How exciting! “Bad Questions: The Director’s Cut”, my sassy improvised comedy video telling rude people how I feel about their questions, has reached over 1,000,000 views! Combined with the original, longer cut’s 300,000 views the concept has 1,300,000+ views! Not bad for a transsexual topic. What really kicked it off was YouTube’s surprising decision to contact me and put it on the front page of the site as a promoted video, but actually a huge portion of views have come from just viral spread throughout the community. Thank you, Cal-pals!
Originally just a list of questions here on my site that I had gathered over years of dealing with the public, one evening I decided to slap some Coty Airspun powder on my face, paint my eyes and lips, slip into a vintage 1970’s thrift store dress in Oxblood, have two fingers of Lagavulin and improv away based on the list sitting in my lap. Since then, “Bad Questions” has been translated into French, played for groups at community centers and even shown in college classrooms, far exceeding any expectations I ever had for it. One just never knows what will become of an evening’s work!
In celebration of the 1 million mark, here’s a little essay I’ve been sending out to people who write to me about the video, usually to express anger at my tone and claim that “curiosity is normal”. In a nutshell, I respond that the tone is comedic and I agree that everyone is curious about unusual people but that curiosity is not a license to ask rude questions. Look it up, dum dum! 😉
Thanks for watching the video and sending such well-considered letters. I want to respond because I appreciate your insight and effort, but this shouldn’t be considered a formal interview. My ideas about this are continually evolving, largely in response to the continuing behavior of outsiders and my efforts to secure a place of personal strength and self-preservation. This letter will express some strong feelings, but I want to say that I am not expressing any negative statements toward you and appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing.
The first thing I like to point out about the video is that it was intended to have a strong comedic element, indicated by the retro background music and highly mannered presentation among other things. It was improvised from a list of “bad questions” sitting in my lap, and done after two glasses of single malt Scotch.
The video was never intended to be the ultimate statement on how to deal with transsexuals, any more than the Jane Fonda Workout video was intended to be the only and ultimate statement on how to exercise.
The ultimate message of the video, I have come to determine, is this:
- Curiosity = normal
- Acting on it by asking deeply personal questions of a stranger = bad
I cannot repeat that enough. Yes, I am unusual to “you” (the critical respondent). Yes, you’re not educated on my issues so you have questions. No, I don’t have to smile and be gracious when you start asking rude questions. Go buy a book or Google it. If the viewer does not routinely ask casually acquainted transsexual people questions about their genitals or seek to reconstruct the identities which they’ve spent their lives shedding, then the video and its tone are not directed at them. If they do, then they need a good verbal spanking and I have given it to them.
I get it that uneducated people are curious. But at a party, restaurant or one of my shows especially, that’s a “YP”, not an “MP”. Don’t bother me about it when you don’t even know me. Get this: I’m mildly curious about how they became so overweight, why they’re limping, who taught them to do their makeup, why they speak with a stutter, do they realize everyone can tell it’s a toupee, etc etc etc. But I would never ask, because it’s rude. Those questions reflect the lower echelons of my humanity, and it’s better not to inflict them on a vulnerable person.
And yet, while they would consider me asking their mom or sister about their menopause or episiotomy over our first dinner together as horrifying, people cannot seem to understand that simply “being curious” does not entitle them to ask me any and every question that pops into their head without consequence. So now, if they carelessly cross that line with me, disregarding my feelings, I have personally decided there will be consequences. That is my perogative, and I absolutely will not be made to keep quiet and endure insulting behavior any longer. There are consequences to hurting my feelings or insulting me.
Just as they did not care that their questions may have been hurtful to me, I do not care that my responses may be challenging for them to hear. Considering the low level of empathy and social interaction indicated, I even believe that a bit of sting is necessary to make an impact with this kind of person.
What causes many viewers of “Bad Questions” to bristle, especially non-transsexual people, is a strong undercurrent of anger, disgust, condescension and mockery flowing just beneath my artificial smile. Examining my manner of presentation, and their negative reactions to it, may be the most unintentionally educational aspect of this “mock (but not)” instructional video. Because daily I am faced with varying levels of unnatural smiles masking undercurrents of anger, disgust, condescension and mockery, sometimes from even my closest non-trans friends on certain issues. The outright haters are easy enough to filter out, but facing the roiling confusion of disgust and sideshow curiosity that churns behind “friendly” smiles and mouthing of politically correct slogans presents a more difficult challenge. You really can’t begin to understand what it is like to experience an all-permeating, ’round-the-clock disregard and disrespect where all standing and consideration I have with people is considered to be “a gift from them to me”, outside of some situations like physical disability, disfigurement or perhaps racial discrimination where shades of distinction such as the occasional ability to “pass” or “blend in” as the non-hated class is taken into account. Ultimately, I believe their anger stems from something like this: “How dare that tranny talk back to me! How dare that shemale stand up for herself! How dare that freak consider itself my equal!”
As you can tell, I become angry when treated with disrespect. I am angry at being seen as a 2nd class woman, 2nd class citizen and even 2nd class member of the GLBT community. And I refuse to feel apologetic about this anger any more, because people will gladly allow me to subjugate myself to a level that is comfortable for them, if I do not speak up.
In any case, I’m really not there to educate them so much as warn them, perhaps even frighten them, into discontinuing negative behavior. This is probably a paradigm shift, if you were assuming that I was responding to a lifetime of cruelty and condescension with loving understanding, but no. I do not have time to lovingly hold the hands of every one of the endless crowd of people who disrespect and discount me. I simply want to warn them not to do it and go about my business. This is not to say that I don’t believe education on these topics is important… it is vitally important and I have done as much as I can do to promote a positive image, support work like Andrea James’ TSRoadmap and even specifically answer all the questions most people could have right here: “Good Questions: Calpernia Addams on VideoJug”.
After a lifetime of being one of the most malleable, considerate, empathetic people possible… and I truly was… the unstopping barrage of meanness has toughened my skin. It’s not my job to splay my identity open like a High School biology frog carcass for any tipsy idiot at a party who wonders what might be in my pants. Now, if a stranger or new acquaintance is a little fearful to begin poking around my identity because they’ve seen the video, and instead they have to ask things like “What did you do today?” or “How do you feel about the new health care plan?” or “Did you like that new book by so-and-so?”, then I have won… and so have they, really.
I appreciate your writing to me on this, I’m sure that I haven’t perfectly communicated myself, but in any case my days of enduring disrespect as a matter of course are done.