Kate Bornstein: When Bad Movies Happen To Good People

4.22.2010

By Kate Bornstein

Yes, yes it looks like I'm picking solely on GL(noT)AAD. The sad truth is they're not the only folks who parrot a decades-old essentialist gender separatism grounded in the paranoid theories of transphobe Janice Raymond. A 1970's scholar of note, Raymond claimed that ALL trans women are ridiculous caricatures of real women. Ouch.
Cisgender people with a stake in the essentialism of a bipolar gender system use mean, bully language like that to put themselves in the position of being the arbiters of real-gender-is-cisgender and fake gender is anything else. That's a heady privilege -- naming yourself as the gold standard for real men and real women. It puts you right up there at the top of the heap.

Through their no doubt kind intentions, GL(noT)AAD acts like protective parents. They believe they have the right to speak for all transgender people. Their nonconsensual parenting reifies the notion that we are as weak and as defenseless as the tranny characters in the film. And this brings the real failure of the film back into focus: misogyny, that old feminist bogey man that refuses to go away because' well because misogyny refuses to go away.

If this film was worth it -- and if the transgender protesters really wanted to put together an effective protest campaign -- they could have opened the cause from transphobia to the larger issue of misogyny. Then they could have invited all the people who are told they're not man enough or woman enough. That's misogyny. And that includes anyone whose race, class, age, looks, ability, and religion, sexuality, citizenship, language, and/or family and reproductive status impacts their status as real men and real women. In Ticked-Off Trannies, Luna manages to offend everyone who's oppressed by any one of those hierarchical systems of oppression. But because the lightening-rod word Trannies is in the title, the film is mistakenly perceived as a single-issue problem, thus forcing the hand of an old school single-issue political activism. Now I have to unpack the word tranny. Curse you, Israel Luna!

The word tranny comes from 1960s and '70s Sydney, Australia. The Aussie queens and transsexuals invented the word to unify their community despite their differences. An argument can be made that the word has become a pejorative word, much like 'the n-word' for African-Americans. I don't think so, but that's an entirely different debate that's raging within the transgender world. The point in this context is that the word tranny makes people think that the only social crime committed in the film is transphobia, when in fact the film is far more offensive than that.

The film is born of rage, and I'm all for rage in art -- expressed as graphically as the artist wants to express it. However, the question for the artist who wants to work with rage is this: How do you trigger the rage in your audience? The mainstream way to trigger rage is to reinforce misogyny, racism, classism, and all the other -isms that fester in our gender-rigid antisex Western Culture.

There is nothing new, transgressive, startling, or innovative about TOTWK. So why exactly did Luna make this film? Why did the otherwise respectable Tribeca Film Festival accept it into their lineup of possible award-winning films? Well, there's just no accounting for political na'vet', bad taste or the ka-ching you hear when you market violent misogyny to the dominant culture of the U.S. of A.

In the hands of a better filmmaker, the '70s exploitation campiness would have made Luna's point: Hate crimes suck. But, he failed. He wound up making a film that a large part of his potential audience considers a hate crime in and of itself.

Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives plays at the Tribeca Film Festival April 23'May 2. For more information, visit the film's official site here.

For more on the developing story regarding the controversy surrounding the film -- including a discussion with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black about TOTWK -- visit The Advocate's website.

For more information on Kate Bornstein, including upcoming appearances, visit her official site here.

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