I was about 10 when my grandparents took my sister and I to the movies at the long gone Boulevard Mall Cineplex. I don’t know if Tootsie was necessarily the best choice, but old Papa was not terribly keen to sit through two hours of animated caterwauling. In any case, I absolutely loved it. Well, most of it. I wasn’t aware of what the film was supposed to be about walking in. I suppose it had been advertised on TV, probably during commercial breaks of ‘Bosom Buddies’, but I avoided that show like the plague unless I was alone, which was never. I had a little blushing problem when things hit too close to home. The nice part about the movie theater is that it is dark.
At the time Tootsie came out, “gender-bending” in the media was on a minor upswing. Prior to this time it was a rare day to even catch a Bugs Bunny episode where he wore a dress. From the moment Michael Dorsey became Dorothy Michaels, my eyes were riveted to the screen. I couldn’t imagine a character having a luckier break. I came away, however, a little bit confused.
For one, I developed the impression that attempting to look like a slightly dowdy looking ‘old lady’ (I was only 10 remember!) required an obscene amount of work. Not just eyebrow plucking and makeup, but gluing bits of foam to the face as well. I was very daunted by this and the idea of ever looking good enough to walk around in society and not have everyone know seemed hopeless. Not that passing at my age would have been even remotely difficult, but I understood by then that I was going to growing into some unpleasant changes. Of course I came to find this was pretty accurate, less the adhesion of shit to my face.
Second, I already kind of understood from glimpses of ‘Bosom Buddies’ that boys dressed as girls were supposed to be hysterical. This confirmed that notion very well. “If I am ever seen dressed like a girl, people are going to kill themselves laughing at me.” As a hypersensitive child with an overdeveloped need to please, being the butt of intense ridicule did not seem like a desirable outcome. I had enough inner conflict over my penny loafers, which I loved for being appropriate for feminine feet, but too publically gender ambiguous, even though half the boys in my class had them as well.
Finally, I absolutely hated the ending. Here she was, living a wonderful, successful life as Dorothy and she willingly (willingly!) goes back to being dumpy old Michael! Why? Why would she do that? For the life of me I could not conceive of a worse way to have ended the thing. Oh, it was so depressing. What the hell was wrong with her… him… anyway? It wouldn’t be the first time either. Every movie I ever saw thereafter where a boy successfully integrated into female society, accepted for who she is, they blow it in the end. It was sadistic film making in my book. How could they bill these films as “zany, laugh-a-minute romps” when the ending would make old Aeschylus himself, the Eeyore of Greek drama, weep bitter tears.
It wasn’t until much later that I understood the tragic-comic element of the story was that they were reduced to appearing as women in the first place. They had sunk as low as they could go and then found an even deeper basement in adopted femininity. Fumbling through ridiculous tribulations like makeup, pantyhose, walking in heels, endless girl talk, and inevitable come-on’s from the ‘wrong’ kind of man, they are broken down. As a dubious benefit to his humiliation, they learn to be better men and in the end are restored to their rightful status at the top of the food chain. OK, I know this probably wasn’t the overt intention, and my little speech would be looked at as ‘Femi-nazism’ by blowhards like Rush. I’m not completely wrong here either though, just to keep it in perspective.
Be that as it may, I prefer my version of the ending; the one that never seems to get filmed, or even appear in the director’s cut, of gems like Sorority Boys or one of the endless iterations of Freaky Friday where gender swap is used as the clever catch. It’s OK, I don’t need the media to conform to my particular preference. As long as I have directors privilege in my own life, the ending is going to be just to my liking, and that is all I really need.