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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.


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.

They Took Me to ‘Tootsie’

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.

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