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JOSUE SILVA: Hello, my name is Josue Silvafrom SAGE Publishing.And today, I'm here with TJ Billard,a PhD candidate from USC Annenberg.Hi TJ.Thank you so much for being here today.
TJ BILLARD: Hi, I'm happy to be here.
JOSUE SILVA: What are some ways that transgender rightsactivists have been fighting dominant medianarratives surrounding transgender individuals?
TJ BILLARD: So there are a lot of ways.I could write several books about all the ways.Some of the key things that are happening that I think areprobably the most compelling relate to not focusingon the same kind of small number of high-profile representations
TJ BILLARD [continued]: that typically characterize, for example,the gay rights movement and organizations like GLAAD,previously the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation,now they're just GLAAD, who work, for example,with the Hollywood film studios to--and television studios to change the waysthat gays and lesbians have been represented
TJ BILLARD [continued]: in film and television.So those are kind of powerful means of representation.The trans rights movement has focused on thatto a much lesser extent.And they've more so focused on increasingthe number and the diversity of smallertypes of representation.So we see a lot of encouragement of trans people
TJ BILLARD [continued]: to become advocates in their local communityand in their daily lives and being given resourcesto do so, whether that is in the form of trainings for media,instructions on how to write op-edsfor your local newspaper, or things like that.And there's a really kind of fundamental logicof social change that goes with that, which
TJ BILLARD [continued]: is that knowing about things in the abstractis much less important than about knowing themin a grounded and concrete way in your social world.So I think a key example of this is somethinglike the Trump military ban.If you live in Wisconsin, say, and you read in the newspaper,
TJ BILLARD [continued]: say in the New York Times or the Washington Post,that Trump has banned transgenderpeople from the military, you read that.And in the abstract you think, oh, hedid this thing that seems remote and distant and abouta group of people who are kind of an abstract entity.But if you read a news-- like the Wisconsin State Journal,
TJ BILLARD [continued]: and you read a story about a transgender service memberwho lives three towns over from you and the fearthat they have about what this means for them,their family, and their future that this happened,that's far more impactful because you don't think aboutthis anymore as being some abstract political move
TJ BILLARD [continued]: or some abstract policy that doesn't haveany relevance to your life or that you're like, well,I guess I could see it.And it's different to that experience, oh,this is something that's affecting my community,the people who live here, like the parent of someonewho goes to school with my kid.Like, that is a much more important typeof representation and is far more powerful.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And so a lot of transgender activism focused on changingmedia narratives has been focusedon making people see that trans issues aren't something thathappens at the coasts, isn't somethingthat happens in the abstract to other people.It happens all across this countrybecause there are trans people all across this country whoare members of our communities, and who
TJ BILLARD [continued]: are affected by political decisions,and who are experiencing the effects of our social attitudestowards trans people.
JOSUE SILVA: What do you see as the main challengesfor transgender rights activists?And with these challenges in mind,how can they use it to combat and progress?
TJ BILLARD: So I think there are kind of two different waysto look at the challenges.There's one, which is looking at the challengesthat they face in changing media narratives.And the main challenge there is the sheer diversityof media platforms that exist and the fragmentationof media audiences.It would be one thing in the 1970swhen gay activists had to fight against three television
TJ BILLARD [continued]: networks to change representationsof gays and lesbians on those three television networks.And it's something completely different nowto not only have hundreds of televisionnetworks plus streaming, but also have thingslike YouTube content.And there aren't a few major newspapers.Everyone and their mother has a blog that has 1,000 readers.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And like there's a sheer--like an overwhelming diversity of media avenuesto try to influence.And how could you possibly?There aren't enough hours in the day to talk to all of them,right?And so that's one key issue and makes it a lot harderto work with media to change the way media discuss or represent
TJ BILLARD [continued]: trans issues.And instead, you need to focus on enabling individualsto better influence those, rather than kindof organizations or institutions.You then have the separate issue,which is just the broad politics of transgender issuesbeing a political issue.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: In many ways, transgender people have kind of justbecome the flashpoint de jure of the culture wars, right?A lot of the battles over transgender issuesaren't battles that transgender people have sought.They've been battles that have been brought to trans peopleby opponents.A lot of the advocacy about changing societythat trans people are engaged with was, yes,
TJ BILLARD [continued]: focusing on changing people's attitudes,but was about changing the small and largely unnoticedthings that make transgender existence harder,things like name and gender change policies,your ability to change your ID, and various thingslike that that a lot of activism was oriented
TJ BILLARD [continued]: towards changing those things.But a lot of those things have gottenlost because there's been particularlyon the kind of evangelical right a kind of crusadeagainst trans issues making it about thingslike do transgender people get to use the bathroom.Like, they have for centuries.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: But that's now become a debate, not because transgender peoplewanted that to be a debate.It wasn't a debate.Trans people used the bathroom.And it was just life.It became a debate because opponents of transgender rightsmade it one.And so that's the big challenge that transgender advocates arefacing now, which is needing to fight battles that distract
TJ BILLARD [continued]: from the things that they would like to be talking about,the conversations they want to behaving, and the policies that they want to be addressing.
JOSUE SILVA: How can they steer it back?
TJ BILLARD: I think that it's notentirely possible to in some ways, right?I think part of steering it back is winning.In the fall of 2018, there was a referendum in Massachusettson whether or not the state should
TJ BILLARD [continued]: keep its existing transgender nondiscrimination protections.There was a big campaign called No on Threewhich tried to get those overturned.There was a counter campaign called Yes on Threethat tried to keep those protections.And the yes campaign won by a margin of 70% to 30%.And that I think sent a message that
TJ BILLARD [continued]: is you will not succeed if you try to fight us on this.South Dakota just earlier this weekhad four anti-transgender bills defeated in their legislaturefor I think it's been a few consecutive years nowthat this has happened.And I think winning sends that message.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And people say, oh, maybe we're not going to win this anymore.And they stop.But really, there is no way to push back against that debatewhen your civil rights are what is at stake.You can't walk away from that fight.
JOSUE SILVA: How would you say that the work of transgenderrights activists is similar or different from social movementorganizations?
TJ BILLARD: So there are transgender social movementorganizations across the country.There are a few major ones.The big one in DC and the one that I've worked withmost closely is the National Centerfor Transgender Equality.And they are kind of traditional social movementorganizations in many ways, which is that they work to--
TJ BILLARD [continued]: as experts to represent the political needsof the community.And they engage in kind of coalitional relationshipswith the social movement organizations representingother movements and try to work togethertowards both political change and social change.There are interesting kind of continuitiesand discontinuities for the trans rights movement.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: Because trans, in addition to existing as its own category,kind of is lumped in many ways with this LGBTQ plusI guess you could say mega movement, whereit's many different identity categories that work together.And so transgender people are simultaneously
TJ BILLARD [continued]: represented in the LGBTQ movementand in the transgender movement.And so it puts the trans communityin an interesting position of sometimesbeing the ones who are talking for themselves,and sometimes being part of a chorus of voices that'sspeaking on trans issues.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And then you also have, in addition to that, parallelsthat come up from, for example, the gay rightsmovement that the trans movement thenmaybe responds in similar ways or learns lessons from.So the bathroom debate is another oneof those where there was a big moral panic, particularly
TJ BILLARD [continued]: in the '70s and '80s, that portrayed gay men in particularas predators and made public restrooms a site of panicover gay sexual predators.And that's obviously a debate that in many waysis repeating itself with transgender people nowand the discourses about transgender women
TJ BILLARD [continued]: in public restrooms.These debates are equally as absurdas they were when it was about gays and lesbians.But there's a weird deja vu momentwhere it's a debate that happenedin a previous movement that's happening againin this movement.And so there are interesting waysin which it's kind of a continuation of the same fightwhile also being a new fight.And that I think complicates the way
TJ BILLARD [continued]: that transgender activists and movement organizationsnavigate these battles.Sometimes, we can rely on what's been done before.And sometimes, we can't.
JOSUE SILVA: You've noted in your previous workthat studying transphobia and representation of transgenderindividuals is difficult with current methodsand psychometric scales.Why do you think that's so?
TJ BILLARD: Psychometrics is its own domainof study in the field of psychology particularly,not exclusively, but largely in psychology.And it basically gets at how can Iextract the attitudes from someone's mindinto something measurable?And it's really hard to do there are different approachesto doing it.Sometimes, people want to look for implicit measures, which
TJ BILLARD [continued]: is a way that I don't ask you what you thinkabout trans people, but I can stillsee what you think about trans people.Others like myself have opted for morekind of explicit measures, which is wedevelop a battery of questions.You answer those questions.And I can use those to measure, based on your responsesto them, what your attitudes are.There have been many attempts to make measures of attitudes
TJ BILLARD [continued]: towards transgender people.I feel that many of them were limitedin key ways for a few reasons.Some of it is they measured, really,the worst of transphobia.They asked things about do you think transgender people aredisgusting or questions about whether or not you wouldbeat up a transgender person.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And that's such an extreme form of phobiathat obviously I think we can agree is transphobiabut that ignores what I've called kindof ambivalent prejudice because Ithink that's what the vast majority of people experience.It's not I think they're disgusting.I would beat them up.It's I'm not sure that trans women are reallywomen, that kind of--
TJ BILLARD [continued]: yeah, you're not threatening violence.It's not a visceral hatred.But it is a prejudice that colors the wayyou evaluate trans people.And so what I did was I had 150 adults in the United Statesanswer a series of questions of whatthey thought about trans people, trans identities,and transgender issues.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And I kind of tried to extract the questions thatbecame my measure from the responses they gave.And I indeed found in analyzing this responsesthat most of the transphobic attitudes they expressedweren't about things like disgust or violent feelings.They were the kind of ambivalent prejudice thingsthat I think are really what's common.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: So having these measures was important for that in orderto have it actually represent not what weas scholars think of as being what transphobia is,but what individuals actually experienceas their attitudes towards trans people.The other issue was a lot of times,these measures tried to measure attitudes
TJ BILLARD [continued]: towards trans people in the aggregate.What do you think of trans people?But we know that trans is an umbrella thatcovers a variety of identities, kind of most notablytransgender women, transgender men, and non-binary people.And so asking a question about whatpeople think about trans people, OK,but who are they thinking about as being a trans person when
TJ BILLARD [continued]: they answer that?So I didn't end up developing a measure for non-binary peoplebecause it--one measure can't do everything.And there are existing measures that I think do that well.But I broke out into two separate sub-measures attitudestowards transgender men and attitudestowards transgender women because people's attitudes
TJ BILLARD [continued]: are different.And so that I think was the key advancement in usingpsychometrics to study attitudes towards trans peopleis realizing that trans people are not a monolith.And we can't measure attitudes towards them as such.We need to be specific about the waysthat people's attitudes differ across various typesof transgender identity.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: It's important to study or to use these measures to studythe effects of media.Because if we want to better understand the role that mediaplays in the way that the public thinks and feelsabout transgender identities, we kind ofneed to know what it does.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And so if we want to look at the effectthat news representation or fictional media representationhave, being able to conduct experiments in which we canmeasure people's attitudes before and afteris really important.And if we want to study what--
TJ BILLARD [continued]: the relationship between how much exposure people haveand their attitudes, it would be great to beable to do a survey where we could correlate those two.But when we're talking about media representationspecifically, there's not just issues with measuring attitudestowards trans people.There are also issues with measuring exposure to media.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: As I mentioned earlier, there's an increasing fragmentationof media.And so when you're no longer looking atdid people watch television programs on these three networktelevision stations, but we're insteadlooking at did people consume mediaacross one of 1,000 platforms, it's
TJ BILLARD [continued]: hard to measure people's exposure in any meaningful way.And so that's something that's facingthe field of communication broadly, not just studyingtransgender representation, whichis how do we study people's exposure to mediain order to know what effects it's having.
JOSUE SILVA: Do you see these problems in methodologyand psychometric scales as just beinga problem in the study of transgender issues,or do they impact other areas in terms of the queer spectrum?
TJ BILLARD: So I think attitudes are dynamic.And we need to not view the psychometric scales wedevelop as static, permanent tools because they're not.The things that were homophobic attitudes in the 1970sare dramatically different from what homophobic attitudes
TJ BILLARD [continued]: in 2019 are.And so if we were to use a measure from then now,it wouldn't necessarily work because peopledon't necessarily have as stronglypolarized, prejudiced views.And so the measures that have been developed noware developed now.And they hopefully work now.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: But we can't expect them to work in the future.We need to be fluid and dynamic in approaching this.And so in that regard, it's not unique to trans attitudes,the issues of psychometrics.There are other psychometric issuesthat just are they good measures at the time they're made.And that's a separate question.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: I think that the issues around transgender psychometricsaren't just important for studying media.They're great so that we can study the rolethat media has on attitudes.But it's important for our understandings of transgenderattitudes in general.If we can study transphobia, and wewant to know what are the different factors of a person's
TJ BILLARD [continued]: personality that are associated with howtransphobic their attitudes are, you obviouslyneed a good scale of transphobic attitudes.And so again, when we have measuresthat are just what do you think towards trans people,that's not necessarily the best measure.And it also means we then can't see
TJ BILLARD [continued]: if there are different things that predict whether or notsomeone has higher levels of transphobia towards trans womenversus towards trans men versus toward non-binary people.There may be different things thatunderlie different mechanisms underlying that attitudedevelopment.And so these issues certainly aren't unique to trans issuesand certainly not unique to media.
JOSUE SILVA: How can media scholarsuse psychometric scales to further their workand improve them along the way?
TJ BILLARD: So I think that the use of psychometric scalesin the study of media is really important because for all thatwe can study about what media representations are, how theycome to be, and so on, if we don't understand their effects,
TJ BILLARD [continued]: our knowledge is helpful but limited.And so it's obviously incredibly importantthat we have robust psychometricsand that we apply them well into studying the waythat media affects attitudes towards trans people.I think that beyond that, it's important for us
TJ BILLARD [continued]: to acknowledge that not everything isgoing to be appropriate to use at any given particular time.If you are going to study a particular type of media,you need to be conscious about do the measures you'reusing match, right?
TJ BILLARD [continued]: If you're looking at a representation, the effectsof a representation of a trans personwho is visibly gender nonconforming,then there are measures that are bettersuited toward measuring attitudestowards gender nonconformity, or thereare various things like that.We can't take this attitude that, great, this
TJ BILLARD [continued]: is what there is.This is a good tool.I'll use it.There are a variety of tools out there.And there are different ones thatare going to be effective for different uses.But particularly if you're a scholar whois looking at transgender issues as an example of something,but you aren't necessarily as sensitively attunedto the transgender representational issues
TJ BILLARD [continued]: themselves, it sometimes can be easy to overlook the importantand impactful, if possibly minor, differencesthat there might be in the way that different scales workand what they're best suited towards in termsof capturing the relevant kind of sub-areas of transgender
TJ BILLARD [continued]: attitudes.
JOSUE SILVA: How can students and scholarsensure that trans representation isa part of their body of work?
TJ BILLARD: I think that if you area scholar or a student studying anything,transgender issues are relevant.And you need to be aware of the ways in which they are.If you study gender, then transgender identitiesare a relevant category or set of categoriesfor your analysis.You can't just study men and women.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: You need to pay attention to the ways in which genderis experienced differently.It's mediated differently.And knowing the way that transgender identities arerepresented in media and the political and cultural dynamicsinvolved in that reflects heavily on the waysthat cisgender people are represented as well.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And if you study issues of race, if youstudy issues of religion, if you study issuesof any particular identity category,those identity categories relate to people's experienceof their gender identity.People have intersectional experiencesof race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status,
TJ BILLARD [continued]: these various things.And you can't study these things in isolationbecause people do not experience their identities in isolation.They experience them as constitutive of one anotherand as dependent on one another.And so it's really important for peoplewho maybe don't think about transgender peopleas a relevant constituency for their research.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: They are because if you--any of the identity categories that you study,there are transgender people who fit into that.If you're just doing a survey of people,some of the people taking that survey are transgender.And so understanding trans issuesis relevant no matter what your sub-discipline, your subfield,or your kind of topic of study are.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And I think that thankfully peopleare beginning to realize that to an increasing degree.And that's really heartening.But there's certainly a long way to go.There's certainly a lot to be learnedabout how to be inclusive, not just for reasonsof respect and political correctness, which
TJ BILLARD [continued]: are both important as well, but because in society in 2019,you need to be able to attend to the diversity of genderexperience that exists in the world.And it is a much more diverse landscapethan it has historically been.And so that's something that everyone reallyneeds to be conscious of in their work.
JOSUE SILVA: What are some transgender activistsand or rights groups that students should pay attentionto?
TJ BILLARD: I think that there are a ton of groups out therethat are doing really important work.And I think there are more every day, which is exciting.Because I think you see people across the countryand indeed across the world realizing my identityis being politicized against my will.And I need to step up and do something about it.But there are a lot of really great groupsthat are out there doing really important work.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: There's the National Center for Transgender Equalityin Washington, DC.There's the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, California.There's the Transgender Legal Defense and EducationFund in New York City.There's the TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles.And there are so many more that I can't evenremember them all and certainly couldn't list them all.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: Those are some of the kind of major actorsthat you're likely to see in media on a relativelyconsistent basis.But I think it's important for scholarsto focus not only on those types of high-profile organizationsthat are doing great work, which are important to focus on,but also there are small collectives
TJ BILLARD [continued]: of transgender activists who are workingin your small town of 12,000 people to work with city hallto change policies.And the work that they're doing is just as importantbecause it is so significant for the lives of peoplewho live in that community.But it's work that's much lower profile.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And so I think when we study transgender activism,we obviously should look at the organizations and the activiststhat are making a big impact or a highly-visible impact.But we need to also not forget allof the work that's happening that we don't see all the time.
TJ BILLARD [continued]: And we need to be sure to be giving attention to that workas well because that is kind of the invisible massof the iceberg underneath the waterlinethat we don't necessarily see, but is the majorityof the work being done.
JOSUE SILVA: Thank you so much, TJ,for taking us through the importance of mindful transrights activism in media.
TJ BILLARD: Thanks so much.
Transgender Rights Activists and Media for Social Change
View Segments Segment :
Thomas J. Billard discusses with Josue Silva how transgender rights activists are fighting the media narratives and trying to get equality.
Thomas J. Billard discusses with Josue Silva how transgender rights activists are fighting the media narratives and trying to get equality.