Category Archives: media issues

Write Your Representative: The Trans* Self on Film, Part 1

Bono with Becoming Chaz's directors, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.

(I feel like I should have a disclaimer on each post that my titles will inevitably be unselfconsciously pretentious, because I myself am so in real life. Makes me primed to be great at academic writing, though.)

During the media press junket prior to the release of Becoming Chaz, I joked that when I inevitably watched it, I’d have to resist from playing the Trans Documentary Drinking Game, lest I get alcohol poisoning.[1] While I sincerely wanted Bono to pull off something different (my standard for the best “trans” documentary being the fantastic STILL BLACK), my hopes weren’t high. And though I admit it was a bit presumptive on my part, turns out I shouldn’t have had hopes at all.

For a viewer versed in the Way of the Trans Documentary, Becoming Chaz is neither new nor revelatory. Sebastian’s review at Autostraddle encapsulates the documentary’s key problem in his title: “About a Boy or About a Body?” The camera fixates on Bono’s body, viewing it as the ultimate exteriorization of his internal self—a supposed perfect model of inverse Cartesian dualism on display. And on a private trans-focused community I belong to, the response was equally lukewarm. Such mixed feelings-to-downright negativity prompted a member ask an important question, one that (seemingly) inevitably accompanies the release of trans* memoirs and documentaries: “What is it about all of the public transmen that doesn’t represent your experience?” Members offered many different responses, all of them equally valid.

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PSA on “A Billion Wicked Thoughts”

Because I just saw a friend mention considering teaching it in his class, I feel it’s of value of make a post here.

For anyone considering teaching or using in research A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire, the latest book by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, please first read the Fanlore Wiki compilation page of audience response to the survey in question, as well as the “theory” espoused by the books authors.

The surveys used in the book were not IRB approved by any university Human Subjects Committee, and the authors clearly failed to meet basic Belmont Report guidelines of acting with Respect for Persons, Beneficence, and Justice. This failure is, I think, especially damning in light of how those with how non-normative gender identities and sexual orientations have been exploited and used by academic researchers for their own gain.

If anything, this book, and the response to it, should be an illustrative lesson in why thinking long and hard about IRB approval for internet-based research is incredibly important. I know I still agonize over it.

Friends don’t let friends teach unethical research.

(Fanlore link fixed. Thanks, Ariel!)

Things Making Me Annoyed This Week

Bold Crossings of the Gender Line:

“It’s certainly a statement on our times that, in the same month, James Franco graces the covers of GQ and Candy. In GQ, he appears in a moody head shot. In Candy, a style magazine dedicated to what it calls the “transversal” — that is, transsexuality, transvestism, cross-dressing, androgyny and any combination thereof — Mr. Franco, shot by Terry Richardson, vamps in trowel-applied makeup, heavy jewelry and a woman’s dominatrix-style power suit.

Candy, it turns out, is but one of the more visible bits of evidence that 2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual.”

My goodness, they’ve given us a whole year (well, three weeks of it, anyway)!  How kind of them! It’s like someone leaving dog poop on my doorstep and not setting it on fire. Where will I put it? My shelf’s just burgeoning from all the shiny stuff cis people felt like giving us. There’s not many rights up there, and my “Self-Respect” blanket is starting to fray at the edges, but I must say, that “She’s Not A Man In A Dress” trope’s been polished until it shines.

I’m honestly not sure there’s a lot I can add to the preceding paragraph, because it pretty much sums up exactly how I feel about being told that my life is “fashionable” (I guess?) now. It’s all well and good trans people are apparently one step above the bottom of the pop culture food chain–though I wonder if anyone will ever bother to write a piece about how differently abled folks are suddenly “in”–but I fail to be otherwise impressed.

(If someone has actually written such a piece, please don’t tell me. I’d like to keep my ignorance. I only have so many brain cells, and I’ve been using ‘em lately.)

Instead, my teeth ache from grinding for any number of reasons. The piece’s tone. The emphasis placed on the cross-dressing dalliances (let’s not kid ourselves) of artists known for their excesses, their “grand gesture of solidarity with gender nonconformists.” The sentence, “the difference now is that mystery has been replaced with empowerment, even pride.”

My goodness, we can appear in photos and videos as something besides than the depressing Other. My heart, be still! Someone pass me the smelling salts!

Baring that, pass me my legal rights. I hear they even come with a free stick, in case you need to beat off those other greedy, rights-grubbing fuckers (Thanks, Joe Solmonese!)

- New Glenn Close Film, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs:

This humorous but ultimately poignant ensemble story about life “below-stairs” is nothing less than Gosford Park meets Boys Don’t Cry.

Need I begin? Need I say anything? The problems of Boys Don’t Cry as a primarily trans film aside*, not a lot funny about a movie where the central character is raped and murdered.

Just sayin’.

* I’m divided on the issue of reclaiming Brandon Teena as a specific trans figure when no one really knows how he identified (if at all) before his death. But I fall on the side of having to engage with Boys Don’t Cry as a trans film because of the weight it still carries in discourses about transness. There’s no way around the issue, and I think it’s disingenuous to try and ignore its influence to make a political point. Maybe one day I’ll no longer feel that way–but as is clearly illustrated here, the film remains a touchstone.

A Children’s Treasury of Queerkid Books

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour (itself a consistently awesome podcast) focused on pop culture firsts this week, which got me thinking about my own (kind of) pop culture first – first “adult” book.

An extended version of my comment:

It’s not exactly pop culture, but bear with me. The first “adult” book I ever bought, purchased at the Friends of the Library bookstore for the high, high price of .50 cents, was Joanna Russ’s On Strike Against God. It’s Russ’s only non-SF novel, adamantly feminist, and long since out of print. It was also just what I needed.

As a scared, largely friendless queer kid in Alabama, I latched onto this book. It was a lifeline to people who were (kind of) like me. I haven’t read it in quite awhile, but I still take it with me when I move, just in case I have a bad day and I need to take a peek.

Later on, thanks to the internet, I found and practically memorized every LGBT YA novel my high school library – not exactly an easy task in the state that produced Rep. Gerald Allen. In these books, I was able to prove (who I thought I was – lesbian) I existed- not as an amorphous construct, but a real, live person who got books (books!)  written about them.

I’ve since graduated college and left Alabama, but I always keep an eye out for the books that kept me going (Deliver Us from Evie, Empress of the World, Am I Blue?) in used bookstores. Though I never was able to own copies as a teenager, they’ve since become, in a sense, my own treasured “collection.”

Proving My Point

A bit of late linkblogging: Gina at Skip the Makeup has a great post on the case of Patricia Dye and how the Boys Don’t Cry narrative is used in media coverage as a blunt object to provide context for the story.

Because again, transness is really all about deception of the poor cisgendered people.

For Your Entertainment, or Why I Hate Boys Don’t Cry

I have to be honest – I nurse a long, deep hatred of Boys Don’t Cry. I was not exposed to it until after I came out as trans, but I’ve felt its presence. People ask if I’ve seen it (I must, I’m a trans man!). It’s suggested for queer film series, as I sit still and grit my teeth. I sigh as yet another female actress cites it as an inspiration for her role as an FTM character.

Nowadays, the likelihood that the average younger LGTBQ person will be familiar with Brandon Teena’s case is higher than the average citizen (that is to say, be aware of it at all), but he’s still largely a secondary citation, known but not understood. And more pointedly, why talk about this movie now? After all, Boys Don’t Cry came out in 1999, a little over ten years ago. In terms of representation, that’s almost a lifetime ago in the age of gay marriage legalization, ENDA, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell elimination.

However, Brandon’s case continues to bear a weight disproportional to its importance in only one category: for Boys Don’t Cry, the film based on Brandon’s life and subsequent rape and murder, serves as the only major portrayal of a trans man available to the average person – and to actors. Swank won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her work, an achievement which on its surface would seem to be all the evidence one needs to see her performance as worth emulating.

It remains, as a friend called it, “The FtM movie.” And this fact is why it’s still important to talk about it. Because there is no Transamerica for trans men. I don’t mean to say Transamerica is flawless – far from it – but it’s an upgrade on the “Dead Trans Victim” narrative.

Thing is, I would argue Boys Don’t Cry is, in fact, possibly one of the worst portrayals in film media of a trans man.  Continue reading

At least they’re not dead. Yet.

So, in the near future there may be trans men on my television. What is this?

It seems both Canadian teen drama Degrassi and UK soap Hollyoaks will be introducing young trans men to their casts in the near future.

There’s a shot of Adam in action in the long Degrassi promo at around the 0:34 point, clips in this “secrets” promo, a shot of Adam in the OP, and a press photo. So far, the Degrassi staff sound like they’ve taken the right steps – consulting with advocacy groups, thinking the writing through. Given Degrassi appears to have a generally good track record, I’m more hopeful than worried. I can’t speak to Hollyoaks, but I am more cautious given its positioning as a “traditional”-ish British soap. More importantly, though, there are lots of birth names and wrong pronouns, which is never a good sign.

As Jos Truitt points out over at Feministing, more positive trans characters in media with a wide audience is almost always welcome. I want very much for this fact to not get lost in the criticism – having young trans men on in mainstream media is important, something worth applauding. But beyond these individual representations, what has me slightly worried is the light in which young trans men are cast in reference to their cis counterparts: specifically, the fact they’re put forth as accessible – to both audience and actors – while young trans women are not. Continue reading