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The T-Shirt That Changed the World (1998)

The T-Shirt That Changed the World (1998)

©1998, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1998). The t-shirt that changed the world. Transgender Forum.






The T-Shirt That Changed The World

By Dallas Denny


For many years, both transexualism and cross-dressing were about passing, about blending in, about not attracting attention. The world was viewed by transpeople as a dangerous place, but much less so if we looked and acted like everyone else. Those who called attention to themselves, whether by dress or demeanor, faced censure or even expulsion from their support groups.

That all changed a few years ago, when the black Transexual Menace t-shirt came upon the scene. The t-shirt was a political statement, a visual pun, one meant to drive home the point that we are not menaces by proclaiming in red dripping letters that we are. Within months it could be seen on the covers of magazines, on the television, and on the street; it was the t-shirt flavor of the month, worn not only by transfolk, but by gay men and lesbians and gender researchers.

Suddenly transpeople weren’t hiding who they were, but flaunting it. It was a quantum change, one which not only affected how we felt about ourselves, but changed the way others related to us. We went—just-like-that—from being curiosities to human beings fighting for our rights. The difference showed in our media coverage, which suddenly began to focus on our politics instead of our personal identities.

The Menace t-shirt doesn’t have universal acceptance. It’s upfront and in-your face, and some transpeople don’t like that. Certainly, not everyone would want to wear one, but then those who don’t want to wear them don’t have to. But they can, with pride and in relative safety. And that’s what the black t-shirt has given us.