Building A Culture Instead of Letting Others Portray Us

Many years ago, about the time I got my surgery I bought a camera.  It was a fixed lens rangefinder Yashica with aperture priority, 35mm.  It was the first decent camera I owned that was capable of easy accurate focus and the sort of operation that permitted me to start doing documentary photography.

I was a documentary photographer, photographing the culture of my friends.  Yet it was hard for many to take seriously what I was doing.

When a transsexual or transgender person produces art that reflects the reality that they live many of our sisters castigate us for being “professional trannies”.

Many of our biographies even if they have our name as author are actually ghost written.  Although not all are and even those ghost written are a telling of our stories.

I have a book case full of biographies ranging from the barely literate to some that are wonderfully written by sisters and brothers who have put the effort into learning the craft of writing.

I was inspired by both Lynn Conway and Andrea James’ web sites when I put up this blog.  I try to have it reflect my thinking but I also try to vary the topics as well because there are many things that impact our lives.

I’m bothered by this film “Ticked off…”.  But rather than censoring it or putting all this energy into protesting it I would rather see our energy poured into supporting our own and their art.

We actually have sisters who are musical artists.  We probably have enough to put on a festival of our own.

We have poets…  I think half of us have the souls of poets, filling note books and thinking, “Who would possibly want to hear us read our poetry?”

Who would want to hear our music or see our art.  And if we show it and explain the impact of growing up with transsexualism or transgenderism then is it about our art or about what we grew up with?

That is the dilemma of any artist who is not part of the straight white male dominant culture.  In effect we are minority artists and our art if it has integrity is the art of our life experiences.

I have heard sisters and some brothers too speak dismissively of art produced by us that shows us or reflects our lives.  As though the only way we can be successful is if we are so integrated into the dominant culture our own birth history vanishes.

Rather than just protest I think we need to take a different approach.  I remember the Gay Liberation Front picketing “Boys in the Band”, the Daughters of Bilitis , I think, picketed “The Killing of Sister George”.  And all the other films that garnered more publicity from the protests and became must see films due to the controversy.  It just caused more people to go.

We have a highly praised documentary, “Prodigal Sons” playing the same festival circuit.  Perhaps we should spend at least as much effort pointing out the positive as the negative.  Holding “Prodigal Sons” up as example of something for us and by us that shows the reality of our lives.

We also need to start putting our money where our mouths are.  Buy the CDs of artists like Namoli Brennet and Baby Dee.  We could buy the documentaries and write letters to Sundance Channel, Logo, IFC and Current TV thanking them when they put on a positive show.  Or even one that amuses us because sometimes the trashy and comedic entertain us by and not the straights simply by invoking those in group jokes.

We could actually buy the books of sisters and brothers.  I realize expecting y’all to be supportive of each other instead of trashing each other is asking a lot…  But if all we do is trash talk each other why are we surprised when the dominant culture trash talks us?

Instead of just protesting the negative, even though it needs to be done, perhaps we should put the same amount of energy into supporting the positive.

Exploitation Without a Balancing Representation

I do not like censorship.  This leaves me with ambivalent feelings regarding the latest brouhaha over what is probably a campy low budget exploitation movie, “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”.

There are an awful lot of really stupid waste of time and money films out there.  Most seem filmed on another planet I call, “The World Without Women”.  Much of movie land is Guyville where the stupid and the violent reigns supreme.

Because I haven’t seen the film being discussed I have no real way of knowing if it falls in the campy queer cinema of say John Waters and Andy Warhol or in the dumb and violent arena of Guyville.

On a positive note I have heard the film defended as having actual sisters in the roles of the “Ticked off Trannies” .  This would generally cause me to rank it several steps higher than the most well intentioned  trans themed films that use a cis-sexual/gender actor or actress in drag face to play the role of the transsexual or transgender person.

I loved the film “The Crying Game” precisely because they cast Jaye Davidson as female lead.  I gave TransAmerica a lower mark because for all its sensitivity and its including sisters in the supporting cast it had a cis-sexual/gender actress as the lead.  One who played us in mildly offensive stereotypes.

So often it seems that the only places where transsexual and transgender people actually appear as real people in the world of film and video are in documentaries where we get to simply be ourselves.

Candis Cayne has been in several films and regularly appears on television.  Yet I rarely hear her work spoken of.  Then there are the queens like Hedda Lettuce who have appeared in shows on Logo.  While I know that the respectable transgender communities often seem composed of  straight CDs who sometimess look down upon the drag queens.  Drag queens are nonetheless one of the transcommunities and as such they should also be represented fairly.

There has been an effort on the part of some to compare “Ticked off Trannies….” with the Blacksploitation films of the 1970s yet those films were balanced with serious works with major Black actors such as Sidney Poitier.  Where is the equivalency with serious non documentary films with transsexual/transgender roles filled by actors and actresses who are actually transsexual or transgender?

Time and context become important.  If this film were simply a stupid and violent film that was balanced out it would be one thing…  But it isn’t.

However I am of the opinion that rather than going for censorship that we use it as an opportunity to educate.

When “Different For Girls” showed at the LA Gay and Lesbian Film Festival a number of years ago I went’ and stayed for the question and answer session with the director.  I asked the important question of, “Why did you have a straight male actor in drag face playing the part of a transsexual woman?  Don’t you see that doing this is as offensive to us as having a white actor play in blackface or having a white actor in yellowface playing the role of an Asian?

Film festivals are filled with film people as well as those who write about film.  It might be better to attend the film than protest from outside.  Then stick around and ask hard questions.

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