I first met Jamie Clayton when a friend of mine, who I had previously known to be something of a connoisseur of beautiful women of the traditional variety, announced he was dating a “super-cool,” “totally fucking hot” transsexual. The fiery-haired, freckled Ms. Clayton came out in this space on August 28, 2008, after we met at a trendy Union Square diner. On a recent Thursday afternoon, we met there again for lunch.
“Oh my God, everything changed after the article,” she said, between bites of an egg-white omelet with a side of fruit. The story spread across the blogosphere, recalled Ms. Clayton, now 32, beginning with a post on Gawker and proceeding into more esoteric Internet cul-de-sacs. All of the sudden, a transgender community she didn’t know existed was embracing her as a role model.
Outside a coffee shop in the East Village, a bunch of gay boys began chanting, ‘Work it bitch! Work it bitch! You’re beautiful, bitch!’
“I was getting emails from all over the world,” she said. Australia, London, Asia especially. Transgender ladies wrote to express gratitude for her courage. Men communicated their desire for a piece of her. She was invited to go on The Tyra Banks Show. CBS News’ Logo Channel did a segment on her.
Ms. Clayton got new head shots. The photographer was also an acting coach. After two months of classes, and after running into Laverne Cox, a transsexual gal who had produced a reality show with P. Diddy and seen Ms. Clayton on Tyra, she was cast on a reality-show pilot for VH1 called TRANSform Me, a makeover show featuring three transsexual fashion professionals coming to the aid of XX women. “I thought that you were stealth,” Ms. Cox had said. Meaning undercover. Not anymore!
VH1 ORDERED EIGHT episodes of TRANSform Me, which debuted in February. The network told her it was the best-reviewed reality show the network had put out. “The show is breaking new ground by presenting transgendered women as fierce and fabulous-if a little superficial,” Village Voice columnist Michael Musto told ABCNews.com.
The transgender community largely agreed. The most exhaustive analyses came from the disciples of the ever-evolving New Feminist movement. “The three leads give cis women makeovers while relating these women’s experiences to their transition,” began the critique on Feministing.com. (“Cis,” from the Latin prefix meaning “to be on the same side,” is a term in women’s studies departments across academia to describe women who were born with a vagina.) The author, Jos, opined that TRANSform Me was nevertheless a net-positive, commendable for its overriding message that “a physical makeover is really just one part of changing how someone sees themselves.”
In the comments section, there ensued a theoretical catfight of sorts: The transgender’s rightful place in the pantheon of female oppression? Discuss!
“Being cis and female can mean being born just to be killed … being raped for the rest of your life … being sold into marriage with some old misogynistic dude who’s itching to get your [sic] pregnant at the first sign of menstruation,” noted one commenter on March 19, 2010.
“I would eat shit every day for 10 years to have your cisgender body,” responded another.
It was gibberish to Ms. Clayton, who had never before heard the term “cis,” though she’d gotten a taste of p.c. when VH1 subjected the trio to a GLAAD media training session in which they were informed that the word “tranny” is not kosher.