2016 promised to be an exciting year for fans of the Craig McCracken's The Powerpuff Girls, as Cartoon Network announced in June of 2014 that they'd be producing a reboot of the series under the direction of Nick Jennings.
As a fan of the old series myself, I was no exception. As a feminist, my enthusiasm was tampered by the omission of Miss Bellum, and the sudden design change which rid adult female characters of their breasts as though women's bodies were somehow obscene, but my biggest cause for concern came when I saw an article in the LA times, where Nick Jennings discussed an episode which would aim to deal with transgender issues through the allegory of a horse who wanted to be a Unicorn.
As soon as I saw the analogy, I braced myself. Comparing trans people to an imaginary creature really wasn't the best place to start, and honestly an analogy using a creature which wishes to be something it's not is inherently transphobic. When cis people hear the word "Transgender" they already usually imagine a "deluded man" who "wants to be a woman," in spite of the fact that most health organizations including the American Psychological Association no longer consider transness to be a mental illness or defect, but rather a normal and natural manifestation of human diversity. Even the DSM has done away with the outdated pathologization of transness as a "disorder."
Not to mention that just as there are transgender women, who are real women, who were born assigned male, there are also transgender men, who are real men, who were born assigned female, as well as non binary and agender individuals who have experiences of gender which cannot be understood as being male or female, or even no experience of gender at all.
Trans people are everywhere. We're just as diverse as any other group of people. We are different, but being trans doesn't define us. It's just one small piece of a puzzle complicated by other factors, such as race, class, health status, orientation, religious affiliation, and more. Trying to tackle "trans issues," as though that were somehow a simple topic, with a token character in a one-off episode generally ends up being problematic at best and outright harmful at worst, and this episode was no exception.
In addition to my own review, I gathered several other members of the trans community in my area who had yet to see the work, or read any reviews to watch and weigh in, and the opinions were unanimous: It was a disaster.
We were treated to an outright train wreck, if that's even a strong enough word, where transphobic violence was painted as laughable, and trans people as whiny, overly dramatic, emotionally unstable, gullible, and chronically unsure of ourselves.
"Donny," a horse who served as the token trans character, was convinced to undergo a dangerous, untested procedure to become a unicorn, clearly an allegory for trans affirming medical procedures, only to become a monster.
In addition to painting a wildly inaccurate picture of how medically transitioning actually generally positively impacts the trans people who do so, this focus created a narrative which was entirely erasing to the many trans people who experience no desire to undergo any medical treatments as part of their transition, and worst of all, it carried a clear message to trans children, that they are truly monsters. This in a society which already blames us for the way we were born, and forces most to of us repress our identities so violently that we experience a 41 percent suicide attempt rate compared with the 1.6 percent of the general population as reported by NCTE and The Task Force.
The real cherry on top for me was a climactic moment in which they Mayor of Townsville is seen giving a speech on a phallic "Crystal Pickle of Despair" which will cause an eternity of suffering if it is ever broken, moments before the now monstrous former pony smashes it in a clear insinuation that we (at least trans women) earn our "punishment" from society by "destroying" our genitals.
I've spoken before on the casual transphobia in our media, and how much it harms an already marginalized community. We already face institutionalized violence, and the recent shift in media attention has only resulted in more hate, with legislations such as North Carolina's HB2 aiming to exterminate transgender people from American life under the guise of supposed "public safety" concerns which have been proven to be myths, and blatantly ignoring the very real safety concerns trans people actually face every day.
It's tempting for those who benefit from cis privilege to say that the outcry over this type of content is disproportionate, but when we already live in this type of openly hostile transphobic climate, nothing could be further from the truth. Even without any statement from Cartoon Network, the allegory would have been clear to many of us, and with the statement, it moves from incidentally damaging to feeling almost intentional.
No one speaks for the entire community, but I'm far from alone in feeling that Cartoon Network owes the trans community nothing less than an official apology, and to have this episode pulled. It's symptomatic of Hollywood seemingly just rushing to make a profit off our current status as a "hot topic" without involving us at any stage of the process, or giving any regard to the potential negative ramifications for us, or the positive changes which could be made if we actually were involved, and we deserve better. Studios need to either start putting us in charge of our own narratives by hiring trans writers, advisors, directors and actors, or just stop touching them at all. If this is the way it's going to continue to be, then we really don't need or want this kind of "help."
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