Today’s Wednesday post looks at thoughts shared on a podcast episode regarding the importance of experience vs. pictures for the transgender community.
I recently listened to the podcast Another Round, Episode 14 “Multitudity” with guest Tiq Milan during which Milan spoke to a number of issues facing the transgender community in terms of advocacy, advertising and strategy. One thing Milan noted is the importance of experience over pictures when it comes to supporting the trans community:
Host: I know you talk a lot about the narrative of trans people, but also the visuals of these cable packages, where the B role is a lot of the body, like the focus, especially for trans people is, “We need images of bodies,” stuff, and that’s the primary focus. Do you consult in any way about not just the narratives but also the visuals?
Milan: All the time, all the time.
Host: What do you see often and like what are you trying telling them not to do
Milan: A lot of times, I’ll go into a place, like a magazine or a TV studio, and what they want to do is show a lot of the physical trans just putting on their makeup or putting on their wigs and things like that. And what I’m telling them is that we have to talk about the experience, the lived experience, not so much the body politics. The trans experience looks different for everybody, so people’s bodies are going to look different in their trans-ness. So to look at one body and say “this is how trans bodies are supposed to look” isolates so many people.
As a counterpoint, there is a difference between an individual sharing one’s own experience accompanied by images of self versus what someone else chooses to as a representation of subject. For example, in this same podcast episode, the hosts and guests mentioned how powerful it was to witness people’s participation in Trans Visibility Day on Tumblr by sharing themselves. However, when they talked about how “trans” topics are packaged and promoted, the imagery chosen to sell those shows and products were very ineffective.
“But I would like to think that I’m compelling not just because of the way I look. That I have something intelligent, smart, insightful, even moving to say.” – Laverne Cox
clothesfreelife.com recently launched its More Than Pics campaign to support outlets that treat clothes freedom, naturism and nudism by doing more than blog pictures, and other individuals and groups have also articulated that they will no longer reblog random pictures for promotion. Whenever some challenge the effectiveness of reblogging random images, others still argue that the images help promote the cause. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, there is wisdom in observing trends and conversations taking place in other contexts. The podcast episode referenced in this post, while not themed around clothes freedom, naturism or nudism, spoke to the same issue of pics vs. experience. The trans community is finding shares of lived experiences to be much more valuable and encouraging than random promotional images.
I feel similarly when I think about my experience and observations as a woman in the clothes free community. I and women I follow post our own individual images with commentary about our clothes free yoga, cooking, reading, fitness, work, etc. In this context, we are documenting our own lives, with our own words, on our own terms. This is quite different from the posed images of women that accounts fish from the internet and brand “naturist” to sell the philosophy product.
The responses to the pictures are also very telling. So many people, without knowing anything about the models in the picture, claim the model to be free, exposed, brave. But the reality is that the model’s lack of clothing does not tell us anything about who they are, what they value, or what’s going on in their lives. And those accounts don’t ask; they slap a naturist/nudist label on it and tell people to repost. A review of who “likes” the pic reveals that it is usually men and few to zero women. It’s alarming how so many think the posed images are authentic and natural, forgetting that the person is a model posing for a shot. There is no story, and yet the images are promoted as authentic representations of naturism / nudism.
Then, of course, I and others respond, “OK, but we don’t see ourselves reflected in that.” I don’t mean that as just a comment on physical features; I am literally never crawling through desert sands on my knees or reclining in the middle of a road waiting for a camera to take my picture. Those fantasies don’t communicate any kind of healing, powerful lived experience. They don’t illustrate what it’s like to use clothes free living as a way to reconnect to nature or become more honest with self and others. If someone snapped a pic of me and tossed it around the internet without my own voice, you’d never know that, for me, clothes free living is helping heal eating disorders and listen more keenly to my body’s health needs.
“We are looking for justice for so many trans people across this country. And by focusing on bodies, we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.” -Laverne Cox in response to Katie Couric’s question about society’s preoccupation with trans people’s genitals
In the same way that the images cable companies use to sell trans don’t resonate with the trans community, the random images nudists use to promote nudism are not very effective at reaching people who don’t already know about it. Just as the trans community wants to hear more about lived experiences, life shares are what resonate deeply with those who engage clothes freedom, and even those who do not. When I share the ways in which clothes freedom helps relieve my anxiety when I get to be in nature, how focused I feel working clothes free, how it helps me listen to my body more, they get that in a way that they never would by scrolling through 100 random naked pics of posed strangers on Tumblr.
Random promotional pics just aren’t cutting it, not only in the clothes free community, but in many other contexts at large. People all over are saying that they want more than pics, that they want something lived and breathed.
People want soul.