I watched a lot of TV as a kid. My brother and I were latchkey kids, and basically turned on the TV from the moment we got home at 2:30 until my parents came back from work at 6:00. There were cartoons (Ducktails!), schlocky teen series (Out of This World), and syndicated sitcoms (My Two Dads). Except for Ricki Lake, the talk shows were on earlier in the day, so I only got to watch them if I was home sick (which I was, a lot).
Talk shows were the first place I ever heard of transsexuality. And I remember a few episodes in uncharacteristically vivid detail. There were the chubby twin boys on Sally Jesse or Jenny Jones who transitioned, and who seemed happy, healthy, and well adjusted (and even bragged about the small penises they had grown). There was the episode of Jerry Springer where a very manly looking cowboy type with gray stubble and a square jaw told his girlfriend that he had a vagina (the episode never addressed if he was trans or intersex–just a freak, I guess). There was an episode of Montel or Maury where a young black trans guy talked about “tricking” his girlfriends into believing he was “really a man.” (The similar example below is from a more recent Jerry Springer.)
The first thing I realize when I remember these shows is how vividly they seared themselves into my brain. I have vague recollections of other talk show topics–kids with progeria, makeovers, sexually active preadolescents–but the trans episodes (specifically, the ones about trans men) have stuck with me all these years. Yet, I don’t recall thinking at the time that I identified with the guests.
I woke up early this morning, couldn’t get back to sleep. And I fell deep into a youtube hole, trying desperately to find footage of those well adjusted FTM twins. Instead, I spent the morning hours reliving the transphobic sensationalism of the 90s, where Maury wanted to know what was the story “down there” and where Jerry and his rowdy audience berate trans people for tricking their partners into sex and being “nasty”, “dirty”, etc.*
Then it clicks. I’m 12 or so, I’m watching these shows, I’m absorbing the information–the stories that I know realize I identify with deeply, but also the host and audience reaction of over-the-top groans of disgust, laughter, derision, and condescension.** So I guess what happens is: the background noise drowns out the message I could have heard (that being trans is real, that transitioning is possible, that trans guys can be happy and healthy and have loving families and partners), and instead files it away intact and undigested to long-term storage.