The Problematic Nature of Portraying TS/TG People in Film and Video

From the Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey  films of the late 1960s along with John Waters early work forward to “Ticked off Tranny’s with Knives” the vast majority of films featuring TS or TG folks have totally sucked. Across the board underground and mainstream alike the vast majority are poorly done and exploitative.

Occasionally one finds an exception such as “The Crying Game” that actually casts a person who is if not TS or TG sat least someone close enough so as to have a real life association with the world of TS/TG people.

I haven’t seen “TOTWK”, I’m not likely to either simply because I don’t see the point of wasting my money on it.  But other than grousing a bit about its exploitative nature I’m probably not going to pour a lot of energy in to picketing it or anything.

Life is too short and too filled with far more important issues that need addressing than crappy films.

Besides most films featuring TS/TG roles filled with straight people suck. There is a revival of La Cage on Broadway, a play that sucked when it first appeared some 30 years ago and still sucks.

I call it “dragface”…  It is like how white people played blacks in the racist days of early film by donning blackface make up.  Fast forward to the incredibly racist Shirley Q. Liquor. Or whites playing Asian in the racist Charlie Chan films when white actors donned “yellowface”.

There are even films I try hard to like because they are so earnest.  Like “Trans-America” or “It’s Different for Girls”.  I know they are well intentioned and not aimed at ridiculing us but because they insist on using non-TS/TG people in the roles they can’t help but play us as stereotypes rather than as natural people.

I listened patiently while the director of “Different for Girls” explained why he used a young man to parody us, saying, “We consulted with and auditioned post-op transsexuals but they were just such ordinary women that people wouldn’t believe they were transsexual.

One of those admissions that should be taken to heart by the “Transgender as Umbrella” set.  SRS cures transsexualism or at least it does for most people.  This isn’t to say that many of us do not have interesting lives because of having been born transsexual, lives we might not have had were we not born transsexual.

This brings us back to the question of who gets portrayed in transfilms?  Mostly drag queens or people in transition because drag queens and people transitioning are the defining elements of transsexual and transgender.

Now here’s where the difficulty comes in.  I used to be a serious cinemaista.  European and Asian as well as American films.  I cut my teeth on the experimental films of Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith.  I understood “camp” as put forth by Susan Sontag in her essay “On Camp”.

The films of Warhol/Morrissey, particularly “Women in Revolt” were campy, so bad they were good.  A lot of the blaxploitation movies like the original “Shaft” were that same way.  Offensive stereotypes abound.  Yet those very same offensive stereotypes exist.  It is just that there is a difference in where these sorts of films are coming from vs where large well financed “Hollywood films are coming from.  The difference is camp.

I have found a lot of mainstream Hollywood films offensive from “Too Wong Foo” to Tootsie.  I have long been disgusted with the straight men from Tom Berrenger to John Lithgow portraying transsexuals as men in dresses.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with all its campiness is less offensive than this sort of earnestness.

Maybe it is a matter of having known a bunch of club kids and trannie sex workers, folks who stepped straight out of “Paris is Burning”.

I have a gut feeling that what makes many of the aforementioned films offensive to me is that I associate them with straight transvestites and what makes “Ticked Off” offensive to so many in the “transgender community” is that they associate the people portrayed with the drag queens.

Yet drag queens are a part of the different sets of wildly differing people who have had their lives affected by trans prefixed words.  Perhaps there is a certain level of classism at work here.

In either case I am spending too many hours at work to put the energy into picketing “Ticked Off” and I probably won’t waste my time watching it either.