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Transamerica

Transamerica

I finally got the chance to view ‘Transamerica’ in the worst possible circumstance. I had it on my to do list for ages, but it wasn’t until I was lying on a table having my face electrified for 9 hours until I really had the chunk of time I needed to give it my full attention. I have to admit, it was a real nice distraction to focus on while James worked his magic needle to fry my follicles.

As usual, I’m not going to bother giving you the whole synopsis on the thing because you can look it up and read it yourself without me laboriously typing in a much less accurate recounting. Plus I don’t want a lot a whining that I gave away spoilers. Wait, I usually end up doing that anyway, so… Spoiler Alert! A good possibility exists that I am going to ruin this for you if you haven’t seen it yet. Just to be safe, I guarantee it. Read on at your peril or if you take particular delight in being let down by an online buttinsky just so you can complain later.

The best thing about this film, other than featuring a trans protagonist, was the acting by Felicity Huffman. Short of actually putting a transgender woman in the role, I think they made the best choice. Felicity was exceptionally believable as Bree, and had I not known ahead of time that she was born female, I probably would have been super excited that they managed to find a trans actress I hadn’t heard of yet. She sold the role, even stacked up against a cameo by the fabulous Calpurnia Addams, who ironically played a much less believable trans. The scene in which they are together is an odd mix of Bree, representing pretty much every trans woman I know, and Calpurnia’s friends, who represented a caricature of everything people think we are. “come in! Debra is showing everyone her new vagina!” Ugh… seriously.

The movie overall is a pretty standard story; road trip quest to complete before super important deadline. In this case she has to bail her kid out of jail before her shrink will sign the surgery letter, and of course she’s already booked the operation in advance of all this and it can’t be moved. Naturally she doesn’t want to abandon her son, but also doesn’t really want to reveal herself either. I can’t identify with that last bit to be honest, at all. It’s nearly impossible that I have an unknown child out there, but if one appeared in my life, I would have to be forced to let go. In moving her son back to Cali, the typical daddy turned maddy scenes play out. A little bit of drug dealing, a car stolen by a hippy hitchhiker they immediately trust, some male hustling for quick cash, and finally a sexual proposition from son to biological father. The usual stuff that would make any sane parent want to kill themselves.

In her bid to ditch her kid, which involves an attempted drop of to gramma and grampa, along with a poorly conceived plan to reunite junior with his sexual predator step-father, Bree finally comes to the post-operative realization that the happiness of family supersedes even that of genital corrective surgery. It was a very moving scene actually, exacerbated by the very lonely scene of her in the hospital sobbing, with only her therapist there to give comfort.

I actually found the most interesting scene to be when Bree finally comes to the realization that this is in fact her kid. She visits his shanty of an apartment and he shows her an old pic of Bree in her male days alongside an old flame. The weight of responsibility comes over her and she slumps down on the bed. What I liked about it was that for all her hyper-awareness regarding her femininity, in this moment of being overwhelmed she sits down with a very male sounding grunt, in the classic ‘defeated dude’ open legged slouch. To me that captured in one moment the essence of the trans existence; the sheer difficulty of completely overcoming so many years of behavioral training.

While a tear jerker some of the time, and horribly uncomfortable at other times, there was also a degree of lightness to this and a few laughs as well. While atypical of anyone in particular, so wholly typical to the overall trans life and the inescapable awkwardness that remain ubiquitous through transition. And because some of you saw fit to complain (ahem!) of my lack of star rating for my movie reviews, I concede and give this 4 out of 5 Golden Michelleliannas, whatever those are supposed to be anyway.

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Fight Club on Estrogen

Fight Club

I was still in the Air Force when the movie ‘Fight Club’ came out and I received it as soon as it came out on VHS due to my nagging little Columbia House problem. Unlike most of the unwatchable crap I received and was too lazy to return, this one actually got some use. My roommate and I ended up watching it about 6 times in the space of a month. I’m not sure why. Yes, it was a pretty good movie and all, but I’ve never been a multiple viewer kind of gal. At the time I convinced myself it was enjoyable bonding with Travis and turning the whole “I am Jack’s…” theme into our inside joke. “I am Jack’s rage that Travis peed on the seat!” Good times, good times.

I think the real appeal was the draw of a story where two people are actually one. I’ve always loved that kind of thing, or really anything in general where the nature of reality is really put to the test. I think we alll do, and ‘The Matrix’ suddenly made a lot more sense once Lana Wachowski made her existence known to the world. I think she is super awesome by the way and still need to write an adoring post about her. At the time, I found the end of the movie kind of sad. All these great bonding experiences he had were all just in his head and the whole notion of it seemed so desperately lonely.

Though I’m loathe to admit this, at the time I was watching I also liked it for the raw naked violence. There is nothing more visceral than bare-chested men slapping the berjeebers out of each other in a bare knuckle bloody contest. Even Meatloaf with his testicular cancer inspired breasts put on a good show of raw masculine power at its basest level. It was “realistic” and exciting and my heart rate increased pleasurably just seeing the disgusting mess of blood and mangled flesh. Gross, right?

A few weeks ago I decided to pull out ‘Fight Club’ and give it another view through changed eyes. Wow, what a completely different viewing experience! I found the violence repulsive and found it detracted from what still held up as a clever story. I found myself really sympathizing with Marla, the woman involved with Mr Multiple Personality. This was interesting because initially I hated the character and found her presence nothing more than a plot vehicle to clue in the audience to the big twist. Now I saw her as a wounded soul using all the strength she had to wall off her inner fragility and loneliness against a world that increasingly made less sense. I think the story told from her point of view would be very compelling, but is still discernible by filling in the pieces.

I viewed the big twist very differently as well. What I found sad at earlier views, that two people were really just manifestations of one, I now saw as an enlightening struggle with self. It was very identifiable and no longer about the elimination of what was arguably the better part of a person. Instead, it was a full recognizance of the disparate parts of an individual, and what they were willing to do about it to live as they found right. Ed Norton firing a gun through his mouth to make himself “whole” was more gruesome then I cared for, but spoke to his conviction.

I don’t, by the way, see myself as such to be honest. I don’t feel it was a battle between ‘Michael’ and ‘Michelle’ with Michelle walking away the clear victor. I’ve always been one person, simply expressing myself differently until I could come to terms with what was most comfortable. In other words, no part of me was killed off; I just became more me.

My final thought was on the author – Chuck Palahniuk – and his works. He is a very male author without question, but goes places that seem familiar. Not only with ‘Fight Club’ but ‘Invisible Monsters’ as well. In ‘Invisible Monsters’, one of the principal characters is a mostly passable fully transitioned woman. As it turns out, she is revealed as a homeless gay boy talked into full transition by a group of drag performers who were apparently successful enough to finance everything. Not something I cared for at all, and reeks of the old forced feminization fetish that frankly offends me a bit. I’m just not that jazzed by the idea that my life is so humiliating as to inspire paraphilia driven wish thinking. Ugh. I’d wonder about Mr. Palahniuk, but um no, the boys can keep him.

‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’… Weird Title, Right?

In my most recent day long appointment to have my jaw blown up to comedic gorilla size (sans hair), James offered a new selection of movies I feel obligated to talk about. I would like to mention though that we ended the day with ‘Dot and the Kangaroo’ since I hadn’t seen it in 30 years. Maybe it was the pain, but this time the Bunyip and the Aborigines didn’t scare me as much as they did when I was ten. As usual, I’m off track already since we are really here today to talk about ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’.

I know that the theater production of this was recently in Buffalo, and as usual, I didn’t make time to go. To be perfectly honest, I was turned off by the name. Rather than do a few moments of research and find out what the story was about or why everyone was making such a big freaking deal about it, I decided by the name alone that this is something I would probably hate. I mean seriously, “Hedwig”? It sounded like the name of the shitty band they got to open for Falco on a booze cruise gig.

Well, it turns out it was actually the name of a band, so I was right about that, but not much else. Just so you know, I’m probably going to spoil this for you as I usually do, so buyer beware and all. I absolutely loved it! True, the live performance probably would have been much better, but the movie was good enough for multiple viewings (James, In case you are reading this, I don’t do multiple viewing – not getting any younger here).

The movie opened with what appeared to be a drag show. Hedwig was in full regalia screeching out the exact sort of music I generally hate. Aside from the incessant ‘zap, zap, zap, pluck, pluck, pluck’ it was going to be a long couple hours. I’m not a super big drag fan; not so much that I’m opposed to drag performers, but because I’m constantly worried people are going to mistake me for them, even though I dress all frumpy and shit most of the time. After the opening performance we start diving into the complexity of the characters. Hedwig walks in on Yitzhak, her lover/assistant/ band mate or whatever fondling and trying on one of her hundreds of wigs. Yitzhak has a Hebraic Brett Michael’s thing going on, except with mountains of scruffy beardage. The point of this remains unclear until the end, which at best, is as clear as a day old bowl of Count Chockula and milk left on the counter.

About half the movie is Hedwig’s back story, which if fairly fascinating, but for a few items that annoyed me. Let’s talk about those things because who really likes to hear me gush praise? The oldest scene opens with Hedwig’s mom walking in shortly after she was molested by her American serviceman dad. As you know, I take a bit of exception to the whole notion that we are byproducts of CSA. The counter to this, I suppose, is that just as many trans people are CSA victims, so having this as part of the story doesn’t necessarily feed the myth. Of course I doubt anyone of that mindset has this movie on their Netflix queue anyway.

I also didn’t like that Hedwig’s husband, yet another American serviceman (Luther) who seduces her with candy, leaves her on their first anniversary for a young man. I’m probably over sensitive, but I viewed this as an implication that Luther is gay and therefore saw Hedwig as male. The other unpalatable implication was that Hedwig was used as a gateway gender for Luther to come out to himself. Then again, it did add to the richness of the story.

I had a weird premonition that ‘The Angry Inch’ part of the title somehow was a genitalia reference. At first I thought I was wrong, since it was the name of the band. Mid-movie, however, it was explained in a song that faded into a flashback. Seems I was right about this all along. In order to leave East Germany, she had to marry Luther, and doing that required a medical exam. To get around this, Hedwig’s cupcake of a mom hires a hack surgeon to give her a quickie kitchen table top sex change. The operation is botched, leaving Hedwig with an inch long mound of flesh between her legs. I’m not sure how the medical examiner was fooled into mistaking a stumpy little penis for a vagina, unless her underpants stayed on. In that case she should have just used a tight gaff, but whatever, it worked and advanced the plot.

As I mentioned, the ending was kind of weird. Like ‘Rocky Horror’ weird. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was looking at. After some kind of bizarre mental reconciliation with her love/ hate ex, a popular rocker who stole credit for her songs, she rips off her wig and clothes and adopts a male appearance. At the same time, Yitzhak suddenly transforms from Scruffy McGee to a stunning Miriam Shor as if the female identity can just be traded to a good pal. I’m not totally clear if Hedwig (originally Hansel) was really trans, or just adopted the trans identity as a circumstantial thing. Of course if Hedwig is really going to go forward as Hansel, having an inch long dick is going to really blow as size seems important to men.

All in all though, excellent watch and makes me wonder what else I’ve been missing out on because I’m judging by the name or title? Only one way to find out. Off to the diner for a nice plate of rocky mountain oysters.

Buffalo Bill (Really Not a Football Post, Promise)

I’m not totally sure what is going on here, but for the past few days now I’ve been depressed and ornery for no particular reason. I’m pretty sure it’s hormonal, because others have reported similar cycles that I seem to have as well. This doesn’t make total sense to me since my daily dosage is the same and I lack a uterus and other reproductive plumbing that I understand is the root cause of monthly cycles. Then again, most of my medical knowledge was delivered 30 years ago by the gin soaked cutups on M.A.S.H. Damn you Trapper John! Well, I’m going to use my sense of misplaced irritation and direct it toward something we have all hated for a long time. Silence of the Lambs.

Locally speaking, no one here was real thrilled with the nickname ‘Buffalo Bill’ being slapped on Jame Gumb, the evil psychotic prick in the movie. I don’t have any huge love for sports, but I still didn’t care for the local defamation. Of course I cared for the defamation to the trans community even less. That’s right, ol’ Bill was allegedly a transsexual who was trying to right natures’ wrong by kidnapping women and starving and lotioning them in a well that’s in his basement for some reason, all to skin them later to add to the ‘woman suit’ he picked up sewing to create. Apparently the author felt that this was a plausible option trans people may consider from time to time.

Look, I’m not saying that all trans people really have all their issues buttoned down tight. There are, well, less-hinged sisters out there and yes, there are problems. Big difference though between being a bit flakey and an abhorrent avatar of pure evil. For the most part, we don’t really tend to be violent people. Well, except for a rare few like that other Michelle who killed her wife (not to be confused with this Michelle). If anything, we tend to feel uncomfortable with aggression due to the perception that it is a male trait.

OK, instead of rambling on like I do, I’m going to narrow down the three things I really hate about this story/ novel/ movie. To start, this movie has two villains. One of them is such a dangerous, diabolical and frightening character that there is a need to dress him up to look even scarier in order to wheel him around town. Compared to Buffalo Bill though, the trans character, he seems pretty all right as long as you aren’t on his shit list. In fact, it might even be interesting to have coffee with him and chat a bit, as long as he didn’t feel the need to cook anything for the occasion. Bill on the other hand has no redeeming qualities. Creepo look, creepo voice, collects bugs, has horrible fashion sense, and dwells in a small slovenly house with a disproportionately large, labyrinthine basement that contains a dry well. Oh, plus the whole kidnapping and skinning thing. That’s our trans representation right there folks.

“Well Michelle, it is a horror movie and it’s not like this hasn’t been done to other groups. Not everyone thinks scientists are out there trying to create human centipedes now.” Yeah, true, no one comes off good in horror movies. At the time this came out though, trans representation was limited to Dr Frank. Fucking Dr Frank. Two popular representations in like 15 years, with a trend going extremely negative. Don’t even throw that ‘Tootsie’ shit at me either. She wasn’t even a real CD. For every evil scientist, you have a dozen hero versions out there saving the world on the silver screen. I suppose wax museum curators and clowns are in the same boat, but I’ll leave them to take that up in the more popular wax and clowning blogs.

Finally, the big cop out. Sure, in the movie the sadistic cannibal casually remarks that Buffalo Bill only “believes” himself to be a transsexual. I’ve actually read about people defending the depiction on that one half-assed line. Oh, well sure, everyone will pick up on that right away because they are all too aware what transsexuals really are. We can all breathe easy now. Never mind the fact that in terms of diagnosis, without a post-mortem autopsy, we don’t exactly have a lot of corroborating physical evidence for our status other than we are what we say we are. If there was a blood test or something, don’t you think we would be carrying the results around in our purses? “Eat this Jimmy! I tested T!”

It is just a movie, and now an old one at that, and I am just being grouchy for no good reason, but still. It sucks when the media casts us in a dark light. For many people, that is the only trans exposure they have. Someone who has only seen ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and then encounters me, I have to wonder if they are getting all sketchy because I whipped out some hand lotion or happen to be shopping for a new basket.

michellelianna

Different for Girls

My ex recently happened on a tasty little trans movie I was not familiar with called ‘Different for Girls’ (linked, so I don’t have to write out the whole synopsis), and I was remarkably impressed. Trans movies have come far since the old days when we were characterized as either extraterrestrial mad scientists with a penchant for gothic schlock, or super duper creepy bug collecting serial killers attempting to make a woman suit out of skin. I’m sure the trans folks coming out at that time really loved having to constantly explain that the moth wings on their blouses came from walking too  close to the bug zapper as wide eyed relations prepared to flee while screaming that they never lotion. This was way different.

In most recent trans movies, there is by rule a narrative by which either the trans person or someone close to them has to come to terms with the trans person’s identity. I don’t think there is any way of getting around that. Confusion, misunderstanding, and chaos inevitably give in to acceptance and understanding, at least in those with a happy ending. The exception of course is when the trans person is killed before the end, like in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. I was hoping this was one of the former as I was in the mood for a pick-me-up when we turned it on and not looking for a good cry. Um, in case you haven’t seen it, chances are I’m going to spoil this even more for you, so maybe you should watch it before reading this. Just saying.

It was a well done movie and had a compelling story line aside from one of the protagonists being trans, but there were two aspects of this that I really wanted to talk about. I was absolutely thrilled to have the trans woman in the role of a female love interest. I don’t care that this was used to make the film more avant-garde or interesting, or that one of the main obstacles that had to be overcome was the male lead, Prentice, learning to look at Kim as a woman, and not his old prep school pal Karl. The other obstacle of course was that Prentice was mentally and socially stuck at 14, and that the love of a good woman forced him to grow up. Through the latter, Kim, like any good female love interest, played the more mature, professional, adult with reservations that focused more on his overall immaturity rather than his struggle with her gender identity. You have to love that. For once, the trans person was the character who had it all together.

The other thing I really loved was easily missed. Kim is employed as a greeting card verse writer in a primarily female office. One of the other workers, apparently an admin who sits near her, seems to have a touch of cattiness toward Kim. She is quick to bring the boss over to Kim’s work station when she spies something inappropriate. She is even faster to hand Kim an empty box near the end when we are all certain she is about to be canned after being exposed in the tabloids as Prentice’s “shocking” ex-male girlfriend. What I loved is that the root of this is never explained. It could be Transphobia, or it could simply be office politics and a standard personality mismatch. Due to the lack of clarity, I would be very interested to see who saw the movie and perceived it as one over the other.

Kim is neither the primary protagonist nor the victim. She is mistreated at the start of the film when portrayed as an adolescent boy who tucks to take a shower and gets tormented by the others. She is likewise mistreated by the police who first attempt to reach up her skirt, then keep her in a cell overnight and threaten to have drunken disorderly men put in with her, and finally hint that she could be sent to a male prison. While the skirt reach is clearly an anti-trans action (the aggressive cop thinks she’s a “transvestite”), the remaining actions are an attempt to influence her to convince Prentice to drop charges against one of their own.

All together it’s a great little love story, even though I feel she really settled by ending up with a hyperactive man-child. Through it all, however, there is clarity that the writers and director intend for the character to be a woman with her transgender status as merely a component of her character and not the sum of it.

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