Weekend Update 1/16/16: Wrong on so many levels

The elderly woman sporting a dress, pink lipstick and matching earrings (left) has been identified as the local senior center's middle-aged male van driver David Robert
Screenshot from the Guardian article, pics from Latino Public Radio and Facebook. Click to embiggen.
As always, some really interesting (or hilarious or both) news always pops up after I post my Friday Links which I think shouldn’t wait until next week but this time it’s an extra special doozy: Rhode Island city official resigns after forcing a man dress up in DRAG as old woman for a photo op at a senior citizen center. I think Talking Points Memo first broke the story yesterday, but the Guardian has the most comprehensive version. Go, read it, then come back, because this is just too hilarious.

The story I linked mentions the official defending herself on Facebook by re-posting something a friend wrote. Jezebel has the full text of the defense. Here’s the best part:

It is just like Sue to protect the seniors she served. I commend her for thinking of the safety of the frail seniors. It was 26 degrees last Tuesday and slippery by the snow pile (which was a prop as there was no snow)! Knowing Sue, I’m sure she was also thinking of the possibility of putting a “real” senior in harm’s way should someone recognize that person and go to their home to take advantage of them. I commend Sue and the staffer for putting safety first!

Anyone who attends PR events knows they are staged. Political press events are often staged; ribbon cuttings; ordinance /law signing ceremonies; to name a few. In politics campaign ads are staged with the perfect demographic representation in the mix. How is this any different?

First, comparing this to a campaign ad brings in a really big difference: campaign ads are paid for by private money raised by the candidate’s election committee. The salaries of all the city employees involved in getting this event together are paid for by tax payers. That’s a big difference. Yes, press conferences and photo ops are staged, but there’s a difference between people who may hate each other’s guts smiling for the camera because they all support the program or event in question, and people pretending to be someone they aren’t.

The photo op didn’t need a senior citizen for it to work. The kids shoveling snow, even if it was staged snow, got the idea across. I’ve even seen similar press events myself where the official doing the talking said something along the line of, “We haven’t had much snow this week, so we had to gather some up to show you how it’s going to work.”

To me, it’s a combination of all the bad decisions in this:

  • pressuring or asking an employee to dress in drag
  • thinking that a middle-aged man in bad drag is the way actual older women look
  • literally putting a label on the middle-aged man in drag that says “senior home resident” – If it had actually been a resident, they wouldn’t have put a label on her! No one else in the photo op is wearing a label. Why should there be a label on her?
  • claiming this was to protect the real senior home residents from either the cold, or slipping, or harassment?

A bunch of teen-agers shoveling snow in front of a building that actually is a senior citizen home and already has a gigantic sign identifying it as such is all the photo op needed. People would have gotten the idea. This was just a lot of really dumb decisions that added up to no real benefit for anyone.

And maybe it’s because I have friends who are trans and non-binary so I spend a lot of time thinking (and being irritated) about the ways people think of drag and queer and trans and women’s issues, but this whole thing skeeves me out on that level, too. The bus driver hasn’t been identified as gay, but you can see from the pictures the Guardian come up with of him that even if he isn’t, a lot of people probably assume he is. So this turns into “ask the fag to dress up as a woman—he must know how, right?” situation.

This situation is wrong on many, many levels, not the least of which is anyone trying to cast the person who made all these decisions as the victim.

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