A VIRAL HASHTAG FURTHER GENDERING CANCER?
How a viral campaign further genders cancer, and what one transgender woman has to say about it.
It's been four days since the latest viral trend, #cockinasock took hold of social media sites everywhere, and you won't find many complaints over these near-nude male selfies, wearing only a sock over their genitals to raise awareness for testicular cancer either.
Yet, thankfully it's been just 24 hours since a Canadian trans woman has called out the disparity in representation, and rightfully so.
As with most things, popular media is an extension of social norms. We speak in binaries, laden with innuendos and mistruths about our culture, our bodies, and our unwillingness to account for the "other." Hell, we gender damn near everything, including cancer! And then there are those like Samantha Lauzon who call BULLSHIT.
In the case of #cockinasock, while appealing and transgressive, an entire population is being reduced to the margins… again. Let's also not ignore the fact that this campaign is saying, perhaps unintentionally, that there is only one type of cock, and that cisgender men are the only ones at risk for testicular and prostate cancer.
"I think it was a huge decision to allow myself to be so vulnerable..." -Samatha Lauzon
The reality is that trans* women/yn are still at risk of getting cancers we generally assign to cisgender men, and while gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy can significantly reduce the risk of getting said cancers, they don't eliminate it. Correspondingly, not all trans* women opt to have an invasive vaginoplasty surgery, for a variety of reasons, and are at the same odds for contracting either testicular or prostate cancer. Where are their stories; or in this case, where are their photos?
When it comes to receiving adequate healthcare, transgender people also face increasingly more barriers than cisgender people, from socio-economic status to trans* phobia, even within the medical field. As if that weren't enough to prevent trans* people from routine cancer screenings, there's also an extreme scarcity in cancer research on trans* bodies.
Then there is the fact is that even the American Cancer Society doesn't adequately account for trans* vulnerability with their continued gendering of cancer, as shown here in their overview of ovarian cancer for women. As with trans* women who are susceptible to prostate and testicular cancer, trans* men are also at risk for being stricken with breast and ovarian cancer, yet their visibility is minimal at best.
Thankfully, there are groups like the National LGBT Cancer Network, which does list facts and resources for trans* people; but even they only scratch the surface.
If there is one place that trans* people have become visible, it's in media. From Facebook expanding its options to include over 50 new gender options for its users to choose from, to Lavern Cox's popularity since Orange is the New Black slithered its way into millions of living rooms, people under the far reaching trans* umbrella are beginning to reshape societal norms. This campaign should be no different.
The point is not to dismiss the idea entirely (hell, it's rather genius when you think about it, and marketeers spend a lifetime trying to come up with a hashtag as popular as this one); rather, the point is to ask critical questions, to challenge social norms and the gendering of cancer that results—after all, it could save a life.
Kudos to Samantha for having the courage to share her #cockinasock photo: the remix, on Instagram and Facebook. Of course, there was one idiot who reported her photo as inappropriate, which begs another equally important conversation: why are we so afraid of trans* bodies? Better yet, why is a cisgender man's photo appropriate, yet a trans* woman's isn't?