Kate Bornstein: When Bad Movies Happen To Good People
By Kate Bornstein
The film's trailer sparked fires across the trans Internet. Luna -- emulating Ed Wood? -- opens the original version of the trailer with somber text that invokes the memories of Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado -- two real-life victims of transgender hate crimes. Positioning his film along with their names was seen as an appropriation and mockery of transgender culture's communal grieving. Several activist organizations pointed this out to Luna, who quickly got the message that he was offending the very people he was trying to stand up for. So, he changed his online trailer. But the cat was out of the bag. There ensued online firestorms, e-mail bombs, and picket lines protesting the film and calling for the festival to withdraw TOTWK from its schedule. And even though THIS FILM ISN'T WORTH ALL THE TROUBLE, I've now got to address its political ramifications.
The list of groups protesting the film is impressive: GLAAD, Families Against Hate, The International Foundation For Gender Education, The New York Trans Rights Organization, Remembering Our Dead, and MAGNET (Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Trans People). The grounds of the protest were more or less on the basis of the film's inherent transphobia. The film festival and the film's producers countered by calling the transphobia an inherent ingredient of the film's self-proclaimed homage to '70s exploitation films. Defenders of the film's right to be shown -- myself included -- asked that protesters cease calling for censorship of the film.
Protesters countered, saying in a statement by MAGNET:
'We are NOT advocating 'censorship'; we are advocating 'anti-defamation protections' and exercising our 'freedom of speech.' The dignity, humanity, safety and proper education about trans women means more to me than some gay man's 'right' to exploit an oppressed community for a few harmful laughs and financial profit.'
As of this writing, neither side has backed down from the struggle. The fact that the political struggle isn't resolving is a clear indicator that there are core issues that haven't been addressed or examined.
I've read the protest blogs and the press releases denouncing the film. For the most part, they're well-reasoned and justifiably passionate. And still, the bulk of activist response to this unworthy film has been myopic in its concern for the 'respectability' of trans people. Look, not all trans people want to be considered respectable citizens of a culture that would rather see us as dead as the trannies in Luna's film. In light of that, please consider this statement from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation:
''while some of the actors in the film identify as transgender, the characters are written as drag queens, 'performing' femininity in a way that is completely artificial. The very names of these over-the-top female caricatures (Emma Grashun, Rachel Slurr, et al.) drive this point home.'
Excuse me, GLAAD. You're lovely people. You do GREAT work. But until you add T to your name, please stop telling me and my people how to perform femininity or masculinity. Please stop driving a wedge between transgender and drag queen. It's a classist and often racist thing to do. Yep, many of us have taken chosen names. Some of our names are funny and brave and fierce and that is in the tradition of our queen mothers and king fathers. I owe my trans-soul's allegiance to Doris Fish, 'Tippi,' and Miss X. The denigration of our drag royalty is a sign of just how far the U.S. antisex culture has permeated today's sex-and-gender mainstream activists. The drag queen moments of the film are among its most touching elements.
'Because of its positioning as a transgender film, viewers unfamiliar with the lives of transgender women will likely leave this film with the impression that transgender women are ridiculous caricatures of 'real women.' It demeans actual transgender women who struggle for acceptance and respect in their day-to-day lives and to be valued for their contributions to our society.'
Whoa. Ticked-Off Trannies isn't airing on PBS. It's not being hosted by Rachel Maddow or Oprah. It's a midnight showing at a downtown New York film festival. Just who the heck do you think is going to go to see this film? People who are concerned about the genuine portrayal of the lives of transgender women? Hell, no. It's going to be an audience hungry for the kind of girl-gets-revenge story that men have been making up since forever.
And excuse me once again, GL(noT)AAD, but' 'actual transgender women?' You actually said "actual transgender women" in opposition to drag queens? No, no, no. Transgender does not equal only trans men and trans women who make themselves and their lives as close as they can to you. Transgender is a experience shared by countless people with a limitless number of gender expressions. Drag queens and drag kings are transgender people, family, tribe. It's a tactic of power politics to divide and conquer. The last thing we need is an ally like GL(noT)AAD unintentionally driving a wedge into our tribe along class lines, with transgender being a higher class than drag queen and therefore a more respectable identity. That's just not true. If anything, the opposite is closer to the truth.
Drag queens and drag kings are transgender tribal royalty -- they bravely go where few men or women have gone before. Why do you suppose we call them kings and queens? They are breathtakingly brave, gorgeous, and fierce. Please keep in mind, it was the chicks with dicks and the bull daggers who led LGBT people into revolutionary battle at Stonewall in 1969. Our queens stood on the front lines for us. Do you get it, GL(noT)AAD? Without drag queens, you'd have nothing to be glad about.