“Catfish” and Transgenderism

Note: This post contains spoilers about Catfish the Movie and Catfish the TV Show.  If you have yet to partake in these fantastic entertainment adventures, what are you waiting for?!

Meet Nev Shulman:

Nev ShulmanHe’s a good-looking, seemingly well put-together young guy who only recently gained wild popularity because of the overwhelming response to his movie and subsequent reality television show: Catfish.

Catfish the Movie is a documentary about Nev, filmed by his friends, and his experience in an online romance with a girl named Megan who refused to meet him in person.  Eventually it was revealed that Megan was actually Angela, a middle-aged woman with an entire network of fake Facebook profiles.  Catfish: the TV Show is incredibly similar, based on the experiences of people who e-mail Nev looking for help with their own online romances.

I love Catfish.  Ask my roommate.  It’s the kind of show that gets me out of my seat, screaming at the television (or, in my case, the computer screen) because 10 times out of 10, nobody on the Internet is who they say they are.

“It’s a dude, bro!”

The plots in two particular episodes of this small screen masterpiece – “Kya & Alyx” and “Rod & Ebony” – include twists involving transgender people and the confronting the issues that arise.

Extremely Brief Synopses:

In “Kya & Alyx,” a girl (Kya) falls in love with a man she met online (Alyx) who turns out to be transgender.  Alyx, although born female, identifies as a man.  That should have been the end of it.  But Nev, in so many cringingly awkward moments of naïveté and insensitivity, continues to call Alyx “she” and “her,” and goes so far as to confront Kya about her sexuality.  Kya, at least, knew how to handle the unexpected surprise with grace and acceptance and love, which made the episode bearable.

“Rod & Ebony” was different, and even more uncomfortable as Nev awkwardly navigated his way through the unfolding sexuality drama.  Rod met Ebony on a website for gay men, and she claimed that she was transgender but considered herself a woman.  It was later revealed that she was born a woman, but had identified as a lesbian for years prior (which, I guess, for some reason, makes the whole transgender lie thing make sense, maybe?).  In his first encounter with Rod, before any of this was revealed, Nev callously and casually remarks, “I can’t believe you’ve been talking to this guy/girl for four years now,” proving once again that he has no idea how to react in these situations.  Once Ebony confesses that she is not, in fact, transgender, Nev spends the rest of the episode convinced that Rod is a closeted gay man dealing with his sexual suppression.

How They Messed Up

These episodes indicate that Nev has no idea how to identify or characterize those who label themselves “transgender,” because they do not fit into his spectrum of perceived reality.  To Nev, and so many like him, if a person (X) is born male, that person is a man.  If another man (Y) falls in love with X, Y is gay.  However, since we (in America) live in a society where it is (mostly) accepted that biological make-up does not necessarily account for sexuality, why should it have to account for gender identification?


Confused yet?

Me too.  But it’s ok!  Because the map of reality regarding sexuality is constantly changing and, at times, it is easy to get lost.

Redefining Reality

This show seems so indicative of where we stand culturally.  As a society, America has grown more tolerant of non-heterosexual people, but not completely understanding.  The lines between sexuality are thin, sometimes nonexistent and constantly changing.  That which is perceived to be different can have a hard time finding a place to fit into our definition of reality, unless we change that definition.  Transgender people are out there (by the time this post is published, 22% of the episodes of this show so far deal with such situations) but so many people have no idea how to react to them (as evidenced by the show’s own host and cameraman).

I’ve always found MTV to be ahead of the curve when it came to social subjects like drug use, single parenthood, and LGBTQ teens – sometimes to the point of exploitation – and I applaud them for including relationships involving transgender people.  I only ask that they and Nev and Max and the rest of the crew strive to be as sensitive and informed as possible about what can be considered “different,” in a sense: be willing to define reality.

I encourage anyone to share their thoughts and opinions, in a respectful way (if at all possible).  I want to know other people’s take on this show with these episodes in mind, and I want to know whether or not I have gone completely off the deep-end, floating in an abyss, reaching for unattainable political correctness.

Until next time,

Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.


3 thoughts on ““Catfish” and Transgenderism

  1. Interesting how many often describe themselves as tolerant of “non-hetereosexuals.” Similar to the blanket term of “non-white,” as if there is a group – (white or hetereosexual) – and then there is the exclusion – non-white, non-hetereosexual. Other than, outside of. Psychologically less than?

  2. I’m so glad that you posted this, because the episode with Rod & Ebony drove me crazy with the insensitivity and lack of understanding of what transgender actually is. Even though Ebony didn’t turn out to be transgender, the fact that she was being referred to as a man, and it kept being framed as Rod wanting to be with a man, threw me. I don’t think people realize that transgender means that the person identifies as the opposite sex, as if they were born in the wrong body, and that in that person’s view they actually -are- the opposite gender regardless of their biological sex. They also don’t realize that physical sex is completely independent of sexuality and that, for example, a male-to-female transgender person who is attracted to men considers herself a straight woman, not a gay man. I don’t know. Overall, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I get that it’s confusing, but people need to become more educated about things like this.

  3. Thank you for this. I just watched the Rod & Ebony episode and I found myself so angry by the time it was done. Kya & Alyx wasn’t as bad because, while Nev and Max definitely didn’t have the nomenclature down, Kya was smart and instinctively knew how to properly identify her boyfriend. But in Rod & Ebony, there was nobody who had it figured out.

    Alyx was a trans man, not a trans woman–he, not she. Ebony’s online identity was a trans woman, not a trans man–she, not he. Furthermore, a straight man being attracted to a trans woman does NOT conflict with his heterosexuality. And gay men don’t generally date trans women. They are women, we are interested in men.

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