It’s hard to imagine a grown person getting up in arms over a fairly run-of-the-mill depiction of a cartoon cow. David Rosman has done just that in his column titled “Otis the steer-cow has some identity issues.” Rosman takes issue with an animated steer who is referred to as male but also has udders.
Rosman is making a mountain out of a molehill, pulling an entire column’s worth of meaning from the swipe of an animator's hand. But of course, writers have made big deals out of minor issues for as long as there have been columns, and Rosman is clearly using hyperbole to get some laughs. A few cow puns never hurt anyone, right?
The problem is that the discussion of Otis, the steer with udders, is not just about bovine animation. Whether he realizes it or not, Rosman is actually talking about a much bigger issue: transgender and intersex people. The puns might not sting, but the reference to Dr. Frankenstein probably does.
It’s a bit ironic that he includes transexuals when he says: “(Otis’s udders are) something so devastating that the LBGT community may join the Westboro Baptist Church in the battle." As a lesbian and a member of the LGBT community, I am quite sure we will never fight for anything alongside the Westboro Baptist Church. Certainly a debate about Otis' gender will not bring us together.
Rosman’s utter disgust over Otis’ udders, albeit exaggerated for comic effect, reflects a larger societal intolerance of people who fall outside the gender binary. His reaction to seeing a confusing gender presentation is actually quite common: First one wonders, is it male or is it female? Then comes the desire to force that person (or cow) to fit into a label.
It’s called gender policing, and we do it all the time in our society. Policing ranges from small acts, such as giving trains to little boys and dolls to little girls, to large acts, such as actual physical violence against people who violate gender norms. That’s how we as a society perpetuate our ideas about what man or woman means. That’s how we teach our kids that cows should have udders, steers shouldn’t.
In fact, when Rosman sees that Otis is supposedly male but also has udders, he says that the animal has characteristics for “the wrong sex.” But in nature, intersexuality happens more often than you’d think. Perhaps it isn’t as common for steers to develop udders, but certainly humans can naturally develop a mix of sexual characteristics. To call something the “wrong” gender just serves to shame people for having a natural variance that is out of their control.
There is no such thing as a "wrong" sex or gender. People should be allowed to define themselves and their gender as they see fit. Same for cartoon cows.
I’m quite sure that Rosman did not specifically have transgender or intersex people in mind when he penned his column. But calling Otis a freak of nature, a sexually confused creature who is possibly part of a terrorist plot — this isn’t just a statement about the cow. Not only do these statements make a lot of suppositions about Otis, who I suspect is quite comfortable with himself, but they also perpetuate the idea that gender non-conformity is dangerous. I think that idea itself is far more dangerous than a steer with udders.
Sarah Palmer is an assistant city editor at the Missourian and recently graduated with a bachelor's degree from the School of Journalism.