Trans Visibility and the Muppet Community

Published: March 31, 2023

Hi again. I’m Becca Petunia, I’ve been writing for ToughPigs since 2014, and I am a trans woman. Of course, like most ToughPigs writers, I usually write about Fraggles and Cookie Monster and Mildred Huxtetter. But sometimes, I write about being trans. In June 2022, I helped organize our ToughPigs Pride Month article series, and wrote about my life in the article “Little Things.”

Today, I want to talk to you about this again, because March 31 is Trans Day of Visibility. On this day, it’s common for trans people to share their experiences with the public, making our struggles and our joys known. This year, doing this is more important than ever, because things have gotten terrible for trans people out there.

Throughout the United States and around the world, laws are being passed that ban trans people from public life, effectively erasing us from existence. Many states have issued “drag bans,” blanket laws that ban anyone from wearing clothes different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Others have banned gender-affirming care for youth, or even for adults, despite the medical consensus that this treatment is completely safe and extremely beneficial.

People all over are reacting violently to trans women in particular, claiming that we’re criminals or perverts and only acting as we do in order to harm cis women and brainwash children. States are even making it possible to punish parents who support their trans children, even going as far as to try to separate families by tying these issues to custody. And of course, this week, people have begun using the horrifying recent actions of one trans person to justify cruelty to our entire group.

It’s really, really troubling. If you’re cisgender (a word that isn’t a slur; it simply means you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth and are thus not trans), you may not even realize how bad it’s gotten. But frankly, your trans friends and family are all terrified. I have trans friends across the country who are being forced to move, pushed out of homes and jobs and relationships. People are losing access to what are literally medically-approved, life-saving, psychological treatments. And so many other people just don’t seem to see why this is a problem.

So, on Trans Day of Visibility, I wanted to talk to you all a little bit about this. You might ask “Another trans article? Enough! What does this article have to do with the Muppets?” Well, for one thing, Joe and Ryan and Jarrod told me I can do this, and I think it’s important to use my platform to help my peers, so I’m going to.

But for another, in a big way, I’d argue the current issues surrounding trans folks have everything to do with the ethos the Sesame Street Muppets have always fostered. And so, since you’re a ToughPigs reader and thus a fan of the Sesame Street gang, I’m asking you to consider the following.

First of all, I love being trans. I’m so happy that I’m a trans woman. How many times on Sesame Street have we been told to love ourselves? There’s too many to count. I think of Grover, telling us he’s big and tall and very smart and kind of cute and wonderful. Of Kingston Livingston III, rapping that he can’t be no one else, he’s just happy to be him. And of course, of the boldly and brashly queer Richard Hunt, performing Gladys, belting out a song about being “proud to be a cow.”

I’ve never been prouder of myself, happier with myself, and felt cuter and more wonderful than I do now that I’m taking steps to live as the person who I’ve always wanted to be. Being trans isn’t a disease. It’s not a perversion. I’m not pretending to be something I’m not. It’s who I am. There’s just one me–nobody like me, take a look and see–and being trans is one of the things that makes me special.

Admittedly, being a trans woman also makes me somewhat unusual. I don’t mean that in a bad way, of course, but in the very literal sense of “most people are not trans.” Yes, there are more “out” trans people today than ever before, but trans people still make up an extremely small portion of the population.

As we know, people don’t understand things that are unusual, and often hate what they don’t understand. Sometimes, this leads to genuine cruelty, sometimes it just leads to ignorance. I think of Miss Finch in Follow That Bird, who believes Big Bird can’t possibly be happy and living a good life, because his life doesn’t resemble what she expects a bird’s life to be.

Big Bird doesn’t have a “usual” family. He’s not with other birds; he’s on Sesame Street. In his life, he’s loved, he’s happy, and he’s growing smarter and stronger and kinder every day, but Miss Finch can’t see that. She goes mad, hunting an innocent child through farms and cities, all because she hates what’s different from her experiences.

At best, politicians are acting like Miss Finch, well-meaning but obsessive and misguided to a dangerous fault. At worst, they’re just being cruel, sadistic bullies, delighting in watching people who are different from them suffer.

But Sesame has told us for years that our differences are our strengths. A community isn’t made up of one type of person. It’s humans and grouches and monsters and honkers and Bert and Ernie and vampires and elephants and worms. Or, more crucially, it’s Black and white and Latino and Asian and First Nations and deaf and autistic and young and old. And trans. Each of us has something special to give. And when you don’t know someone, you know you shouldn’t approach them with hatred. You say “happy to meet you.” When you don’t understand things, you ask questions and listen thoughtfully, with a desire to learn more. 

Trans people aren’t evil. We’re the people in your neighborhood, the people that you meet each day. Just like you. I want you to remember that. I want you to be open-minded. The world is so vast and full of so many new kinds of people. It’s exciting to learn new things and make new friends. I want you to go out in the world with curiosity and kindness, giving trans people the same respect you’d give anyone else.

But I’m also asking you to do more than just think kind thoughts. I’m asking you to help. After all, when Big Bird was being persecuted in Follow That Bird, his friends didn’t just sit around and feel sad. They didn’t say they’d help and then disappear. No, they took to the roads. True kindness is Maria standing up to Miss Finch at the end of the film, not just her feeling sad that Big Bird was in trouble. True kindness is about action. Trans people are in trouble right now, and we need our community to act. That’s what community is about. 

So what can you do, besides simply being open-minded and treating us with respect? There are so many ways to actually help, ranging from big things like attending protests, public meetings, and political hearings, to smaller things like talking to your family and friends when they’re being ignorant or heartless. Write letters to your congresspeople. Advocate for trans coworkers at the office. And of course, donating to organizations goes a long way. You can consider things like the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Trevor Project, or just donating to the many, many GoFundMe pages for different trans people who truly need your help.

Being part of a community means being kind. It means helping each other, especially in times of great need. And the trans people in your neighborhood need you right now, more than ever before.

Like Jim Henson said, “Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.” Watch out for us and help us enjoy our lives. You’ll find your life becomes richer and fuller if you embrace your community and everyone in it.

The art of Becca at the top of this article is by Richard Gomez.

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by Becca Petunia

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