Thursday, September 20, 2018

Body Talk: Conversaions on Transgender Cinema with Caden Gardner: Part Eight

Body Talk is an ongoing series of transcribed conversations on Transgender Cinema as the two of us prepare to write a book on the subject. This installment of Body Talk is on the trap narrative in genre cinema.

Willow Maclay: If I were ever in a situation where I had to start dating again I would fear for my life, because I'm perceived as a cisgender woman by society at large, but I am not one. I'm an actual living late plot twist, and if someone wanted to murder me for this reason they likely wouldn't face jail time. I would have it coming, because I was a liar. I was scary. I pushed him too far by saying I was something that, let's be real, no one considers you are, unless you've had surgery, and I haven't had surgery. That's still some time away, and it could always be pushed back again, so I live as a late act twist that never had to be revealed, because I've been fortunate enough to fall in love with a man who loved me for me, and wasn't threatened by the inbetween-ness of my genitals.

This is not the case for most people. I am not the majority, and I am lucky.

In a larger cultural sense it all started with Psycho (1960). It was the late act reveal that a character wasn't who they were supposed to be, and it was the demonic femininity of men in dresses and lace that became the lasting image. Yes, she was stabbed in the shower and the music pierced us all, but the killer behind the blade was a man who thought he was a woman, and genre filmmaking have been milking this for all its worth ever since.

This doesn't happen in real life, but the closest image we have to the manic tranny with a blade between her legs is that of actual transgender women. We are the broken and the damned and worse than that, we might just be psychotic. We might just kill you. There are more instances of trans woman appearing as murderers in movies than there are good films featuring actual trans women in meaty, acceptable, dense roles that approach their humanity with something resembling respect for the difficulty it takes to be trans. The murderer has persisted. We haven't.

In this segment of Body Talk we're going to be discussing that plot device. Caden, when did you first see a movie that used this narrative trope?

Caden Gardner: We’ve talked about this in the previous installment of Body Talk that primarily dealt with cis actors in trans roles. That conversation also spilled over into cheap third act reveals of characters who, ‘Are not what they appear to be’. Some of that ranged from The Crying Game to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. These characters are not murderers, but unstable and in the latter’s case a villain, with the comedic effect of the reveal played for gross-out laughs and showing how normalized the trope had become. I remember the ongoing gag in the Austin Powers series of removing a wig from a character who appeared to be a woman with Austin exclaiming, ‘It’s a man, baby!’ So I saw the jokes first, how situationally, the panic and anxiety was normalized by the status quo and how the ugly stereotypes within those fears became the punchline. Then I got into the fear and panic at the heart of earlier films than those comedies.

Now I had seen Psycho but I always found Norman Bates an incredibly sympathetic, tic-filled, ball of anxiety. Anthony Perkins gave Norman depth, layers, and even humanity, where you can retroactively, after the twist, realize how at war he is with himself. Hitchcock allowed you to root for him when he was covering up Marion Crane’s murder by sinking the car. I had seen Gus van Sant’s Psycho remake which sexualized Norman’s voyeurism. Van Sant opted for a shot for shot remake so the contemporary knowledge of this twist informs everything Norman does, and after so many Psycho knock-offs where transness is at the forefront and tied explicitly to the twist it becomes an entirely different experience, and not a better one. To move away from Psycho, slightly, one such example of this trope that I came to know very early in my life was Robert Hiltzik’s 1983 slasher Sleepaway Camp. 

I’d like you to get into that, but before I do, Willow, as I think you eloquently stated your position on that film and twist in Cleo a few years back.

WM: I similarly don't have many problems with Psycho, even if I think the last ten minutes is an unnecessary and ultimately clumsy act of explanation. What separates Psycho from many of the films we are going to be discussing in this installment of Body Talk is that it is not fundamentally hinged upon the twist ending. There's a lot going on in Psycho and cinephiles, at least, remember much much more than Norman's cross-dressing and murdering. The craft in that movie is maybe the zenith of Alfred Hitchcock's career. If one wants to argue that Hitchcock was a master of control then Psycho is the last movie where that is easily apparent. I find his period after Psycho fascinating, because he loses grip of his movies, but that's another conversation. Psycho is a totem for a reason and I love it, even if it unintentionally spawned many poorer copy-cat films. 

One of these is Sleepaway Camp , which you brought up. I've seen that movie a half-dozen times for one reason or another. The only movie I outright hate that holds that distinction. I wrote about it for Cleo Journal, but the gist of my problem with Sleepaway Camp is that it intentionally makes the reveal horrific and the movie only works as a late act plot twist. Everything beforehand is slop to say the least. If it weren't for the fact that these filmmakers wanted to show a girl with a dick the movie wouldn't be remembered. One could argue that final scene is useful in pointing out how cisgender people view transgender bodies. I don't think that's a bad idea, but I think it's a cynical one, that doesn't carry as much weight when placed against the brunt of that characters struggles to deal with her own body. Angela isn't trans, but her body is how cis people perceive transgender bodies and the co-signing this film has for the horror of the onlookers is damning. It's a horrifying image to have Angela slack jawed, completely nude, caught in mid-scream, heaving like a demon. It is even worse that those onlookers react with total disgust of her body. They don't find her murders horrific, but she has a dick? That's the scariest shit ever. There's no covering that up and reclaiming the image. It's the only image people talk about with Sleepaway Camp, because the movie is otherwise shit. It's canonized, because of that image. An image that doesn't have the cultural staying power of Buffalo Bill tucking in his genitals, but it is nevertheless synonymous with the phrase "chick with a dick". Being one myself, I can tell you, it's not all that tantalizing. It's boring, mentally arduous on a personal level, and tucked away all of the time, but that doesn't sell. Flaccid never does. 

CG:  Sleepaway Camp makes Angela (Felissa Rose) a timid creature (and I do mean creature, the film is too trashy and low-brow for any humanity in anybody, but especially her) that then becomes a dehumanized monster by the end. It dates back to her crazy aunt that the audience gets doses of through flashback. Angela is forced-femmed (for lack of a better word) by that aunt, her history rooted in a trauma to a horrific accident that claims members of her family, that includes her sister, the real Angela, that is shown in the flashback that begins the film. So Angela is living as a woman and being socialized as a young feminine girl. This was not her choice or inherently innate to her. She never outright states that she saw herself as a woman. I recall that people treat Sleepaway Camp’s twist as a surprise but the film does leave clues that honestly have the subtleties of anvils. Angela is confronted by girl bullies for her timidity, sniffing her out like she has something to hide from the get-go. She doesn’t go swimming, she doesn’t take her clothes off, and she does not shower in the presence of others. As if saying to the audience "What’s up with that?" and these bullies will not quit trying to figure her out. What is disturbing about this film for me is that it emboldens the suspicions of those wretched characters by having that twist with Angela exist. The film, unintentionally, almost predicts gender gatekeepers who want to harass any ‘not normal-looking’ person who goes to their preferred bathroom or dressing room of fucking Target in Anytown, USA that can then extend into law with not so enforceable anti-trans bathroom bills and ordinances in those areas of the country. I think there could have been many films where the version would be to humanize Angela, or give her depth, a sense of who she is or how she relates to her body in being socialized female when she has this whole history about her. But she lives by the twist and dies by the twist in that image that is haunting not for the body count she leaves, but in how the film can treat that character type, thinly drawn mind you, with such animosity and inhumanity. 

People can be quick to dismiss any concerns about this film as, ‘It’s only a movie’ or ‘It’s just a cheap slasher’, but for me we have gone through a lot of genre films that explore the body and gender in fascinating ways and also see how even when seeing real monsters like Jame Gumb in The Silence of The Lambs, that there can be moments of humanity in seeing pain and confusion and not just a cheap twist, thrills, and kills.

WM: As a diehard fan of the genre I'm typically more forgiving of horror films for being uncaring, but I think Sleepaway Camp is merciless in a way that isn't fun to watch at all. I've heard better things about the sequels, in that, they have a sense of humour about the subject matter, but I haven't watched any of them to date. I know Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!) is a big fan of Sleepaway Camp, but I don't see the value in reclaiming it unless you take up an entire fuck the world attitude, which I wouldn't begrudge any trans person for having, but that isn't me. Moreso than being offended, I find the entire affair just catastrophically boring, even for the relatively conservative structure behind slasher films. My main issue with Sleepaway Camp, beyond the obvious, is that if they were going to go with that ending why not lean all the way into it and make it so completely offensive all the way through, negating the twist, and basking in the glow of being a fucked up movie instead of half-assing it by sweeping the big reveal under the rug? It's just annoying, and it's not the only movie of this type to exist. In a larger cultural sense though, it's probably the most famous example in the horror genre of this trope outside of Psycho. Sleepaway Camp definitely has more cultural staying power than something like Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill, which annoys me all the more, because at least Dressed to Kill has the common decency to be well made. De Palma, as much as he annoys me sometimes, was never asleep behind the wheel. He always directed something 100%, but Sleepaway Camp? It's barely a movie, but in the horror community it has been canonized. Their opinion being that It's worth getting through the slog, because you'll get to the girl with the dick. The only image in the movie.

CG: The early 1980s Slashers, basically Friday The 13th (speaking of a Psycho rehash) and after, had a habit of being in conversation with the genre by responding to one movie’s ridiculousness- be it kills or twists- and outdoing it. Resulting horror films were in conversation with Friday the 13th , because it was a huge success, and even Friday the 13th itself was in conversation with Psycho and Halloween (1978). They took the twists and the formula and embellished it in their own mold, but the results, were as you state, half-baked and cheap. I probably do read like a moralist, I actually do love a lot of the horror films from that era, even some that are well, not exactly expertly made cinema and have a nihilist streak about humanity, but I find the canonization of that film to be a mistake in taste. I am sure some of the appeal is the sleaziness and trash, the lowbrow of it all that horror nerds can embrace in ways cineastes and more mainstream audiences do not.

This brings up Brian De Palma. His cinema is sleazy and trashy, but well-done in a way where his commanding scope and playfulness in artifice gave him a lot of respectability (his fans ranged from Pauline Kael to Quentin Tarantino) and currency that still endures today with a lot of cinephiles and film critics in our age-group. He recently had a birthday which on social media seems to give an opportunity for cinephiles that I follow to rank his films. Unsurprisingly, even if I am left quite disappointed, Dressed To Kill seemed to come up frequently as a favorite of people who profess their love of De Palma. I always have an impulse whenever I see it come up in conversation to explore why people like it and reconcile that with the fact that it is definitively a transphobic film. 

To be clear, I do not want to #CancelBrianDePalma or act like there’s a moral failing on the part of these people, some of whom I do consider good friends, for liking the movie or finding something to like in the film. I have curiously heard people who have written books that feature Dressed To Kill, state that it is not about transness but goodness. But I bring you this: from the maestro himself who was informed entirely about the film’s transwoman killer from real-life trans woman Nancy Hunt whose story from Phil Donahue he places into the narrative of his film. It is an unsubtle wink and clue of the twist that still angers me upon reflection.

WM: I'll start by being very upfront that Brian De Palma and I have a complicated relationship as filmmaker and viewer. I adore some of his films and consider them to be all time favourites, like Carrie, which we've both praised, and Blow-Out, which is without a doubt one of the best films of the 1980s. My issues with De Palma, and these issues are only mine, is that I'm annoyed by his treatment of women. I get frustrated that, without fail, especially in this period, they seem to be killed in exceedingly gruesome ways after their sexual usefulness has been wrung dry. De Palma's a very horny director, which is fine, but I don't get a huge thrill out of watching him have an obvious hard-on for the women in his movies. Does this make me a prude? Probably. Does it make me a hypocrite, because I love Dario Argento, who does basically the same things? Also probably. We're made of contradictions. I'm allowed to have mine, but with Dressed to Kill it is a different issue entirely, and that's one where I think he runs into this gigantic problem of mixing the absurdity of the late act plot twist in Psycho with real life problems transgender people have. Psycho is not a relatable target in any estimation, but Dressed to Kill certainly is for two reasons. First the inclusion of Nancy Hunt and also due to the discussion of sex reassignment surgery which is a mirroring scene explaining transness, poorly I might add, that is an homage to Psycho's transvestite explanation. Norman was never a transvestite in Psycho, but Robert Elliott is canonically transgender and De Palma uses that as a crutch for his worst tendencies as a director towards things like castration anxiety, the femme fatale and domination. 

The problem is that all of these autuerist tics are only noticeable in the form if you've seen half a dozen Brian De Palma movies, but if you're coming to Dressed to Kill as a new viewer it just looks like a blanket "psycho tranny killed women because she couldn't be one herself" story. I'm not saying movies have to reflect reality and every movie about a trans character has to be nice. Far from it; what I am saying is that it becomes a problem when something that works on an individual level becomes a pattern, and the murderous tranny is definitely a pattern. I have much less problems with these movies compared to the issues I have with the trope. I think Dressed to Kill, in particular, is a really well made film, but when you've seen this story more than a dozen times it becomes boring, and it doesn't really do transgender people any favours in real life that our entire cinematic language hinges on a late act twist. 

Did I ever tell you the story of when I came out for the first time on a film forum back in 2011? Well, one person commented, and I'm still friends with this person, "what a twist!". If that isn't transness at the intersection of movies I don't know what is, and the shame of it all is that we could be a lot more if given additional narrative space.  

CG:  You never told me about that! I felt similarly that when I came out online- and I admit to being pretty guarded about my online anonymity for a very long time- that there were days of reverberations where some responses were akin to it being a twist ending. Not all gave this commentary of ‘I didn’t have a clue’ or ‘I didn’t see that coming’, but many did see it as a narrative of sorts, as though I had planted and stunted this as a plot thread when in actuality, I was in a very bad place mentally. I felt helpless and it felt was necessary that I come out because it was an election year and one side was absolutely more hostile and transphobic than the other (hint: it wasn't the Democrats). I have mixed feelings about how I went about it- but that was mostly because I was also in an alcoholic fog and my nerves and mode of behaviors operated differently then as opposed to now, which hey, now I actually am open, out, and have a lot more control because I am transitioning and not trapped in hostility, shame, and the closet. 

Now back to Dressed To Kill, I looked back on the way the film was seen then and now, constantly feeling disappointed that nobody who seems to want to champion the film can really ever confront ‘the twist’. It can often just be mentioned in a sentence, admitting to trans woman serial killer as ‘cartoonishly stigmatizing’ as The New Republic did a few years back but at the same time declare that critics should surrender their prudish sides and embrace DePalma’s ‘pure cinema’. Or you can talk around it, in the name of spoilers I suppose, and just use catch-all phrases as ‘sleazy’ or ‘bizarre’ in the twists the film has. Some do not so much dismiss the transphobia but label it as pulp treatment of something real. Then you have a little more problematic readings, some of which I think unconsciously white-wash the transphobia of the maker, by labeling Robert Elliott/Bobbi as schizophrenic and pretending that was DePalma’s intention when he admits he crafted and was inspired by trans women and then linking it to Jekyll & Hyde ‘two sides’ of a person who switches upon sexual stimulation. Now, of course DePalma’s knowledge of transness is off as he only sees the surface but he made a deliberate choice to insert Nancy Hunt’s own image in his movie. He uses clips but if you look up Nancy Hunt, you would also know that she similarly rejects trans as trauma and trans as pathology, viewing the mental health community as hostile towards trans people rather than helpful to her and many people in her position. Hunt lives forever in certain transgender archives but she is used ghoulishly in a film where the director laughs and chuckles like the Keith Gordon character about the idea of a trans woman. 

Keith Phipps, to his credit, did confront the transphobia of the film when Dressed To Kill was released on the popular arthouse label The Criterion Collection. But he appears to be an anomaly to cinephiles and critics that probably do not really see the problem of the movie in the way that you and I do. As far as De Palma himself, it perhaps comes off like I hate him. I hate this film, although I find it revealing in ways that he may have not intended, even beyond the transphobia. But I like a lot of his work and quite a bit of it is built within his sense of cinematic language and artifice. However, as Kam Austin Collins succinctly put it in his Letterboxd log, you may love that Museum of Modern Art set-piece, the split diopters, and unreal quality of the moviemaking of fake outs upon fake outs but, “The transphobia is real”.

WM: I love Kam (read him at Vanity Fair). For my money he's the best working film critic right now, and he's absolutely right. Dressed to Kill does have an unreal quality of moviemaking that lays on top of this pretty vile center. Isn't it frustrating that Brian De Palma may have more natural talent as a director than maybe anyone who has ever stepped behind the camera and he mostly uses it to worry about his dick? As far as just pure fucking cinema there are few directors with more skill or have made movies that are as luxurious to watch as De Palma. However, more often than not he almost always does something that creates distance in my ability to fully appreciate his works, and that's most readily apparent in Dressed to Kill, which is a movie I championed before I came out, but afterwards was hesitant towards showering praise upon. I could more easily ignore the shitty political nature of the movie before I came out, because I was foolish enough to think that wasn't me, but now I just find it annoying. I'm not even offended by its clumsy handling of gender politics, I just find it dull. Like, by the end it's, "oh this is obviously a riff on Psycho. I don't give a shit". De Palma was like his dad, Alfred Hitchcock, in his ability to completely control all aspects of technical filmmaking, but De Palma's career is without the same barriers Hitchcock had which negated some of Alfred's worst tendencies toward women. As a stanch supporter of Marnie, I'd be wary of calling this a bad thing, but it certainly makes me wonder what Brian De Palma could have done in a system where some of his decisions were checked a little more often, because Dressed to Kill is almost embarrassingly a copycat of things better than that movie: Psycho, and giallo plotting. Even the films best scene: the elevator murder is lifted almost directly from the climax of Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, even down to the outfit Bobbi is wearing. 

CG: “Isn't it frustrating that Brian De Palma may have more natural talent as a director than maybe anyone who has ever stepped behind the camera and he mostly uses it to worry about his dick?” That is a pretty inescapable route to take for even his admirers, as the Jake Paltrow-Noah Baumbach documentary on De Palma shows (and I would recommend watching in relation to some of his films and again, De Palma’s unconscious revelations and confessions about his own relationships to his work, other films, and his personal life). When Pauline Kael, notoriously anti-Hitchcock but pro-De Palma, gave a write-up on Dressed To Kill, she wrote that De Palma has a self-awareness that makes his films have a vein of humor due to how open De Palma is open about his id, “What makes it funny is that it's permeated with the distilled essence of impure thoughts. De Palma has perfected a near-surreal poetic voyeurism—the stylized expression of a blissfully dirty mind,” believing that Dressed To Kill is a great example about the inherent voyeuristic nature of movies. And I get that appeal and how uninhibited De Palma is, but it is also why I find Dressed To Kill narrow. He was in therapy at the time, but seems to hate psychological readings of the sexual stimulation of a beautiful woman when aimed at himself or his characters.. And of course this male gaze has a certain preferred image of a woman. It is a cisgender woman, not women like Nancy Hunt as he clearly does not consider trans women to be women at all. The uninhibited nature of his work that exists in Body Double, such as the ‘Relax’ sequence, does feel more genuine and not as isolating as opposed to Dressed To Kill where the authorial voice of the film finds people like myself to be disgusting and something to laugh at, or consequentially, nightmare fuel. Dressed to Kill notoriously opens with an insert of a naked woman in the shower that is supposed to be Angie Dickinson's character- but is so obviously not and De Palma knows it- and if that's what turns the guy on, then good for him, but he clearly sees trans women as men clothed head to toe in wigs passing through and absolutely not wanting to explore anything beyond the surface. It always frustrates me that when a bad boy director is celebrated for liberation and rebellion , but ends up showing there are actually lines drawn in what they find acceptable and that the ideas of other kinds of people existing beyond their ideal, coveted image of femininity go ‘too far’ for them. 

While De Palma’s biggest fans that I know are straight men, I do know plenty of queer people and cis women who also think he’s great, but this film was enough to keep me at a distance. What’s not to like about De Palma?’ was something I’ve heard. Hell, when I read a recent piece on Dressed To Kill it said verbatim, ‘If you don’t like this [Dressed To Kill], then you don’t like movies.’ I know that people often are in the mood to rehabilitate Dressed To Kill as, like William Friedkin’s serial killer film Cruising, it had protests and vocal dissenters for the movie at the time (not for the transphobia to be clear, but for the violence against women in the film-- at the hands of the transgender serial killer). It was a film that in De Palma’s own words did good business. Yes, it got Razzie nominations (I mean, so did Kubrick’s The Shining) but I think the canonization and reclamation of Dressed To Kill for the canon missed more points of view along the way in terms of looking at it now and its cultural significance. But it is a lot more attractive to treat the film as an object of buried treasure or hidden gem which Dressed To Kill is treated as than it is to listen to a dissenting opinion.

WM: I know plenty of trans women who love Dressed to Kill, as well as Sleepaway Camp, and I find no problem with this even if I have my own issues with these movies, but I would genuinely love to hear what it is about those two in particular that speaks to them. Maybe it's a level of honesty from cisgender voices of how we're actually viewed without the semblance of political correctness bearing tolerance of our own gender? Or it could be as simple as thinking Dressed to Kill has stellar camerawork and Sleepaway Camp is too goofy to take seriously, and again, these are good enough reasons to like a film, but I have larger culturally specific reasons why these movies in particular rub me the wrong way. One major issue I have with Brian De Palma protesting to psychological readings of his movies is that if we were to push away at these things then I'm unsure what depth De Palma has other than as a sexual charlatan or his admittedly, fantastic camera work, which again, is fine, but I find that lacking in girth. De Palma is most interesting to me when I'm trying to figure out how he feels about women in his movies, because that's absolutely his central hang-up. The Fuck and Kill mentality. Marriage never really comes into the equation. I can see on some level why cisgender women like De Palma's women and his eroticism, because it's brutish, tough, and these women are generally arsenic and don't give a fuck and there's definitely something appealing in that, but his treatment of transgender women is completely fucking different. We're the great American nightmare. The total destruction of the male body. The malleability of our flesh into that of a woman's is horrifying to him or at least perversely interesting, which might be more honest than not, but when I watch Dressed to Kill I get the sense that he finds bodies like mine absolutely disgusting (disclaimer: I'm closer to Michelle Pfieffer than Michael Caine, sorry Brian). 

Part of me wonders if Brian De Palma could potentially have bedded a trans woman by mistake and then felt his heterosexuality capsize as a result. I don't think that's an insane thing to think, no? Pure speculation on my part, but he has this strange mixture of self-hatred and lust when talking about or engaging with transness. In the cinema of De Palma if the body of a woman is the ultimate act of cinematic ecstasy then the body of a trans woman is the total destruction of orgasm. A trans woman is castration, and therein lies his greatest anxieties. Dressed to Kill is fascinating for these reasons. It's the kind of movie you could talk about all day in the context of De Palma's work. Where it's more boring is in the greater landscape of trap narratives in movies where it's mostly the same old thing.

CG: Yes, we are not seeking to bury and ban Dressed To Kill, but the film’s significance is tied to a trope that, as we noted, involves revelation or a twist that's tied to transness in this negative way. And I totally get your speculation on the root of where this came from (De Palma insists it was just from seeing Nancy Hunt he also grew up in a New York City where the Warhol Superstars were in the same film underground he started in the late 1960s, I find it unbelievable if he did not find himself in the same space- if by pure incident- with cross-dressers or trans women at some factory party to watch independent films), as I often speculate why does there exist moments in movies where a pickup of a trans woman for sex leads to a shocking revelation and male outburst for being ‘tricked’ (think Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting). Even on a more intellectual level, I wonder what is Jesse Singal’s deal (and I am not alone) over his obsession with trans women in his writing. But to get back to our mining through this narrative, I want to return to Psycho as the genesis even if it is not dealing with cross-dressing or gender dysphoria. We have of course talked about the riffs and knock-offs but what is fascinating is how quickly the knock-offs also produced the connection of this reveal to the villain or killer ‘not being who we think they are’ as far their gender and done so in genre-film, B-movie fashion.

WM: There are so many throwaway scenes of cis men fucking trans women and throwing a fit that give absolutely nothing back to the movie it would be impossible to count them all. This goes doubly for throwaway scenes where cis guys clock a trans woman and make fun of her. This even happens in Zodiac (2007) of all things, and I can't for the life of me figure out why that scene in particular exists. Is it to reaffirm we're in San Fransisco and cops are jerks? Seems pretty fucking basic considering Fincher, but that scene has also stuck out to me as a microcosm of  issues of transness depicted on screen, and in a larger macro level when that scene is pulled out to its fullest length that's when you get things like Dressed to Kill. I don't think cis people get how fucking exhausting that is and how much you have to reconcile to watch movies and realize that these things are just going to happen. Or even, god's inferior child, Television. For example, There is not a sitcom that exists that won't take a jab at trans people, and we don't even worry about these things, because there's bigger fish to fry with our own issues. Like our passports being denied and the living hell that is the current government of the United States. 

CG:  William Castle’s 1961 Psycho knock-off Homicidal is a doozy and laughably trashy in its twists and turns. Its killer is a double-role for Jean Arliss (a pseudonym for Hal Ashby’s wife Joan Marshall) who plays Warren and Emily. So the twist is that the audience sees Emily commit murders and she notably, despite being described as Warren’s fiancee, is never in the same room as her groom-to-be. In the dialed-up, pure William Castle, 3rd act Emily is revealed as Warren, complete with a classic wig removal. Then, much like that awful psychologist explaining it all in Psycho, we get an explanation. Warren was socialized male but- and this is where it really gets crazy- he was biologically born female. His father wanted a son and his mother insisted to keep up the stunt (that apparently worked in ways that are a little unclear--- I don’t think Castle and company thought all of this through but complaining about plot-holes from William Castle is just barking up the wrong tree) that included the county clerk marking the birth certificate male. I think there was far more work done to Warren in this ‘forced masc’ tale as we get an allusion to Christine Jorgensen’s sex-change operation by the line, “Then Helga took Warren to Denmark. What happened there, we don't know”, as the American Jorgensen in the 1950s got her operation in Denmark (similarly, Ed Wood’s 1953 film Glen or Glenda was inspired and marketed as being connected to Jorgensen’s story that caught global public attention). Warren became Emily, fully living, socializing, and possibly getting the medical assistance in hormones and operations but returns home to collect inheritance money, having to return to Warren, a life full of trauma, confusion, and haunted by ghosts and figures of her past. The film is silly and as I speak to the characterization of Warren/Emily deeply problematic, but I see this as necessary to point to the fact that the evolution of the Psycho narrative is more than just Ed Gein (who also inspired The Silence of The Lambs). Clearly, this narrative has been a point of entry into some of the biggest tropes and misconceptions about transgender characters.

WM: I find William Castle's capitalist urges really earnest. He was a the filmmaker equivalent of a big tent ring leader of the wackiest carnival that ever came to home and there's something appealing about that kind of salesman. It's hard to be offended by someone who made The Tingler and whose sole interest in life seemed to be scaring teenagers right at the point where they started to make out during his terrible movies. Homicidal isn't really any different than the other movies he made, but of interest to us, because of some gender fucker-y. Earlier in this installment of Body Talk I said I wouldn't have as much of a problem with Sleepaway Camp if it knew how to lean into the absurdity of its source material. Well, this is exactly what I'm referring to when I say lean into your batshit insane idea. So, it's more fun than harmful. It's difficult to raise your pitchforks over something this silly, but let's get into something that is silly on paper, but isn't in execution. 

Caden I want to know what you think of Sion Sono's Strange Circus, because it flips the gender on the opposite spectrum of this typical trope, which more directly effects you.

CG: I’m admittedly not well-versed on Sion Sono’s cinema and Strange Circus was, to my knowledge, the first film of his that I’ve watched. It is fascinating as it does go back to you mentioning the exhaustion of viewing media as a trans person, where these movies constantly clock or misgender their characters. The character, Yuji (Issei Ishida) is gender fluid but believed to be male assigned at birth assistant to our protagonist. Yuji is constantly peppered with uncomfortable questions about his ‘asexual’ appearance. For a film that is full of sex, rape, and trauma, Yuji at first appears like a sissy stereotype for his long hair (in being trans male, it is admittedly difficult to ‘pass’ with long hair, although Yuji’s hair veers close to David Bowie in Labyrinth) and lanky physical appearance. Basically, Sono’s rude, invasive characters who quiz Yuji about his look are proven right with Yuji admitting that he was actually a female assigned at birth and that his traumas and mental illness inform his identity which to that point, then becomes synonymous with his trans identity. How predictable, how boring. 

What is disappointing is Sono desperately wants to be among the misfits and outsiders, with Strange Circus having a kind of cabaret pretension, as this is where the film starts and ends, the film’s named after this club of cross-dressers and drag queens. The extremity that Sono likes to fashion that he is doing though, much like De Palma’s limited uninhibitedness in Dressed To Kill, falls short with the ‘tranny as killer’ trope. Yuji is unstable and in a circle of rebels with piercings and body modifications that symbolize their identity that are remarkable changes in their physical appearance, when Yuji reveals to them his ‘secret’ these exhibitionists are now shown mouth agape. Hypocrites. Yuji is seen as going ‘too far’. I’m reminded of Dressed To Kill of the lead character being haunted by Yuji in her dreams much like Robert Elliott/Bobbi haunts Nancy Allen. It is the flip side, so this is to say, trans men, although not as frequently, also take it on the chin in the trap narrative, which for every banal shot taken at androgyny and transness in something like a square family sitcom the trap narrative also finds its way into certified “cool” film directors like De Palma or Sono.

WM: So many of Sono's films seem desperate to me, and while I like some of them, like Love Exposure and Suicide Club, I find his tics really aggressively on the nose. He's working in a similar mode as Takashi Miike where he tries to follow these outsiders and misfits, but fails to capitalize on his freaks. Miike on the other hand sympathizes, pointing to a cultural reason for "why" these characters are outcasts, and emphasizes their own humanity, even if they turn out to be evil characters. Miike makes sure his characters are heard, even if they're wrong. Sono on the other hand just points and asks the audience to "look". Strange Circus is the worst film of his I've seen, because it so desperately wants to be trangressive and taboo in a really intellectual way, but what does it have to say about gender at all really? I can't think of anything, even in the context of Japan's more easygoing nature towards drag queens and cross-dressing in their entertainment. In Japan these representations are typically played for laughs, but like a trojan horse they emphasize the faults and struggles these characters face, which honestly gives them more depth. That's key in genre cinema anywhere on any subject you want to tackle, but with Sono I typically don't see depth and that is never worse than in Strange Circus. I don't get why anyone would want to check out this movie when Visitor Q exists. That film is complicated, uncomfortable, formally daring but has guts in what it's actually trying to convey about gender, family units and violence. The only new wrinkle in Strange Circus is that the gender of the typical trap trope is reversed, which is maybe meta, but it's certainly thin.

CG: I thought a lot about the cultural context in Japan with Strange Circus and just found that I got a lot more out of twisted Oedipus Rex snapshot of ‘gay boy’ culture in Japan from Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 masterpiece Funeral Parade of Roses as far as transness, and outsider narratives go. I similarly feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with Miike but I definitely agree with you that I sense he gives his characters a better chance for the audience to understand and even empathize with their extremities and peculiarities. It really can make a difference as far as saying ‘pay attention’ to the audience rather than insist on the audience give a gawking ‘look’ when it comes to portraying trans people in film. 

And to go back to misfits vein that Sono strives for but falls into the trap narrative trope, I think about Tetsuro Takeuchi’s Wild Zero where a character is revealed to be trans and while the male protagonist becomes incredibly anxious and put off initially about this revelation Takeuchi has the film’s Greek Chorus, the J-rock band Guitar Wolf, tell the lead character Ace that love has “no boundaries, nationalities, or genders” and that he should get over that hang-up and follow his heart, which has him be in love with the trans woman, Tobio. Wild Zero does not really subvert the trap narrative (the body reveal happens), it confronts the anxieties around initial stigma in being trans and in love and falling in love with a somebody trans and then just goes with it in a pretty sweet if simplistic way amid the backdrop of an apocalyptic zombie invasion (there are just bigger fish to fry!). I dig Wild Zero for many reasons but it being a respite to the trap narrative goes a long way for me.

WM: I think with films like Wild Zero, various work from Takashi Miike, and even aspects of Homicidal we can see an "other side of the coin" effect with how to handle transness and typical tropes in genre cinema. Whereas some of the other films we've discussed like Sleepaway Camp and Dressed to Kill fail in various ways. I don't think the intention we ever had here is to say that genre cinema is bad from a moral perspective, but that it needs to be smarter about applied tropes. I think there is a good film to be made about the trap narrative in genre cinema by subverting it and shifting the positional power therein but I haven't seen one that quite fits what I'd want yet. I don't need an empowerment movie necessarily, but one that understands the game, and by and large these directors who work primarily in genre cinema that we've discussed thus far, struggle with these things, and it comes back to needing more trans people involved in cinema. When our perspective gets heard. maybe then the narrative will shift from the trans woman who is a trap and in turn a murderer to the trans woman whose trans status is revealed and more likely to be killed, because that's the reality underneath the trans trope. We're the ones that suffer both in cinematic representation and in reality where we face the danger of being killed just for being trans. That's what cinema has to learn.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Body Talk: Conversations on Transgender Cinema with Caden Gardner: Part Seven

Dante "Tex" Gill
Body Talk is an ongoing series of conversations about Transgender Cinema as we prepare to write our book "Corpses, Fools and Monsters: An Examination of Transgender Cinema:. This installment is on the question of Cisgender actors playing Transgender characters.

WILLOW MACLAY : Caden, it was about three weeks ago when news dropped that Scarlett Johansson was going to play Dante “Tex” Gill in a movie about his life entitled, "Rub and Tug" and for the most part cisgender people seemed surprised that there was a controversy. This is just the latest example of a cisgender actor playing a transgender person in a movie through outdated cross-gender casting, but the major difference here is that Scarlett actually stepped down from the role, but the film sadly, doesn't seem to be going forward. I'll admit that I was dubious of Rupert Sanders being allowed to make anything that could be considered a motion picture again, but it's frustrating that this movie has just proven that for mainstream Hollywood it's either cis actors playing trans characters or nothing at all. Typically, it's cis men playing trans women, the legacy of which has been nothing short of damning, but this would have realistically been the first mainstream film about a trans man since Boys Don't Cry, which we've already crucified. Rub and Tug likely would've been compromised under any circumstances due to Sanders complete lack of talent, but I want to hear your thoughts on this issue, and later in this discussion we'll get into the history of cisgender actors playing transgender characters.

CADEN GARDNER: The Rub & Tug press release initially seemed to be dubious about Dante “Tex” Gill’s life story being a trans one. Tex Gill identified as a man, It appeared that those working on the film saw it as an Albert Nobbs situation where a cis woman disguises herself as a man for societal reasons rather than the root cause of gender dysphoria. There was an instant ferocity in the internet blowback after the film was announced, to which Johansson foolishly said: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment”. This statement is essentially a defence built around the status quo of cis actors in these roles, and the ways in which they’ve been accepted by prestigious film and television voting boards. It is interesting that Johansson never mentioned an instance of a trans man role. She only brings up Huffman, a cis woman playing a trans woman, and Tambor and Leto, cis men, both playing trans women. It was incredibly tone-deaf. Johansson and her people definitely were leaning on the fact that Hollywood has given permission for her and other cis actors to take these roles like masks and costumes and bypass hiring a trans actor for the role. Honestly, when I got wind of Lukas Dhont’s Award winning film at Cannes, Girl, I found myself slightly taken aback by that film being cis actor in a trans role. I thought we were past this. I thought A Fantastic Woman and Tangerine were signifiers: films that got critical plaudits and made noise on the Hollywood industry radar. I thought that cross-gender casting was becoming something of the past and that we were going to be getting more trans stories as played with trans actors. I felt so naïve to have thought that. So when this announcement happened, I was hurt by the news of the casting , but even moreso by how Johansson handled our criticism. I wanted the project to sink once she made that statement and frankly, I am glad it is gone. Then of course, through this whole controversy, I heard from cis people who seemed confused, as you said, by why this would be controversy. It was after all, ‘just acting’, according to them. I had many arguments over this casting dating back to Girl mostly on the conceit of casting and this continued with Rub & Tug, going from trans women as the target of this mis-casting to trans men. It was exhausting, and frankly, I felt even less heard and understood (Editor’s note: Take a look at how many trans women, including myself, who were asked to cover this issue compared to trans men). I felt many cis people, consciously or not, showed their true colors in reacting to this debacle. They seem mad that I wanted this project to sink given the circumstances. I’ll just repeat for this piece my reasons that I restated over and over: I do not know a trans man, myself included, who wants their life story told from the perspective of a woman. I do not know a trans woman that wants their life story portrayed by a man.

I do not think this is at all difficult to understand but what I am noticing is the power of telling stories on the screen, be it television and film, is that cis people do not want to abdicate a sliver of control. They are interested in our stories but on their terms. This was just another case. It died, but I doubt it will be the last time.

WM: You nailed it with that last paragraph. I, similarly, thought we were past this with the release of both Tangerine and A Fantastic Woman. I don’t like AFW, but that’s not because of Daniela Vega, who is excellent, but because the film is only interested in her oppression through redemption. I thought there would be a shift where we slowly chipped away at preconceptions of transness on screen, but that doesn't seem to be the case in mainstream Hollywood. Television is a little bit different, and we'll get to that later, but when there's money on the line they only want big money stars. I found that to be an awkward excuse as well, where cis people would say things like "it can't get made unless it has a big star attached and there are no trans stars that an average person wants to watch" I saw that excuse a lot and it was mildly humorous because they pointed out the problem without realizing it. There are no trans stars and the reason for that is they won't fucking cast people like us. You can’t become a star if you’re not even given the chance to compete. There has to be a starting point, somewhere, in mainstream movies. We're still waiting for that to happen.

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

wm cont: I was asked by the CBC to be a guest on their film program for Q Radio on this very topic, and there was 100s of comments in my mentions afterwards like "I guess superheroes can only play superheroes" or whatever, but if they had actually taken the time to listen to me they would have known my reasoning that I'll repeat now: "if you would find it ridiculous for Colin Firth to play the Queen of England in cross-gender casting or any other man playing a woman, why make an exception for transgender people? If it's because you don't actually see us as who we are then that's a problem you have to fix." Cis people know in their heart of hearts if they REALLY consider us as who we say we are, and this whole ordeal has pointed me in the direction of a lot of people who don't see us as the gender we are, but the one we were assigned at birth. Hollywood thinks that way.

CG: Yeah, and cis people really gave us no solution when they essentially asked us to wait our turn. When is that happening? What exactly is your idea of progress for our community? They do not answer because they do not know or they do not care. When there is this opportunity available to tell a trans story, why should we not speak out and protest this when there are actors in our community who could play Tex Gill? Again, they will just say it is acting, and then mention things like ‘I don’t need an actor having cancer to play a character with cancer’ because I totally like my gender dysphoria compared to a deadly disease, truly. There are no trans stars but there can be if given the opportunity. I would rather see some Hollywood player, be it a major Hollywood producer, or an actor, actress, or director with cachet push to tell these stories. If it means, loading the cast with known names but in the service of also raising the profile of the trans actor at the center with their story being told, I can support that. Instead it is more or less stuff like the ScarJo controversy and something similarly with her Avengers co-star Mark Ruffalo producing an independent film called Anything about a trans woman sex worker played by…. Matt Bomer. Ruffalo assured us he “got woke” when pushback to his film’s casting led him to watch one trans web series, but the casting and movie still happened. It is just so ridiculous but I suppose I should be thrilled that people were aware about the controversy and pushing back, but it also just seemed like this was people attuned to ScarJo stepping into shit once more in their eyes rather than just focusing on the casting problem itself. At least that was how I saw it and why I fear this will still happen again in the future.

It’s really rare for Hollywood to tell a transgender story or even feature a transgender character. They need to recalibrate. All of these performances are going to look offensive in one hundred years. The industry is having another kind of identity crisis with their current filmmaking models. There exist only two modes and no in-betweens. You have the big studio action tentpoles for the spring and summer and the others are prestige films, the so-called “Oscar bait” dramas that give the studios their air of respectability in the fall and winter. It’s there where we see transgender stories. This decade we have seen a wave of prestige films that included trans people as a major part of the narrative, if not the very center of the film. But, as you mentioned, these films were the compromised versions of a trans story. I am talking about The Danish Girl and Dallas Buyer’s Club and the performances given by Eddie Redmayne and Jared Leto. I should be unsurprised that people seem to think that the culture at large- or rather, the extremely narrow and privileged sect of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences- rewarding these performances was a signifier of the supposed quality and authenticity in these performances, but they were deeply surprised to find out that trans people hated these performances.

The Danish Girl

WM: I think there's this notion that we should be happy we're served a meal, even if it's fried dog shit. That's what it feels like to me when these movies come out. They cloak themselves in respectability politics or messages and position themselves as important movies for our cause, but any lasting positive impact almost never happens. Images inform culture and if the only image of trans womanhood is a guy in drag then that's all we're going to be, but my body flies in the direct face of these notions. I have the hormone levels of a cis woman, breasts that grew from my body through estrogen, same as any cis woman, a pair of XX chromosomes, because I'm intersex, no adam's apple to speak of and if I may be vain for a moment, absolutely killer legs. But even if I didn't pass and didn't have these things I still wouldn't have a body like Eddie Redmayne's or Jared Leto's. My body is different. Our bodies are different. Trans women aren't built like cis men and Trans men aren't built like cis women, but I think some cis people are a little surprised by that truth, and have been very slow to learn. We’re still getting articles about the shock and awe of trans women being able to breast feed for example, when we’ve been doing this for a long time.

I want to get into the nuts and bolts of these performances and why they don't work. Let's start with Eddie Redmayne, who plays trans woman, Lili Elbe. Redmayne plays her like an alcoholic with sensory disorder and a paraphilia for things like stockings and lingerie. Redmayne's conception of womanhood is ORGASMIC, with heaving exterior moans and blurred vision. A trans woman if she were on the verge of climax at the very notion of womanhood. Like a fictionmania fetish story made real, and Tom Hooper directs it with cinematic form that feels like dried semen on hosery. It's a gross movie, and Redmayne's gigantic expressive acting shutters any way to understand the interior of Elbe's life or who she was as a person. The portrait of Elbe is one of an insane fetishist who died reaching for the perfect orgasm to meet her fetish of surface level womanhood. It’s telling that the final image of the movie restructures her as a piece of fabric that gets blown away in the wind. I suppose one could argue that is a happy ending if you’re sadistic and only watch these movies out of sheer exhibitionist curiosity, but in truth it's offensive. I'm not sure any actor could have saved this movie as it was conceived, but the end product is maybe the worst possible depiction of transness I've ever seen and Redmayne's performance somehow tops Leto's mid-crucifixion martyr with a death wish and a perfect bikini wax in the equally bad, but somehow not as awful, Dallas Buyer's Club.

The Danish Girl

CG: Redmayne’s idea of gender dysphoria is so indicating and contorting in ways that feels like a bad 1960s sci-fi TV serial. The trembling his character has in reaching down below her waist, particularly in that scene where Lili goes to a peep show and mimics the cis women performer, is so laughable and infuriating all at once. The film treats the character’s male presentation and female presentation like two separate identities and womanhood for Lili in this film is getting an uncomfortable proposition from Ben Whishaw (Editor’s note: Poor Ben Whishaw) or wearing an androgynous pantsuit out in the park trailed by two gawking men straight out of a Tex Avery cartoon. Then there is the central relationship of Lili and her wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander) where the triggering moment that sets this whole “journey” in motion is Gerda making Lili pose with a dress for her painting. I should note that even if the casting was done better, The Danish Girl is a truly reductive portrait of two famous artists. The film manages to trivialize their relationship and turn these two real-life Bohemians into neurotic messes who want to play house, but a very constrained conservative one. There are several bedroom scenes of Lili assuming more femininity with Gerda, and is treated like a fetish object. Again, back to the 60s sci-fi TV camp that is happening with this performance, Redmayne treats contact with the dress like a mad scientist who gets exposed to his deadly formula that now spreads disease through the body. It is all so preformative and exaggerated, dialed up into something that by the end renders Lili Elbe as someone so glum and upsetting in a really reductive, useless way. She’s Icarus flying too closely to the sun, but that’s most films about trans people made by cis filmmakers.

Martyrdom and transness are interlinked in these films and that extends to Jared Leto as Rayon. Where Lili Elbe was a real person, albeit The Danish Girl was speculative fiction by a writer and the adaptation even further twists a lot of facts, Dallas Buyer’s Club made a fictional composite character of Rayon. According to screenwriter Craig Borten, the creation of that character came from research in interviewing trans AIDS activists. And yet, the leaked script that I saw of Dallas Buyer’s Club constantly spoke of Rayon in male pronouns and referred to the character as a cross-dresser. Even if the final product presented a trans woman you have the fact that Rayon is misgendered and deadnamed constantly, even referred by McConaughey’s protagonist as ‘Mr. Man’. You can say that is the product of the time but with the exception of one moment, Rayon almost never pushes back or reacts in a way of hurt in being dehumanized this way. Additionally, the film hardly ever explores her story. We get bedroom décor of T. Rex and glam rock (my kingdom for a Todd Haynes trans movie), assuming that’s her connection to queer life. She frequents gay bars of Texas that are apparently chill with trans women. And what of Rayon’s life? Well, she puts on a full male presentation, an ill-fitting suit, to ask her father for money. Rayon left a charmed life and that moment is treated like a cheap revelation that is only in the service of the central protagonist’s story. Rayon returned to Ray (Matthew McConaughey) to get her father to give her money from her life insurance policy to pay off her debts with her homophobe turned friend and business partner Ron. Rayon’s story is treated so superficially: a series of various wigs, cheap makeup, faux fur coats, and mirror shots. Cis people love showing us looking in mirrors, particularly in giving ourselves a pep talk about our looks but it is best to see us completely exposed. Except you know, Redmayne and Leto do not have trans bodies. It is a man in a dress and every mirror shot underlines that over and over. Those mirror shots confirm for me I am watching bullshit but apparently for cis people it’s revelatory, but in truth, they are looking at something that is not us by their own design. It’s their conception of transness, not our reality.

Dallas Buyers Club

WM: It's a dissection, piece by piece, an outfit, something to construct rather than something inherent. To show a trans woman with real breasts would be to say that this isn't an act. Rayon is built, rather than someone who is. And Leto did absolutely nothing to dispel these notions with his waxing comments and general method acting macho swagger of playing woman. A fake woman, but that’s trans women at the movies. These movies aren't even about trans women. They're about tragic men who died because they followed a foolish notion that they could become women. These movies for a second don't treat these characters as women. Not at all. I'm not sure any of the films we are discussing during this series does, but some of our other examples we will get to like Dog Day Afternoon, at least have a current of decency throughout.

I want to get to your mirrors comment now, because that's the resolute language of transness in the cinema as conceived by cis people. It's a model of vanity, a reflection of who these people "truly" are, and a way in which to try and slam together something resembling a metaphor image, even with no real depth. It isn't just trans women who get this treatment either. We've brought Boys Don't Cry up before, but the scene where Hillary Swank as Brandon Teena poses in front of full length mirror so we can see the full dimensions of Swank's body is one of the most dangerous ever put in cinema with regards to transness, because it unravels identity and points a giant fucking arrow in visual language to Swank's dickless briefs. It's genitals as destiny, forever and ever amen. On the opposite side of things there's a scene that is almost identical to Swank's in Under the Skin, a film we both love, and it has completely different intent. In that scene it's a realization that the alien's (Scarlett Johansson) body is hers, warts and all, and how she can find an identity in herself. It isn't directly saying there's anything wrong with her body or something is amiss. It's just hers, bathed in amber lighting as Mica Levi's music swells to something resembling warmth for the first time in the film. The visual language of that scene is acceptance. The visual language of Boys Don't Cry, Dallas Buyer's Club and others is political posturing and genital hysteria.

Boys Don't Cry
Under the Skin

CG: I want to get back to your comment about Jared Leto and method acting. I absolutely think the whole ‘living as a different gender’ (and let me note that is not what gender dysphoria is, gender dysphoria is being at odds with the sex you are assigned at birth) concept and conceit is something that absolutely appeals to actors in the same way that playing an athlete or packing on a lot of weight does. They want their Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull moment but to me it just comes off as Robert Downey Jr’s performance of Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. They are suffering for their craft and want the plaudits and the credit for playing us, but they do not seem to care about how offensive it is and that it is not their role to play. What they are doing is something in the Hollywood tradition of a different kind that is closer to red face, yellow face, and black face. They are crafting something based in makeup and appearance- through their lens, of course- all on a surface level in playing somebody they are not innate nor inherently. It is something that Hollywood allowed and gives them permission to do until consumers back off and then it suddenly is acknowledged how bad it is and was, and only then does it get condemned. It did not suddenly become that but was built on years and decades of mistreatment and misrepresentation that included dangerous stereotypes and even well-meaning portrayals in prestigious films of the time period that were trying to get awards. These are problems and particular errors in casting that are entrenched in Hollywood history and there is a certain level of complicity to be found in actors not really understanding the trans experience. Laverne Cox and Trace Lysette are out there, but are actively ignored in favour of cis men looking to make their name. They see it as a challenge to ‘lose themselves’ in the role and in their day to day life through method acting. Joke’s on them, I only saw fucking Jared Leto in a dress.

Laverne Cox
Trace Lysette

WM: It’s frustrating to say the least. When Dallas Buyer’s Club was initially released I had been out as a trans woman for a couple years, but I was still living at home with my parents. My mom wanted to see the movie, because she was a rabid fan of all things Matthew McConaughey. He’s one of her thirst actors, but her rental of this movie worried me, because I knew there’d be questions afterwards that I’d have to answer. My parents knew I was transgender and here they were watching this movie which co-signed all their anxieties about who I was, and frequently when we’d get into fights my Dad would dangle Rayon in front of me as “that faggot in the movie”. That was their image of transness. These things stick, and I’m not sure cis people 100% realize when that happens. Culturally, when you bring up transness you’re still likely to get comments about Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, and while we both like that movie you cannot deny that the image has stuck.

CG: Now to return this discussion on mirrors, Swank’s bagging briefs in Boys Don’t Cry still makes me wince on memory. Most of the rare occurrences of trans men in movies have images like that one. BDC is genesis. The films I bring up in this case are 3 Generations by Gaby Dellal and 52 Tuesdays by Sophie Hyde. Like Boys Don’t Cry these movies are about trans men and are directed by cis women and well, I could definitely tell these were by people outside of my life experiences. The trans men in these movies are, Elle Fanning playing a trans teen in 3 Generations, and Del Herbert-Jane as a trans man who is dealing with transitioning amid having the worst teenage daughter (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) in human existence. The funny thing about these two movies are that they check off every conceivable box of a trans narrative: there are many mirror shots and body shots of these actresses getting masc, by leaning in on the revelation and transitioning as the entire story. Boys Don’t Cry made the choice of a cis woman in a trans man role because Brandon Teena was by reports too poor to go on hormones and these films also have cheats in their fictional narratives in justifying cis actress in a trans man role and keeping her around during the whole damn movie.

3 Generations makes the entire conflict around Ray (Elle Fanning) getting a consent form signed by both of his parents to start hormones. His mother (Naomi Watts) supports him, but remains conflicted, and his distant father (Tate Donovan) does not whatsoever. Every instance of physical transition happens offscreen. Elle Fanning is so lost in trying to convey maleness, masculinity, and expressing something about having a trans body, and there’s the obligatory mirror shots and a dramatic haircut you’d find in movies of this type.

3 Generations

52 Tuesdays was more infuriating. I will admit that I have an age disconnect to trans men of a certain age, some of whom went through motherhood before transitioning, and that made me wonder if I ever had a chance of liking this movie. However, this film thought it could pull a fast one and had a Deus Ex Masc-hina. They outright refuse to have this character transition, because James (Del Herbert-Jane) has a rare condition. The character stops taking testosterone so you don’t see him develop any more masculine traits that you see and hear early on, like his voice dropping or putting on muscle mass. This is why I hate transition narratives. They never ring true and yes, it is a dramatic experience of changes it is not just the only story or the only form of transition that we do when we come out. Physical transition is just one part of it and despite films keying in on that, they all seem to fail. It never feels real, just contrivances looking from the outside and never feeling that somebody like us has a grip on these narratives. Brandon Teena passed before hormone replacement therapy to the point where he had girlfriends, but we don’t focus on how that happened. That isn’t physical. That’s something else altogether. 
52 Tuesdays

WM: Oh my god, I love you for coming up with Dues Ex Masc-hina. Can we just use that forever? The thing that always blows my mind about these movies is that these characters have next to nothing in terms of an interior self, and isn't that supposed to be one of the things an actor looks for in a role? As of late these performances are just gymnastics, showy, mastubratory acting that has no depth whatsoever. It's like saying "look at my abs, it took so much work!" and Leto has always done this sort of performance. Somehow he's worse in Chapter 27. Somehow he's worse in Suicide Squad. The fact that we've let him stick around is the greatest sin of the millennial goths who popularized 30 Seconds to Mars in the first place.

I admittedly, haven't seen these movies about trans men, but your description of them sounds painful. One thing that has always bothered me is the logical fallacy of cross gender casting when it comes to trans people. If we absolutely must show the entire transitional process in the movie or have flashbacks then wouldn't it make the most sense to let the trans actor play the previous version of themselves? Because realistically if a cis man can play a trans woman in a movie then wouldn't that same line of thinking apply for trans women playing a more masculine version of themselves pre-transition? Because if this is all about transformation then why does it not apply to us? We’re the masters of that shit, aren’t we? I've said it before and I'll say it again: mainstream transgender depiction is vulture cinema for cisgender actors to make their name. It doesn't matter if a real life trans person died, a cis person will be there to pick up their mantle and tell it like it is. Barf. And It has only gotten worse in the last 5 years with increased visibility. We're in the mainstream now, so we can be sold. Not art by us, but art sold to us by cis people. We're just another demographic, but we don't watch these movies. We hate these movies. So how do we fix that problem? I honestly don't think they care. It was better in the 60s, 70s and 80s for trans depiction than it is now in some respects and that's absurd. In 2018 Candy Darling would not get to play a cis woman in anything, but that happened in the late 60s. Hypothetically, if all things were perfect and there was job equality in the field I wouldn’t have a problem with a cisgender woman playing a transgender woman or a cisgender man playing a transgender man. My issue is when you put a man in front of me and call him a woman. Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining. That’s when you lose me in this day and age.

Candy Darling
Stephen Dorff in I Shot Andy Warhol

CG: It raises the question (and I think we know the answer) that Hollywood has no clue what the difference is at all between somebody trans versus some dude who puts on a dress to play trans. Granted words have changed over time and what people considered cross-dressers, drag queens, and transvestites were and are trans women. I question how the late Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling could have made a mark in culture in transcending the films they were in and rubbing shoulders with A-listers at clubs, but film then has this dead period of nobody from the mainstream or the underground to take their place and follow in their footsteps. Even when the likes of a Mya Taylor come along she and many other trans actresses get pushed aside for men to play these roles, sometimes in the very stories of these figures. Stephen Dorff played Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol, which is still wild to me. Given Candy’s whole relationship to hormone replacement therapy that casting is something I doubt she would have given approval.

WM: Stephen Dorff playing Candy has always bothered me. In a piece I wrote on Women in Revolt I talked bout this a little bit, but every single cinematic portrait of her has characterized her as a man, and she detested that completely. It's even more tragic if you consider the lyrics to the Velvet Underground song "Candy Says", specifically the stanza that asks "I'd like to know completely, what others so discretely talk about, what do you think I'd see if I could walk away from me?". The answer to that question in terms of Hollywood is that they saw her as a man at worst and a drag queen at best. That's the real truth of the matter at hand: to cross-gender cast in these roles is to cosign societal notions that our gender is fake. We aren't who we say we are.

CG: It does become clear that it seems the rare ways for a trans movie to get what it is doing right is not just hire a trans consultant or a trans coach, but also have creative pull, beyond the role of a consultant. The Danish Girl and TransAmerica had trans consultants, but spare me if you think those films are about our community. For me Tangerine worked because the actresses had some say. Even if there is well-meaning intent in telling a trans story, having us absent leaves some major probability that things will be amiss and just flat-out wrong. This can even happen when telling a true story like Dog Day Afternoon, a film that I love, and still a film where I do find it admirable on certain levels for even engaging with a trans love story, and having a character talk about having gender dysphoria. But you know, screenwriter Frank Pierson and director Sidney Lumet preferred going with Chris Sarandon for the trans role (John Waters player and trans woman Elizabeth Coffey did try out for the part but did not get it, supposedly for being seen as too feminine) and they saw the character as being closer to transvestite than transsexual despite well, the whole plot of the bank robbery being set in motion was to pay for the character’s sex change. Despite all of this I feel like that is a product of the time and that it was still significant and important that the details of the story were not completely white washed even if some of it in hindsight is now awkwardly presented. I am also not the biggest fan of Chris Sarandon’s whole body language in the film, constantly clutching his robe, although the character’s major tell-off about Pacino’s character whining that ‘he’s dying’ when he is the architect of his problems and the problems of others showed the movie wanting its audience to side with the trans character. That’s powerful. Sure, when her trans status is revealed a cop tries and fails to hold back a laugh, it is still a product of its time in many ways. My trans therapist told me that many trans people, himself included, in that time could see that film, while having some healthy criticisms of the performance, presenting their life experience on screen without animus.

Dog Day Afternoon
Elizabeth Coffey

WM: I really want to dive into Dog Day Afternoon now, because I think it's the only film we're talking about in this segment that we actually both love a lot. Despite loving that film, I do have some criticisms. I, too, am not particularly fond of Chris Sarandon's robe clutching, woman on the verge of collapse at any given second neurotic wife. I don't love that, and think that Elizabeth Coffey would have likely been better in the role, because she would have cut through what little bullshit there is in that film. I find it depressing that Coffey was turned down because she was too pretty, and that, if anything, should be our obvious entry point into the image of trans women in mainstream cinema. Coffey isn't the only trans actor who has run into the "you're too pretty to be trans" problem. They don't want a pretty trans woman, because they see us as men and if we appear like any other woman on screen that disrupts the narrative, even if that is the truth. That's where they keep us at a distance.

All this being said, I think Dog Day Afternoon is a near masterpiece, Sarandon's wonky body language and the frustrating 5 o' clock shadow aside. It's a shook up 2 litter bottle of pop ready to burst at any second and its centre is a man (Al Pacino) who is going to any lengths to get surgery for the woman he loves, because the world has fucked them over and it costs too much for any poor person to afford. That’s real. I appreciate Lumet including the title card for Elizabeth Eden stating she's "now a woman". The language is old, but the sentiment is there, and it is a happy ending in cinematic terms.

I do think there's a scene in the movie that honestly mirrors our experiences with trans casting and it's with John Cazale's character insisting he isn't a homosexual when that is announced on TV. He protests, but there it is on TV, something he asserts is wrong, but that is now the narrative. With us, we can look at the screen and say "that's not us" with cross-gender casting, we can look like cis people, and in Candy Darling's case look like a fucking supermodel and they're still going to run back into the arms of the men in dresses trope.

CG: Lumet’s direction to Sarandon, after going through many bad casting auditions for the character of Leon (the character’s name in the movie. The real life woman was Elizabeth Eden) saw the character as a full-blown neurotic, tragic Tennessee Williams heroine(Editor’s note: Tennessee Williams cast Candy Darling as the lead in one of his play, Small Craft). Lumet wanted the character played as an exasperated housewife. The results are Chris Sarandon being closer to sitcom matriarchs like Edith Bunker or Weezy Jefferson, but I think Lumet’s note was not a bad one. You do still feel these two- Pacino and Sarandon’s characters- have a very domesticated relationship and they are not playing dress up, it is real and so are their arguments, miscommunications, and doomed quality. It is normative but does not strive for, ‘They’re just like us!’ type of pleading to the audience. Lumet and Pierson were extremely aware of the need to still be delicate in telling this story that had the potential to not be taken seriously. Lumet was furious about how audience test-screenings took the relationship and the images of the “gay” wedding in the film’s newscast segments. But they were showing these two people getting married and one of them has committed this crime on behalf of the other, even if she did not want him to do this for her. Those were the facts of the case and they were put on-screen, that while still imperfect, are at the center of a truly excellent film.

And I love that the title card at the end of the movie as you said, places the real Elizabeth Eden in a much better place, especially compared to everyone else in the movie. She has moved on, her romantic partner went to jail, Sonny’s ex-wife, who he does not care about at all, are in the welfare system to raise her children. You come off with the impression that the 'freak' that some characters and even some of the audience previously snickered at by the end has her life together much more together than one expects or is conditioned to assume with trans characters, based on so many tropes. And a lot of those tropes that you and I have seen came after Dog Day Afternoon.

Elizabeth Eden

WM: It's strange to me, that Dog Day had little effect in reshaping how we see transgender cinema. There wasn't a huge call for Hollywood to shift afterward. Where changes did happen to some degree, and DDA had some effect, was in pretty broad interpretations of queer cinema involving gay men. Cruising, I think is a bastard son of DDA in some respects.

I love that phone call between the two. Lumet just moves back and forth between close-up and for a moment the heist element slips away. It's just two people talking, like they always have, and sharing a language and rhythm of their own. Pacino is excellent, but if there is an argument to be made for Sarandon it's in this scene. It gives us a window into their relationship, and "why" he's doing this for her. They have a rhythm that he and his ex-wife do not. It's theirs, warts and all, and he wouldn't be doing this if there wasn't something between them. Elizabeth Eden sadly passed away from AIDS in the 1980s, and even if Sarandon looks nothing like her she at least gets that note at the end of the movie and Sonny did use his money that he got from the film to pay for her sex change surgery. It's an epic love story, a total fucking anomaly in cinema with transgender elements and one of the only films with cross-gender casting I'll go to bat for, even with some minor complaints here and there. I love Dog Day Afternoon, and a lot of it would still even be radical to this day, but Hollywood would never make this movie now. It's too complicated, messy and real. That, and the fact that Disney controls everything now.

CG: Dog Day Afternoon would not be made by a major studio today. It would not be made with the level of talent in front of and behind the camera as it did in 1975. That would not happen. I think 1970s America cinema, despite so many of my favourite films coming from that era, were admittedly heavily hetero-masculine. Dog Day Afternoon even feels like an anomaly as far as having one of the biggest stars in an explicit LGBTQ relationship. There may have been international cinema (Fassbinder) and underground cinema with LGBTQ characters getting more attention, but what took over were stuff for the masses that pushed aside that level of visibility for our community. After Jaws and Star Wars, Hollywood became heavily invested in monoculture and as a result were less audacious in telling narratives of characters off the beaten path. Trans figures like Candy Darling (although she passed in 1974), Holly Woodlawn, and even a trans punk rock singer like Jayne County was emerging (who would appear in films, like the incredibly great German queer film, City of Lost Souls) may have had presence in the culture as far as being photographed, subjects of visual art and music, but they were not really breaking out in feature films that were beyond the underground cinema. What can we conclude over why this happened? Well, Hollywood’s ultimate 1970s downer ending was the 1980s. Ronald Reagan was elected and there was conforming to this ideal of the lost nuclear family from decades ago. Hollywood was not Ronald Reagan conservative, but they still had to placate to conservative audiences and a universal culture, but LGBT people were not part of that, and you’d be hard-pressed to say we are today. There were still thriving pockets of culture in the LGBT community at the time- as we see in Paris Is Burning- but it was subterranean, not the type of visibility available at your neighborhood multiplex. If you were gay or trans, well, then film treatments of you at that time by Hollywood were pretty retrograde. Afterwards you had the HIV/AIDS crisis and hysteria based on prejudice and ignorance from mainstream society. Not to mention drug epidemics that was met with ineffectual, ‘Just Say No’ campaigns. Warhol Superstar Jackie Curtis died, and so did many like her. To be different then meant the possibility of the world turning their back on you and that also included a lot of visual media. The gap of suddenly having very little visual media looking into the trans experience brought further ignorance and misunderstanding. It is really an indictment on American popular culture that the only times there could be anything remotely close to a trans presence in pop culture was by appearing on Phil Donahue and not really being seen as a person, but as some anthropological subject. Come see the bearded lady.

John Lithgow in The World According to Garp

WM: To chart transgender cinema in Hollywood is difficult, because there are these gigantic gaps where there is nothing. You'd get an occasional film here and there like The World According to Garp (which I like), but Lithgow's portrayal isn't the main plot line in that movie or anything. Lithgow took the role with dignity and had no foolish aspirations towards becoming acting royalty through transness, which is appreciated. He is fine in context of the period and the practices of the 1980s. He does not touch Karen Black in 5 and Dime, but who does?

I like that you mention Phil Donahue, because I think it was around the mid-80s when the trap narrative, or GOTCHA, reveal started popping up in movies, and we're going to get to that in our next instalment in Body Talk, but it became such an overbearing presentation of transness. It was a trick. You never even had a character like Sarandon's in DDA who was openly trans from the start but these later examinations of transness in post, and that was popularized to some degree by Psycho, but really came into fruition with The Crying Game whose revel overpowered the rest of the movie in a cultural sense later being spoofed by Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, WWF Monday Night Raw and Family Guy while also giving reason for Jerry Springer’s entire existence. It's hard to talk about that movie without its cultural placement as THE trap film, but Jaye Davidson isn't horrendous as Dil. It's one of the more put together characterizations of a trans woman being played by a cis man. She's very much her own woman. I just wish a trans woman could have been given the right to make her name off of a movie that was about to be wildly popular, even if its popularity and staying power are dubious in context.

CG: I love The World According To Garp. What’s significant about that is the film is playing in this wild, quirky key a la Harold & Maude was that everybody from George Roy Hill to Robin Williams to Glenn Close to Lithgow were all so game into adapting the John Irving novel to the big screen. The Irving novel states that Roberta is a trans woman and provides her a biography as an ex-football player whose knowledge of the game gets ignored for her decision to transition and cannot get a job announcing football games. She is not this distrusting character with a secret. She’s open and Irving posits her as somebody the reader the audience should like because, ‘Garp loved her’, in Irving’s own prose. There are so many insane things that happen in the film as far as plot and character arcs that Roberta just is a character among the chaos. As far as Lithgow’s casting, the character is funny but Lithgow does not make Roberta a joke, but a funny character with feelings and ambitions, more than a device for the more central characters and more than a quirky ornament for the film. It’s casting for the time, but given what we have seen about trans military service members it is not unheard of that trans women can come from hyper-masculine environments and sure, I do like to imagine how that casting would have looked like with a real trans woman but Lithgow is pretty good. That said let’s not get this twisted. One good characterization does not open the doors for so many terrible ones before and after, especially after.

WM: The fact that Roberta even has a dream is note-worthy, because that’s rare in portraits of trans women. In Tangerine, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) wants to become a singer, but beyond her can you think of any other examples? I can’t. In these movies trans women seem to want to just file into line as a stereotype, which is not the case. Yes, I want to be a wife and mother, but I also want to be known as a writer my entire life. I have dreams to keep challenging myself to get better. What does Redmayne’s Lili Elbe want to do in The Danish Girl? She wants to be a girl and sell clothes. She doesn’t have to paint anymore! (p.s. that’s sexist)

Mya Taylor in Tangerine

CG: In a culture that birthed Jerry Springer, ‘A chick with a dick’ type of retrograde presentations of transness offricially become a revulsion and a joke. Livelihoods become plot twists, secrets and marks of those individuals being untrustworthy. Even before The Crying Game and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, there was the otherwise very junk food comedy Soapdish that spoofed soap operas with a top of the line ensemble cast. In that movie, the third act includes revealing Cathy Moriarty’s plotting, backstabbing villain to have be a trans woman leading to Garry Marshall’s television executive character to exclaim, ‘She’s a boy’ and Robert Downey Jr.’s character, who was sexually involved with Moriarty’s character being on the verge of vomiting- quite similar to how Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura reacted to finding out Sean Young’s character was previously the vindictive ex-Miami Dolphins place kicker and Stephen Rea’s Fergus in The Crying Game finding out Dil is a trans woman. Gosh, a lot of men throwing up over this type of revelation.

The Crying Game’s whole plot takes a while to reveal itself but then takes over the whole movie, and there is no way to talk around it. Then it just became a Miramax (fuck Harvey Weinstein) pushed commercial phenomenon and there was a lot of critical complicity. I found out the twist of this movie before seeing it, and a lot of that film got its mileage from critics like Roger Ebert writing these coy reveals and winking to their readers with a, ‘Trust me. You’ll want to see this and tell your friends to see this but make sure to let them go in cold about that twist’. I cannot really say Neil Jordan’s film transcends that trapping as in the script of the film, it does make the revelation pretty much a conflict for Dil and Fergus and the script does write the scene as a, ‘She is really a man’ type of hushed tone but with an explosive revelation. I think Jaye Davidson gives the character a lot of dignity and depth but feels very at odds with the writing. Dil defends herself from Rea’s simultaneous initial rejection and allured fascination over her. Still, the film does something similar in having Dil in male form and that is when it gets maybe even more infuriating than the genitals reveal. I know of trans people put in that unfortunate position of having to wear clothing of the gender they were assigned at birth even as they identify trans, but here it is taken as a, ‘Well, she can live this double agent type of femme fatale because she’s really only wearing different clothing’. The character loses a lot of power towards the end and even her living, not dying like a martyr, is based on Fergus stopping her from offing herself, and frankly, it getting to that point in the film where Dil is suddenly a shifty, suicidal, mentally unstable person feels so uncharacteristic and an 180 degree switch from the sultry, seductive, confident, independent woman that viewers fir saw. That is not really on Davidson but unfortunate writing built off of several misunderstandings and misrepresentations.

The Crying Game

WM: The Crying Game is frustrating, because there's a version of that movie they could have realistically written, and chose not to where the character was this sultry femme fatale. In those terms Dil stands on her own in this characterization, because it's not like you can point to other examples where trans women played these types of characters. The writing undoes a lot of the good will established earlier on though like you said, and I'm in complete agreement with your other statement that these performances that have existed in the past and are contextually acceptable doesn't mean that it's okay to walk back down this path again today. Trans people have always been acting and for transgender cinema to truly feel lived in and authentic we have to actually be here don't we?

I want to shift gears slightly to what film looks like when we are present by talking about a couple movies and a few recent television shows. I have not seen Pose yet, because acquiring FX in Canada is tricky and expensive, but I have watched Sense8, which was spearheaded by The Wachowski sisters and there are transgender actors playing transgender characters. I was really drawn into Jamie Clayton's character Nomi and wrote about her briefly on Curtsies and Hand Grenades as a kind of revelation to finally see someone with a body and a history like mine on the screen. I cannot undersell the magnitude in which it affected me to see her in that role. I could only describe it as feeling like a blanket. Nomi’s character went through some shit with her parents so she felt real to me, but it was also this realization where I came to grips with the fact that it was possible to no longer be invisible. It had a profound meaning for me similar to Laura Jane Grace coming out and being mentioned on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. These were early moments in my own history as a transgender woman that I'll never forget. I never realized how important it was to see myself on screen, because it had never happened with me before, but I finally felt that with Jamie Clayton in Sense8 and I think she's great in the role. A totally perfect fit for The Wachowskis world of underdogs and connected human experiences.

CG: Pose is incredibly important remedy for the previously billed- by the mainstream entertainment press and not by the trans community, to be clear- ‘groundbreaking’ television series for trans people, Transparent. Despite that show giving exposure to various kinds of trans actresses, it was always still based on compromise in casting Jeffrey Tambor (editor’s note: Fuck Jeffrey Tambor) as Maura. Pose is unique and remarkable for doing a few things that on paper seem so simple. It centers trans people in front of the camera and that is boosted by the quality of writing and directing by trans people behind the camera (previously mentioned in Body Talk Silas Howard, who directed an episode, while Lady J wrote episodes, and Janet Mock did both). Pose carries a lot of responsibility in covering the 1980s ballroom scene in giving an incredible amount of visibility that most people can only reference Paris Is Burning, if they even saw that at all. And then of course it is carrying the responsibility of opening doors for trans actresses and trans talent in our presence. I knew of Mock, Lady J, and Howard before this show, although that doesn’t mean the entire Pose audience did and I hope that means more opportunities, and I hope this means more talent behind and in front of the camera get to be part of projecs in production. I know of a few other shows that have a trans actor or even a trans person on their writing staff, but I would like to see those experiences centered like Pose. I do not want Pose to be the only game in town because at some point, it is not going to be on. Then what?


I will also note that yes, Sense8 also existed and luckily, despite being short-lived got a proper sendoff recently. The Wachowskis are so earnest and both Lana and Lily definitely used their experiences in their trans identity to inform Jamie Clayton’s character. That whole argument she gets prodded into by a TERF-like figure, calling her a ‘colonizer’ on her gender feels like something that only we usually experience online and off-line in certain spaces. I felt similarly with Pose where multiple characters had anxiety about being misgendered even in supposedly ‘open-minded’ places or feeling the wrath of their family members who harbor disdain for them transitioning. It goes a long way to have characters on-screen and know that what they are doing and saying works because they not only get you, they are you.

We are real. I do think sometimes these discussions reveal that they don’t actually see us. We are treated like an abstract concept sometimes and so I thought it was important for our community to put our foot down on the ScarJo matter. I still felt like some people were not convinced and just think we were selfish for protesting this and I also felt like trans men in media still feel under-served. Netflix’s Queer Eye notably had a trans man makeover and while it had its bumps and was imperfect, I really felt like Skyler, the trans man, having his journey and story in plain view on Netflix was a good antidote to a lot of the bullshit that surrounded Rub & Tug. Still, not everybody has Netflix and it is clear that some people still do not get trans stories. It makes sense since they are spoon-fed some terrible, undercooked, inauthentic, and very much harmful narratives about our experiences. 


WM: I think that's our most important point. SEE US. LISTEN TO US. It is not incredibly hard. If 50,000 trans people say this casting is fucked maybe we know what we're talking about? I think you hit the nail on the head by saying that cisgender people sometimes think of us as abstract concepts. There was a poll recently where a high percentage of people said they didn't know a transgender person firsthand. I find these results unsurprising, but illuminating in how they view us. How can they possibly care if we're not real? The truth of the matter is that we're flesh and blood just like everyone else. We have wants and desires and needs. Our place in the world is informed by our experiences that we've had with gender, dysphoria and presentation and we have interesting stories to tell about lives that are sorely under-served. It's hard to imagine a transgender life going into old age, because no such image exists. It's hard to even exist as a trans person, because there's little format or structure for how to get there without direct help, because there's little cultural awareness of our issues. We only exist in the past tense in art. Our unique experiences are going to influence the kind of cinema that gets made about people like us, but Cinema also has a chance to shift the narrative. The ball is in their court on this one and if they continue to play dirty we're going to speak up. We'll stop when they start actually listening to us. We’re still waiting....