I’m going to interrupt my usual navel gazing for a second to address something that has become something of a talking point in the last few days. Richard Simmons is suing the National Enquirer for libel.
Simmons is most certainly not the first person to ever sue the Enquirer over their “reporting” choices. The Enquirer thrives on “scandalous” and “salacious” news. It relies on these things in order to get people to pick up their tabloid and buy it. Accurate, objective reporting isn’t all that profitable, and the Enquirer is more than willing to push against the general mores of journalism—or completely disregard them—in order to make money. Simmons is nothing more than their most recent “cash cow.”
So, what does this have to do with trans issues? Why am I posting about it here? Well, part of Simmons’ libel charge has to do with the fact that the Enquirer reported on claims that Simmons hasn’t been seen in public because he is transitioning/has transitioned.
A number of people on the internet have taken offence to the fact Simmons is suing over these claims. Because, I suppose, that’s what people on the internet do—get offended.
A number of comments on social media, and even a couple articles, have popped up claiming that Richard Simmons is transphobic for suing the Enquirer over their reporting on transition claims. Others have said that he’s a bad ally to the community etc. After all, believing that the Enquirer engaged in libel requires that false claims regarding his alleged trans status have damaged his reputation or harmed him in some way. In other words, for it to be libel, the Enquirer must be wrong about him being trans, and people thinking he’s trans must be a bad thing.
However, I see no way in which suing the Enquirer over false transition claims is actually transphobic. False claims that someone is trans does hurt their reputation. Hell, being trans hurts your reputation. No cis person in their right mind would want people to think they are trans in today’s society. We’ve made a ton of progress, but being trans is still seen as “weird,” “odd,” or “disgusting” by a significant number of people.
It is unquestionably better in the minds of “the public” to be cis—being trans makes you a target for negative attention. Acknowledging this fact does not imply any sort of transphobia. It implies you’re paying attention. If I was a cis celebrity, I would not want people falsely claiming I’m trans. It doesn’t matter whether being trans is in itself a bad thing. All that matters is that the claims are false and that other people think it’s a bad thing to be trans. That’s it.
If you want to get offended about Richard Simmons suing the Enquirer over their claims that he is trans, be offended that the Enquirer still considers someone’s trans status “scandalous,” and that they are willing to out someone for money. They wouldn’t have printed the claims otherwise.
However, if you really want to be offended—if you want to get that good, righteous indignation high—be offended that being trans is still salacious and scandalous to a lot of people. Be offended that being trans in our society is still a bad thing.
P.S. Dear sensationalist media: leave Richard Simmons alone. The man doesn’t want to be bothered, and he has a right to his privacy—whether he’s cis, trans, transphobic or whatever. Y’all are disgusting.