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What really ticks me off April 10, 2010

Posted by Paige of Quarrel in cult of lack of personality.
Tags: , ,

There’s a lot going on in the controversy around Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives.  I’m a trans woman.  I’ve seen the film.  I’ve discussed it with some smart people.  Let’s try to break it down.

1.) Boycott = censorship? Nope.  A boycott is a boycott and some people are calling for just that.  Other people are calling for it to be censored though.  While it’s true that censorship requires an amount of power that the trans community lacks, the organizers of the Tribeca Film Festival do have that kind of power.  If the organizers are convinced or coerced or just plain shamed into pulling the film, the result is still censorship.

Censorship is bad.  It’s always bad.  It’s bad precedent.  It’s bad activism.  And it gets used to suppress our voices all the time.  If you don’t get why oppressed people should always be opposed to censorship, well, I just don’t have the time or energy to try to convince or educate you.

2.) It sucks when queers spend their energy fighting each other. While we were discussing the film, a really smart guy asked why we were all there arguing about some movie instead of doing other activism like maybe around any of the recent real life hate crimes against trans people.  My answer is basically that it’s safer and it’s easier to trade flames with another queer online than it is to take to the streets and become a target for cops and transphobes.  But all the time we waste yelling at each other, protesting each other, even making shitty movies about each other with unchecked privilege, it’s all just wasted energy and it sucks.

3.) The film equates violence by trans women in self-defense with the hate crimes of their attackers. Long before the standard role of the trans woman in media was that of the victim, it was that of the villain.  Dating back to Frankenstein Created Woman and Heinlen’s I Will Fear No Evil, on through Myra Breckinridge, Dressed to Kill, Sleepaway Camp and, famously, Silence of the Lambs, right up to today’s TV shows like Nip/Tuck and NCIS.  In the common horror trope of the trans woman slasher, a knife is a clumsy metaphor for a penis and plays on men’s completely irrational fear of being raped by trans women.

Far from being liberating, the revenge fantasy in this film plays into this tired old trope and only further instills in the cultural consciousness that trans women, when they’re not to be pitied, are to be feared.  Sadly, Ticked-Off Trannies isn’t even the first to portray trans women as simultaneously the victim and the villain, but it’s still pretty messed up.

4.) Most of the people arguing about this haven’t seen it, don’t know what they’re talking about and should probably tread lightly.

5.) Tranny 101: Half of the people arguing about this are actually still arguing about A.) who gets to use the word “tranny,” B.) if the word is offensive, and/or C.) the difference between trans women and drag queens.  Now these people I can help.

Google the word “tranny.”  No, really, do it.  Over 18 million results.  Almost all of them porn featuring trans women.

Now, ask yourself if you’ve ever been called a tranny in a situation where you feared physical violence.  Ever seen that happen to some one else?  Who gets called a tranny with hate, with malice, as a slur, as an epithet?  It’s almost always trans women.

So, is it offensive? Hell yeah.  Who gets to say it?  Mostly trans women.  Why?  It’s inextricably linked with trans-misogyny.  If you’re not a trans woman, you should probably question if it’s your word to reclaim.  Mostly, though, it boils down to this: Before transitioning, I’d been called a “fag” by some one who was punching me in the face, and I’ve been called a “fag” after transition too, but I wouldn’t use the word now because it doesn’t feel right; it’s not my word.

By the way, saying you’ve heard trans women use it for each other doesn’t give YOU permission to use it.  Neither does the fact that lots of other people use it who shouldn’t.  I’m totally up for having a completely civil conversation with trans men who’d like to discuss their use of the word, but I think we can all agree that when Israel Luna uses the word “tranny” it’s just as bad as the 18 million other exploitative Google results.

As for the difference between a trans woman and a drag queen, sometimes there isn’t any, sometimes there’s all the difference in the world.  Some women I know used to identify as drag queens but would be insulted to be called drag queens now.  But that whole discussion is best left between drag queens and trans women.

That’s what really ticks me off.  The way every one else talks for trans women and about trans women until the few voices of our own out there mostly get lost in the din.

There’s a scene in Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, a film by a cisgender man, where a trans woman (played by a trans woman) has been left unable to speak following a brutal hate crime.  And that was, unintentionally, the only poignant moment of the whole trashy flick.

Other queers speak for us.  Our friends and partners speak for us.  Other trans people speak for us.  The result is that when trans women speak for ourselves, we’re often in the minority and a handful of voices, often the most privileged or just the loudest and willing to take up the most space, are left as the de facto voices for all of us.

Trans women don’t have a canon of films yet.  Even when the role of a trans woman is played by a trans woman, it’s almost always speaking some one else’s words in some one else’s film.  Maybe there will be room for films like Ticked-Off Trannies after a few feature-length non-documentaries by trans women about trans women have been made, but right now, Israel Luna is just one more voice taking up space that few if any trans women have access to.

Yes, he showed us trans women playing trans women.  Yes, he showed these women just talking.  He also put his words in their mouths to tell his story.  As an exploitation film, it’s predicated on the reality that trans women can’t get other parts in other films.

On the other side of the controversy, though, GLAAD is no better.  When several groups of trans organizations here in New York City asked GLAAD for a liason, they had to send us a cisgender man because they didn’t have a trans person to send.  While he was personally a great guy to work with, the fact remains that GLAAD, like most big, influential gay and lesbian organizations isn’t really inclusive of trans people or trans issues.  So, when GLAAD supposedly takes up our banner and asks for a film to be censored, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

If the filmmaker or GLAAD or most of the people arguing about this film and fueling this contention would step back and allow trans women’s voices to speak for trans women, none of this in-fighting would exist right now.  I can’t help but feel solidarity with the trans women who acted in Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives and I’m sickened by some of the things I’ve seen or heard people say about them.  This was supposed to be their 15 minutes and I know they worked damn hard to get here.

Even in our own controversies, trans women are still just bit players.