Effective Pro-Transgender Memes
Current events have a knack for finding their way into our news feeds via the meme. While memes can be humorous, they can also drive home a sincere point. The event we will focus on are the recent statements made by Trump and his administration regarding acknowledging transgender individuals. On October 22nd, the New York Times published “Trump may Limit how Government Defines One’s Sex”, dissecting his recent proposal. The suggested efforts will “negate claims that gender identity — rather than biological gender — can be used for protection under federal civil rights laws such as Title IX” (Green). Essentially, reverting society with the proposed definition, where transgender individuals do not exist and will not have access to basic human rights and protection against discrimination.
There is a burning question that exists here. How did Trump go from supporting transgender individuals prior to his election, to now changing his stance with the October proposal denying transgender’s existence? On April 21, 2016, the New York Times stated Trump’s view was that “transgender people should be allowed to use whatever bathroom they feel most comfortable with — including at Trump Tower in New York” (Parker). Clearly something influenced him to change his public stance. To get to the root of the issue, we must seek out what is influencing Trump to change his mind. Afterall,he is a businessman; he knows what he needs to do to maintain power. That power resulting from political funding and influence from the conservative religious right. To use an old colloquialism “he knows what side his bread is buttered”. In order for Trump to maintain his current office, he needs to keep the people who got him there happy. To change the mind of Trump, we need to first influence the hearts and minds of religious conservatives. This will be no easy task. Their roots run deep in outdated patriarchal systems. The idea of black and white thinking is ingrained into their ideals.
What is the religious conservative reason for not having a culture of transgender acceptance? Focus On The Family is a well known source within the Christian community and is sought out for guidance and clarity on social-cultural issues. After the Obama administration had implemented the protection of transgender students under Title IX in 2014, Focus On The Family published “Title IX and Transgenderism: The New Threat in Your Child’s School” prompting parents to contact their school districts to voice their opinions against the new non-discrimination law. (Kaufman). In quoting Dale O’Leary, the article attempts to explain the ‘cause’ of transgender/gender confusion:
“We have to keep in mind that (people who suffer from gender-identity disorder) are wounded people,” she tells Citizen. “But they refuse to acknowledge the wound.” Instead, O’Leary says, they try to fix it through redefining their gender—and now through demanding that society accept that redefinition. The White House is only making things worse. “The Obama administration is not fixing their wounds,” she says. “It’s telling them, ‘You’re fine— it’s society that’s the problem.’ But social acceptance doesn’t heal childhood wounds. They’re condemning these boys and girls to a terrible life.”
The belief being disseminated here is that all transgender individuals are a product of a traumatic childhood. They go further to say “As Christians, we cannot lie, … We have to be courageous enough to tell the truth. We have to get the message out. It’s so important…we’ve got to keep going” (Kaufman). Implying here that they, as Christians, have the ultimate irrefutable truth on the transgender matter. Their rhetoric is also prompting their followers to further disseminate their held belief as “truth”.
Nearly a month later, Focus On The Family published another article, “The Impact of Adding LGBT to Nondiscrimination Laws”, demonstrating the negative effects that the new non-discrimination laws had on Christians. “These newly created rights come into conflict with religious liberties, religious freedom often loses” (Johnston). They continue to incite fear as they list various incidents in detail from across the US. This pressured rhetoric has fed into the mainstream Christian culture, which largely constitutes the Republican party.
Where the religious Christian culture falls short, is the inability to ask questions. For fear of being seen as doubting their faith, they risk asphyxiating their minds as they cling to the ‘Word of God’. A lot of people avoid the topic of transgenderism in conversation and in doing so prevent questions from getting asked. Curiosity and asking questions is the foundation to learning. Learning and becoming more aware of a topic is how we dispel any prejudicial thoughts. Dispelling those pre-formed thoughts is how we address fear. Fear left unchecked is the root of all hatred and discrimination.
In September of 2016, “Questions and Answers About Gender Identity” in the St.Louis Post-Dispatch focuses on some key points. One section addresses the question of what causes transgenderism stating that “gender identity is highly complex and not well understood. But researchers do not believe that an early childhood trauma or sexual abuse is responsible for a person being transgender” (Bernhard). This directly disputes the claims made by the religious sector and rather suggests that studies have shown more of a correlation with fetal development. In other words, they are born this way. Bernhard further explains that individuals that identify as transgender do not have a mental disorder. While The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or DSM classifies transgenderism as “Gender Dysphoria”, the article implies that a disorder is classified “as causing significant distress or disability” (Bernhard). Transgender people don’t find themselves disabled or distressed because of their identity, but do find it difficult when seeking medical and social support (Bernhard). The social support piece of this hardship is the factor I aspire to change.
Is it possible for the religious demographic to uphold their belief in a perfect creation while exposing beauty of diversity within that same creation? Not as a means to negate their beliefs, but rather to expand them. A phrase I always heard growing up was “you can’t put God in a box”, meaning; he is limitless and we can barely begin to understand his power. If the belief is held that creation is an expression of the God’s identity, can we then also conclude that we can’t put humans ‘in a box’ by limiting the way we express our identity?
With this hope, I propose my meme series as a catalyst for a collective change of heart. I want to convey a message of compassion. I struggled at times with the idea of being blunt and matter of fact, to the degree of snarky. However, I want the audience to be able to see people as people. Similar to the “Love is love” anthem in the marriage equality movement, I want to emulate a “Transgender is human” anthem for my memes.
To create an effective meme, I chose images and words that are familiar with religious conservatives. After all, you need to speak the native tongue if you desire a chance at making ‘converts’. The image of Jesus washing the feet of another is an appeal to the pathos of my audience. In the time of Jesus, a guest to someone’s home would be greeted by a servant of the house. The guest would remove their sandals as the servant would wash the dirt from the guest’s feet before entering the home. The iconic account was an instance where Jesus himself was the guest. Rather than accept the gift of someone else washing his feet, he chose to be the gift and serve others by washing the feet of those in the house. This message is an example of generosity and humility that Jesus was hoping to impart on his followers. The scripture reference in the meme is an appeal to ethos. The words are taken from Matthew 25:45; spoken by Jesus in one of his numerous parable sermons. The expression of this scripture speaks to how we treat others that are different from us, or people we see as ‘lower’ than ourselves. Jesus challenged his listeners with the attempt to reframe how they treat those individuals and suggest that it is also how they were treating him. The aim for this passage is to evoke a feelings of pathos, all while using the source of scripture as a basis for ethos. The tying of these two rhetorical tools together is an efficient use of logos. Since the nature of the meme is to be quick and efficient, I feel I have effectively done so with the creation of my meme. Leading me back to my original goal; changing the mind of Trump will require influencing the hearts and minds of religious conservatives. In closing, I declare a blessing, a benediction of sorts as I cast this meme out into the universe; may it compel the hearts of many to be full of compassion to our fellow transgender humans. Amen.
The following are links to the meme series I created for this project:
Bernhard, Blythe. “Questions and Answers about Gender Identity.” St.Louis Post-Dispatch, 25 Sep. 2016, pp. B.2. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.libprox1.slcc.edu.
Green, Erica L.,Katie Benner, and Robert Pear. “Trump may Limit how Government Defines One’s Sex.” New York Times, 22 Oct. 2018, pp. A.1. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks-sirs-com.libprox1.slcc.edu.
Johnston, Jeff. “The Impact of Adding LGBT to Nondiscrimination Laws.” Focus on the Family, 16 Oct. 2014, www.focusonthefamily.com/socialissues/religious-freedom/houstons-religious-freedom-problem/the-impact-of-adding-lgbt-to-nondiscrimination-laws.
Kaufman, Matt. “Title IX and Transgenderism: The New Threat in Your Child’s School.” Focus on the Family, 3 Sept. 2014, www.focusonthefamily.com/socialissues/citizen-magazine/education/title-ix-and-transgenderism-the-new-threat-in-your-childs-school.
Parker, Ashley. “Donald Trump Says Transgender People Should Use the Bathroom They Want.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Apr. 2016, www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2016/04/21/donald-trump-says-transgender-people-should-use-the-bathroom-they-want/.