Post, April 2008)
Not only did the New York Post publish a severely transphoic cartoon but also poorly depicted the entire transgender male community.
A significant reason that transgender people are still fighting and struggling for rights is because the media has portrayed us so terribly, making most of society afraid of us or disgusted by us. Tyra Banks, Mel Fallowfield, Sean Delonas, and other media personalities have not done much good for the transgender community. Due to the false and negative portrayals, the transgender community is intensely suffering.
Transgender people are murdered, due to ignorance. Trans people end their own lives, due to ignorance. Transgender people are falsely put behind bars, all because of ignorance.
The question is, why does the media portray transgender people as “freaks” as “crazy” and as “weird?” Something that commonly happens to an oppressed group is that the oppressed group is represented by the negative things that the group (or one member of the group) may be involved with. Then they are not represented by any of the positive things. This oppresses the already oppressed group even further. Many transgender people are afraid to come out because of the mistreatment of transgender people by society and the mislabeling of transgender people by society. This discrimination makes transgender people afraid to come out because they feel that it’s almost guaranteed that they will be discriminated against. I definitely had this fear before coming out to the people I knew and upon coming out some of the people I loved did assume these negative things about me.
Another reason that society has these distorted views of transgender people is because of the stereotypes our society places on gender. The stereotypes I am discussing are the stereotypes that say that all males have to be masculine and all females have to be feminine. The fact that society automatically genders someone based on what genitalia they have has added to the intense stereotyping found in our society and has made it that much harder for transgender people to come out and be seen in society as “regular” people.
These gender “norms” must be broken down and disregarded in order for transgender people to be accepted. The battle against the media and society will and must continue until total equality is reached. The only way to reach equality is to diminish ignorance, especially ignorance based on stereotyping and false portrayals. The only way to diminish ignorance is through education and exposure. I encourage everyone to stand up and join the movement. The transgender community is so tiny and cannot do it alone. We need people of all different gender expressions, gender identities, sexualities, and walks of life to join together and stand up. Speak up if you hear someone say a transphobic slur. Speak up if you see people acting with hate. Stand up for your trans* brothers and sisters. Expose others to the transgender community. The more people that are exposed to the transgender community (in a positive way) the sooner equality can be reached. To the transgender community, please do not ever lose hope. One story at a time we can educate the world and prove these false portrayals wrong, finally making a strong and positive name for the transgender community. Our time is soon to come.