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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.

Family Guy

In May of 2010 I was still hard at work in my last ditch effort to become comfortable as a male. I was already losing, and fast, but at the time encountering anything that smacked of gender identity issues brought upon a big old dose of anxiety. It wasn’t helping that my wife was still accusing me of being either gay or a girl, as it turns out with good reason. I attribute all this to the reason I missed the epic episode of Family Guy where Quagmire’s dad reveals himself to be transgendered and all the hullabaloo that resulted. I somehow “forgot” to set the Tivo for that night and probably blamed my wife.

I was watching reruns not too long ago after I already came to my senses and began transition. Now hypersensitive in the other direction, it seemed like the universe was determined to crack me across the face at every available opportunity for my former stupidity. Just wonderful, the universe is an abusive male. It was bound to happen that that this particular episode was going to air as Fox evidently didn’t see fit to pull it from the rotation for sensitivity reasons.

For those who haven’t seen it, it begins with horn dog Quagmire’s dad coming for a visit, and in spite of his reputation as a legendary swordsman with the ladies, his behavior from the beginning indicates he may lean more toward the laddies. Quagmire can’t take the idea that someone so close to him isn’t exactly like him (no wonder old Cleveland got deported and he hates the talking dog who sounds suspiciously like Seth McFarlane), in spite of the fact that he’s a reprehensible pig. Nope, dear old dad isn’t gay, just transgender; something far worse. In typical media fashion, dad gets a 10 minute operation and emerges as a very passable woman. I know, but if you aren’t going to spend the full half decade it deserves, you may as well shrink down transition to a single scene.

Quagmire can’t accept the idea of his dad transitioning into the gender he holds in such contempt and through a well contrived sequence of events, she ends up getting picked up and seduced by Brian the talking dog. Toward the end we get to the scene I imagine causes all the controversy. When Brian, the dog, finds out he slept with a transgender woman, he becomes violently ill at the thought. Yep, woman and dog have sex and it’s the dog who goes bananas over it. If you are transgendered, you are probably a little upset by now. It’s OK, I’m going to rile you up just a little more before calming you down.

No matter how you look at it, it’s pretty offensive. All the usual stereotypes are there – transition can happen in an afternoon, transgender women are out trolling for unsuspecting men trying to ‘trick’ them into bed, transgender sex is actually worse than bestiality – OK, I never heard the last one before, but you know there are people who probably think it. So we should be offended, right? I don’t know, but I’m thinking no.

First of all, the writers of ‘Family Guy’ are equal opportunity shitheads. No one gets a fair shake in Quahog, and the lowest common denominator stereotypes usually shine through. Over the top horny airline pilot, all African American’s subscribing to ‘Grape Soda Monthly’, incompetent politicians, financially hypersensitive Jews, Downs children with Alaskan politician parents, handicapped people who can turn into a form of Voltron. OK, that last one is a little obscure, but I’m sure I’ve heard it at least two or three times growing up. If you are a performing artist, you get mocked by Weird Al Yankovic; if you are human, you get mocked by Family Guy.

I know I should be offended by the sleeping with the dog thing. Having watched the show for many years, it seems that pretty much every female character has slept with that dog one time or another. Sure he’s an alcoholic bore, but compared to the rest of the cast, he’s also arguably the most intelligent and mature of the crazy bunch. Besides, his over the top gay cousin also has a human lover. Not that this justifies anything, but in the context of the FG world, human to talking dog relations are socially acceptable. If it happened on ‘Frasier’ with Eddie and a trans person, that would be one thing, but here, not so much.

We do have a lot to be prickly about. Most people misunderstand our existence and hold a lot of false stereotypes. I believe there are many venues in which we should take up the fight to educate, but one where the title character routinely fights a giant chicken to a bloody mess is probably not worth wasting the energy. Anyone who solidifies their world concept based on a cartoon is likely the same guy who changes his vote due to a hyperactive douche waving a sign in the parking lot of the polling place; he’s good for the last thing he sees and not a whole lot more. If anything, anyone watching the show uneducated about trans existence, chances are they will view this episode and immediately draw the conclusion that what they are seeing is incontrovertibly inaccurate. In this case I think it’s OK to be a good sport and take the joke as just a joke.

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