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When Attacks on the First Lady Take a Disturbing Anti-Trans Turn

When Attacks on the First Lady Take a Disturbing Anti-Trans Turn

Have you heard the latest American conspiracy theory: that First Lady Michelle Obama is in fact a trans woman. While this started with an unfunny but not malicious joke from one comedian, the Right’s adoption of this meme means it’s definitely no laughing matter now.

This rebounding wave of trans panic seems to have started when 81-year-old comedian Joan Rivers was recently asked if she believes there will ever be a gay president. She is quoted as saying, “We already have it with Obama, so let’s just calm down.” She then added, “You know Michelle is a tranny… a transgender, we all know.”

Many in the trans community, though not all, feel that the word “tranny” is a slur akin to calling a gay man a “faggot,” and as result there have been calls for Rivers to apologize. Rivers has refused but did say to CNN in a statement that she thinks the word in this context actually should reflect well on Michelle Obama. “I think it’s a compliment. She’s so attractive, tall, with a beautiful body, great face, does great makeup. Take a look and go back to La Cage Au Follies [sic]. The most gorgeous women are transgender.”

Ms. Rivers is in fact referring to La Cage Aux Folles, a musical by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman, later adapted into a book, which among other things features a number of drag performers. The musical is still touring today.

We’ve covered in extensive detail the various arguments relating to this slur, so I won’t rehash them. Instead, we’ll move right along to the conspiracy theorists on the right and their new obsession.

Under what I wish was an ironic banner “Alex Jones Asks the Question on Everyone’s Mind: Is Michelle Obama a Man?” radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones created a “special” 10 minute report for the notorious site InfoWars, dedicated to extrapolating a conspiracy theory based on Joan Rivers’ joke. You can watch the video here, but we’ll just take the highlights.

Begins Jones:

“The question is, ‘Who is Michelle Obama? Is she really a woman? Is she a man? Now, I’m not drawing any conclusions here, but I know this — it’s fair to question anything and everything this administration says. I can’t think of an administration in history that’s been caught with such a perfect record of everything they say and do being a lie or a fraud.”

Apparently it’s fair to start a gender inquisition against Michelle Obama because of all those times that President Obama has been caught lying–for which the Right appears to have zero proof. Regardless, things descend swiftly into sexism and cheap, anti-trans slurs:

These people are the authors of such tyranny that they shouldn’t whine and complain when the public doesn’t believe anything they’re saying–specially when every time I look at Michelle or Michael Obama–the First Lady, or the First Tranny–something doesn’t look right. She doesn’t look like any black woman I’ve ever known.

You can probably already guess where this is going, but I just want to highlight that this was scripted; this isn’t a lame joke that has got away from Alex Jones, it is premeditated chauvinism. And it gets worse:

She’s got shoulders that are wider than a man’s, which physiologically doesn’t happen.

“You can put three heads on a man’s shoulders, and two heads on a woman’s shoulders — that’s a known anatomy. You look at her arms when she’s standing straight on, she looks like no woman I’ve ever seen.”

So there you go. If a woman is more athletic than Jones, she must therefore be a man. You can’t have broad shouldered, muscular women, sorry Serena and Venus Williams, and all other female sportspeople or strength-training female gym-goers whom apparently Alex Jones has never seen in his life.

Lest we think that this is just Jones having a laugh with us, he decides to make this a serious political rant too, saying:

“For me, this really isn’t just a laughing matter. It’s not just the sexuality, but the very genetics of the human species across the board is being manipulated. … There’s also been a small percentage, a small statistic, of men who identify as females and females who identify as males. And I don’t judge that, I’m just sick of the societal obsession with it. It’s clearly being pushed, and what I’m tired of is the force-feeding of all of this culturally, to reduce population and break up the family.”

So in short, Michelle Obama was actually born male because she has broad shoulders and toned arms, and may or may not be the figurehead of a nationwide conspiracy to manipulate the “very genetics of the human species” and force-feed us the reality of gender dysphoria to undermine gender roles, reduce the population (which clearly isn’t working) and end the heterosexual family.

We can’t help but get the stink of both sexism and anti-transgender rhetoric here, and unfortunately it does matter because it’s not new. Others have previously tried to find “evidence” for Michelle being birth assigned male. This all mostly anonymous sources and fictitious histories, but it does involve a great deal of disgusting crotch-watching as well.

I want to be clear here that this isn’t something that everyone on the Right is adopting. However, anti-trans prejudice on the Right is very strong, and the attacks on Michelle Obama not being a “real woman” display the ignorance and indeed hysteria that means we can’t pass ENDA without massive religious exemptions, and turns even anti-bullying laws or public accommodation laws into something controversial. It also shows how those who oppose trans rights are very willing to dehumanize people as soon as they hear that they are trans, and that’s not just distasteful, it does violence to the notion of our sense of community.

Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories might be ridiculous then, but this kind of “anything goes” ignorance when it comes to women and men who were birth assigned the wrong gender is toxic, and because it is in our legislatures, in our schools, and in our workplaces, it needs to be challenged.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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219 comments

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7:52PM PDT on Jul 30, 2014

pretty sad

9:12AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

What is it about people that they cannot understand the idea of a tall woman? Tall and fit woman? That is all that Michelle Obama is. This is not an example of LGBT prejudice. It is an example of out and out sexism. She is tall, fit and african-american and they can't handle it.

4:23AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

Joan Rivers may be very funny, but I think that for the sake of funny, she has no boundaries and sometimes goes overboard making her lack taste and elegance. Making jokes about the sexual orientation of elected leaders and their wives is a bit too much for me.

9:44AM PDT on Jul 22, 2014

Leigh, you have obviously never been on the receiving end of transphobic abuse if you are telling transgender and transvestite people to 'lighten up' because many of them don't like the word 'tranny'.

A word that causes upset and is used to target and demean a group of people is NOT a 'kind' word. I suggest you research the history of the word 'tranny'. Some in the trans community have reclaimed it and used it amongst themselves, the same as your example of 'faggot'. But it is generally used as a slur and there is NO excuse for defending its use by non-trans people.

There's no linguistic law that says adding a 'y' to a word makes it a nice word.

9:29AM PDT on Jul 22, 2014

Generally speaking when we add a Y to a word it is considered a pet name or a kind nickname. To think that 'Tranny' is comparable to 'Faggot' is ludicrous.

Dog = Doggy
Cat = Kitty
Frederic = Freddy
John = Johnny
Elizabeth = Lizzy
LGBT = Paranoid

Get the picture. Lighten up for goodness sake.

8:40AM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

Donn M., the problem is that the insults have stopped being funny, because we have too many Right Wings who do nothing but find nasty things to say about President Obama and First Lady Michele along with each and everyone who is not a card carrying Right Wing Republican Christian--So much so that the jokes are no longer jokes.

8:40AM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

Mary B I agree. People should be use to this old comedian being mean, she always was and always will be. Good thing she laughs at her own jokes.

8:37AM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

Joan Rivers in the most insulting, unfunny comedian on TV and always has been, she laughs more at her own jokes than anyone. I just wonder why it would matter so much of it were true, which it is not.

8:35AM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

Actually, our First Lady--Mrs. Michele Obama is in good company indeed. This reminds me of the documentary that I saw on Queen Elizabeth the First. Yes, the one who died back in 1604. Apparently there are some in Great Britain who are Still questioning where Queen Elizabeth really was a woman or not.

12:53AM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

So Joan Rivers called Michelle Obama a tranny. Big deal. Don't we pretty much give comedians a broad leeway to insult people? Are presidents and their wives off limits? Cause I've seen far worse said by people who were actually serious, and not just in jest as with Joan Rivers. It is just silly and moronic to take this seriously or to even more stupidly equate it with racism.

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