Ace Ventura: Het Perspective


This post is part of a collaborative Crossover Event with the famed and deadly Dolphin Assassin, Monica Maldonado. We’ve both written on the same general subject today. Please head over to her blog, TransActivisty, and check out her thoughts.

In the absence of positive representation in one’s culture, when one feels invisible under its appraisal of who does or does not count or deserve acknowledgment, when one is starving for any figures through whom you can see yourself, you find them where you can. You build them out of subtle hints, possible (and often unintended) suggestions, little cracks in conventional characterization… or you recontextualize the negative representations. Turn perspectives around. While those in society’s privileged interiors have trouble understanding marginal perspectives, we understand theirs entirely. We need to. It’s a necessity to survival. But we don’t have to play along, and we certainly don’t often see things exclusively through their terms. You find your pride where you need it, even in the hatred.

And what often feeds an even more dire necessity for recontextualizing what few (typically negative) representations is the need to understand oneself, who you are, what you’re feeling. To articulate your experiences back to yourself. This is painfully true of young (in all senses of the word) trans people. Our culture doesn’t (or at least didn’t) hand us any tools for understanding what we were going through and defining it for yourselves, or understanding our needs and the options for having those needs met. But we found them anyway.

You find your identity where you need it, even in the hatred.

For a lot of us who grew up in a certain part of the world, in a certain span of time, one of the places we found some understanding of ourselves bleeding through the cracks in the mainstream cissexist narrative was the horrible 1994 “comedy” Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. While it’s unquestionably an immensely hateful, privilege-fest of a film which is totally lacking not only in basic empathy and humanity but also in any level of real humour, quality or storytelling, what it did was provide, for the first time to many of us, an image of what was possible, and a character though whom we could articulate our desires, needs and feelings to ourselves. If not the first character reflecting the possibility of a “sex change” we had found, she at least was often the first such character reflecting the possibility of a “sex change” wherein you become an actualized woman, not some “pathetic” cartoonish “man-in-a-dress” there for a cheap punchline. Not only that, but an accomplished woman. A strong woman. A woman in ownership of her sexuality. A woman with goals, depth and humanity… that (perhaps incidentally, perhaps not) far exceeds the level of characterization offered to any other character in the film, all of whom are comparably (and comparable to almost any character anywhere ever, actually) paper-thin cut-outs with completely unexplained, incomprehensible, inexplicable, unexplored motives and inner lives. Or more accurately, no motives or inner lives whatsoever, just inexplicability.

This character, Lois Einhorn, was unquestionably presented as the “villain” of the film, who gets her due comeuppance for being the evil, bitchy, icky tranny. But despite all the hatred and cissexism of everyone involved in the film (except perhaps Sean Young, who portrayed Einhorn), almost a whole generation of young trans girls, starving beneath the rules, standards and expectations of a cis-dominated culture, saw in her a reflection of who they wanted (needed) to be, and used that to inch just that little bit closer to ultimately being able to enact and embody our desires and identities. “So what if she’s the bad guy? She’s gorgeous and a badass and totally did what I want to do!”

It’s better to see yourself in a “villain” than to never see yourself at all, I guess.

Talking about this with Monica while I was visiting with the trans-feminist crew down in Seattle last week, we ended up having a series of realizations about the nature of her character. While we remembered the way the film’s story, and particularly its brutally transphobic ending play out, we also remembered enough to view the story very, very differently now that we were adult trans women, being able to place our experiences into our understanding of the film where once as kids we were clamoring for any scrap of representation.

In retrospect, from what was now an experienced, adult trans woman’s perspective, Lois Einhorn not only became a lot more understandable in her motives and as an actually rather strong, admirable character in several regards, but also the shift in vantage point led the story to being grossly incompatible with its presented genre, not being in any way comprehensible as “comedy”, but instead a deeply disturbing tragedy, named not for its hero, but for a titular villain, a perfect representative of the callousness, contempt, disregard, arrogance, entitlement, immaturity and heartlessness of privilege. Not only a vicious transphobe, but a walking embodiment of everything a trans woman (like Lois Einhorn) fears. He exhibits no empathy. His motivations are inscrutable (in one scene,  the film effectively mocks the audience for wanting to know). He seems to exist only to inflate his ego by cutting down others and mocking them even without any provocation, and to do so he happily exploits any vulnerabilities he perceives in others without a second thought, or any regard to consequences, safety or privacy. He is completely willing to be unspeakably brutal to achieve his vague, shifting goals. He can’t be reasoned with, or even pleaded with. He abuses even his friends whenever the whim strikes him. He has no concept of others safety. He is deeply misogynistic, homophobic, sizeist, ableist… everything. And he gets away with it, because he’s the cis, straight, white guy. The “hero”. Completely unaccountable for his actions, and behaves as exactly the monster such lack of accountability produces.

I’m not even being remotely hyperbolic here.

So, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, we decided to rewatch it. We both knew going in that it was going to be cissexist, triggering and painful as fuck. But I still badly underestimated it. Through the first half of the movie I was mostly just incredibly bored, my mind wandering to questions like “Why is it that this alleged comedy hasn’t managed to elicit even a single smirk from me?”, “How do you set a movie in Miami without including a single Cuban-American character? Why is Tone-Loc, as a hyper-infantilized sidekick, the only non-white character who gets any lines, most of which are just about how ‘awesome’ Ace is?”, “What the fuck is Tone-Loc, the guy who made the disgustingly transphobic song “Funky Cold Medina”, doing in this movie? That CAN’T be a coincidence!”, “Wow… racism, sizeism, ableism, misogyny and homophobia too!”, and “God I’d love to see a Dexter / Ace Ventura crossover”.

But by the time the story started moving towards its third act, and began exploring Einhorn’s backstory, I tensed up and started shaking. I didn’t stop shaking until nearly two hours after it was all over.

It was worse than Silence Of The Lambs. Worse than Psycho. Worse than Sleepaway Camp. It cut very, very, very deep. And perhaps because it was ostensibly a comedy. The horror wasn’t contextualized as horror. It was contextualized as funny. And that makes it a thousand times more horrifying. You’re not just watching transphobia and hatred. You’re experiencing it. It isn’t just enacted through the characters, it permeates the whole film itself. The act of the film. The act you’re participating in.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective isn’t cissexist in a simple way. It doesn’t just present a trans villain. And the audience, even, aren’t just being asked to be complacent in the cissexism and transphobia. What makes it so much more disturbing is how the film relies on the audience’s cissexism and transphobia to function. In order to be recuperated as the “comedy” it presents itself as, the audience MUST participate in the hatred, MUST embrace the transphobic perspective its built on. And must not question it, either. It’s not that Ace Ventura is just a transphobic movie. It’s that transphobia (and other forms of bigotry) are the very principle on which it operates.

For instance, remember how I said Ace is given no real characterization or motives? And how the ONE scene where he and Courtney Cox’s character (whose love for Ace, despite his consistently misogynistic and abusive treatment of her, is exactly as inexplicable as everything else in the movie… except for Lois Einhorn) are having a “tender” moment and his actual inner life is seemingly investigated ends in a joke, seemingly slapping the audience in the face for ever wondering what exactly makes this character do what he does? Well… the film asks us to excuse a tremendous amount of morally fucked-up things that Ace does throughout. This is the kind of thing an audience is typically willing to offer a protagonist, even when they do horrible things. Take for instance the aforementioned Dexter. But to excuse their fucked-up actions, it’s generally required that a character be sympathetic in some way. We need a reason to root for them. This film never, ever gives us an actual reason to sympathize with Ace Ventura other than his positioning as protagonist. Certainly not enough of a reason to forgive how he spends the entire 90 minutes treating every human being that crosses his path like shit.

But the film assumes it doesn’t need one. Ace is the sympathetic character simply because he’s the white, cis, straight guy. End of reasoning. Furthermore, in order for the humour to function, in order for us the jokes to work, we need to regard him as sympathetic. The fact that “we” are rooting for Ace is the ONLY thing preventing the movie from transforming from a light-hearted family comedy into a brutal, disgusting tragedy that, well, leaves people like me or Monica crying or shaking for hours afterwards in a severe anxiety attack. In fact, it being labeled PG-13 or whatever, despite featuring similar content to Boys Don’t Cry, paints a pretty stark picture of the level of privilege, bias and bigotry inherent in the MPAA rating system.

A word about genre and expectation: there’s never anything INHERENT to genre. There aren’t really any qualities that can be pinned down that render something “comedy” vs “tragedy”, or “sci-fi” vs. “fantasy”. What genre is is basically a set of expectations that a reader or viewer has going into a work, and an understanding on the part of the creator to work with those expectations. Sometimes meeting them, sometimes playing with them, and sometimes defying them, but always interacting with them. It’s in this sense that Ace Ventura’s (or, more accurately, Lois Einhorn’s) story being presented as a comedy speaks to something particularly terrifying about our culture. That the idea of a trans woman being horribly abused by a callous monster of a protagonist could ever work within the framework of expectations that define a comedy says something unspeakably dark about who is and isn’t considered human by the culture that could feel their comic expectations were met by that story.

It becomes something very, very different if when watching this “comedy” the character you see as yourself isn’t Ace Ventura, but Lois Einhorn. Which is why I broke down completely when he begins smashing her face repeatedly into a metal support beam. I’m not the victor, I’m the one being beaten, stripped, sexually assaulted and outed, as my entire life comes crashing around my feet, my cocky abuser laughs and mocks me in the process, and the entire police force, my employees, sit idly by watching it happen and then, ultimately slut-shame me as a final act of humiliation. All in front of the person I hate more than anyone in the world.

Fuck no I don’t blame her for trying to stab him.

A bit on Lois Einhorn’s story:

So, she’s the police lieutenant in charge of investigating the disappearance of Snowflake The Dolphin, the mascot of the Miami Dolphins, that Ace Ventura is also investigating. She’s presented as a “bitch” or “ballbreaker”, which I suppose is meant to both villainize her and (super sexisty) define her as “mannish” and “masculine”, but really reads a hell of a lot more like “Wow, this is a strong, confident woman! Fuck yeah!” and “At last! A character who is not just inexplicably putting up with Ventura’s cruel, juvenile bullshit!”.  She’s actually the one responsible for the crime. See, she used to be a star kicker (“Ray Finkle”) who was drafted from college as a mid-season replacement for the Miami Dolphins. In the Superbowl, though, she misses a final field goal while the Dolphins are down by one point, costing them the game. She blames quarterback Dan Marino, who failed to listen to her request that he hold the ball laces out. This triggers an obsessive hatred of Marino.

It’s not hard at all, from a trans perspective, to read this backstory in a much more sensible and meaningful way than how the film superficially presents it. It’s extremely common for trans women to pursue hyper-masculine professions or hobbies as a means of “curing” or suppressing their transgender feelings. And when these efforts are proven to fail, often by very specific triggers (such as, oh, losing the Superbowl for your team and thus feeling like a failure as a football player and therefore a failure at being a man and thus having to confront your gender identity directly instead of burying it beneath your aspirations of being an ultra-masculine star-kicker for instance), they can be driven to suicide, breakdowns or…well, transition. I have a friend who tried to hang herself with her martial arts belt after the steroids she was taking to bulk up and be more masculine made it such that she could no longer fit into her favourite dress that she would wear in secret. This kind of thing actually happens to trans women. It’s not even uncommon.

Following this event Einhorn is institutionalized. Something else that happens to trans women all the damn time. The film presents the typical “room full of crazy” trope as a means of justifying this, but one can’t help but wonder: was it her hatred of Dan Marino, and inability to cope with the loss of the game, that had her institutionalized? Or was it the (far more likely) possibility that she was brought in on account of a suicide attempt or her gender identity issues themselves? It bears noting: Ace Ventura gains access to the psychiatric facility in question by disguising himself (in highly ableist ways) as a vaguely “crazy” person ex-football player. Part of his “disguise” is a tutu, coding in the notion that gender variance is indeed being perceived as “mental illness” in this context.

Einhorn escapes from the institution (likely to pursue transition, which in 1994 would have been completely impossible while confined to a psychiatric hospital under involuntary treatment) and assumes the identity of a missing hiker. She then manages (very impressively, I might add!) to work her way, under the new identity, to the top of the Miami police force in a very short span of time. She became a successful, confident, beautiful, strong woman, and probably would have continued on as such if she hadn’t been triggered by the Dolphins again making it to the Superbowl.

She also ends up dating Roger Pedacter, who has some kind of footbally management position or another. Earlier in the film, Pedacter is murdered in a what Ace proves to have not been a suicidal fall over his balcony. It’s ultimately revealed, in the painful finale, that his likely motive wasn’t discovering Einhorn’s role in the kidnapping of Snowflake The Dolphin, but instead that they’d had an ongoing romantic, intimate relationship, and the motive was probably simply discovering her trans history and genital configuration.

Now, Roger is a big dude. A great big footbally dude. Given what you and I know about what often goes down in situations where straight, cis men with macho hang-ups find out their partners are trans, how fucking likely is it that Lois “murdered” him by chucking him off a balcony, and how likely is it that there was a struggle (a scream was heard inside the apartment, and blood was found on the railing. It was never determined whose scream or blood either was) and he was thrown off the balcony as Lois defended herself from his attack?

Like seriously, guys?

Precedent, yo.

Later Lois has her men kidnap Dan Marino, where she probably intends to kill him (representative as he’s become to her of her failure to ever live up to the oppressive, stifling, cissexist expectations under which she was raised by her rednecky, shotgun-toting, Floridan, All-American father, and led to her feeling obliged to unsuccessfully pursue a masculine identity through football). This is not something that’s justified, but it’s certainly understandable, especially when placed in contrast to the total lack of any reasoning behind Ventura’s atrocities. The worst of which comes next:

Ventura arrives and confronts her, saying he knows of her identity. She then calls her police force, telling them he’s the one responsible for the crimes. A fight then ensues which seems to operate under the Poison / Roxy principle of male-on-female violence: It’s okay if she’s “really a man”! This is all but stated explicitly in a sort of winking aside to Dan Marino’s obnoxious and incompetent cameo “You don’t understand! She’s…”. He proceeds to horribly violently pound the shit of her as she ably attempts to fight back. This is where the moment arrives that he begins smashing her face into a support beam and I begin to seriously, seriously lose my composure. Eventually the police arrive. She orders them to shoot Ventura (again, totally understandable).

But he then tells them the story. He outs her. She desperately cries out that he’s lying. He says he can prove it.

He grabs her hair and pulls back violently, unsuccessfully trying to reveal a wig.

The police do nothing but watch.

He rips open her shirt, unsuccessfully trying to reveal false breasts.

The police do nothing but watch.

He fumbles for an explanation, then finally rips off her skirt, revealing what appears to be a normal female genital area.

The police do nothing but watch.

He laughs in embarrassment, until Dan Marino invites him over to whisper something in his ear. He then walks up to Einhorn who is now near tears, looking utterly devastated, being in the process of being sexually assaulted and outed, looking like she’s about to just beg him “please don’t”, and he violently spins her around, revealing her penis tucked between her legs. He then loudly, derisively mocks her in triumph, having just utterly destroyed her life without even a blip on his conscience. Nothing but self-satisfied preening.

“The Crying Game” begins to play. All the police officers she’s kissed at some point begin spitting and vomitting, simultaneously slut-shaming and trans-shaming her en masse after just having allowed her to be sexually assaulted and then apparently deciding the crime was no longer a crime since it happened to a trans victim.

She lunges at Ace with a shard of broken glass and he flips her into the water, leaving her completely destroyed. The only thing Ace can say at this point?

“Looooser!”

I don’t think I’ve ever been so triggered by a movie. Ever.

The worst part is, of course, that we’re meant to laugh. That the movie needs us to laugh. That it expects us to be at least as heartless and lacking in empathy for the dehumanized tranny as the “hero” himself is. That it at no point ever takes into consideration a viewer like… well, like me. Or Monica. Or you.

And it worked. It was wildly commercially successful, if not much loved by the critics. The pop cultural lexicon became saturated with references to it. ALLLLRIGHTY THEN! It was a definitive moment in early 90s pop culture.

It needed the audience to be completely unempathetic to a trans character, and see her as fundamentally less than human, for whom its impossible to view anything through her eyes. It needed the audience to forgive the brutality of the titular character for no reason whatsoever beyond the rudimentary facts of his privileged identity. It needed us to be just as monstrous as the actions it was presenting in order to be sold as comedy.

And it worked.

But there’s something in how much it hurt that conveys a small glimmer of hope.

It couldn’t possibly have been as painful as it was if it weren’t for Sean Young’s performance. At every point she presents Lois Einhorn as utterly, completely human. She never stoops down to the level of the script, or the director, and at every step emotes every ounce of fear, anger, desperation, devastation, pleading, sexuality, poker face, everything. The film dehumanizes Lois Einhorn every chance it gets. Sean Young keeps her human anyway.

It’s largely her performance that made it hurt as much as it did, and made it as disturbing as it was. But it was that performance that asserts a capacity for that empathy to exist. She alone, of everyone involved in the film, (perhaps the studio, production, marketing, rating association and audience alike), refused to see Lois Einhorn as less than human simply because she was trans and arbitrarily positioned within the stories frame as “villain”.

She probably understood just how easily the exact same story could be told as a tragedy, with Einhorn as the protagonist. And in her acting, she subtly told that story.

Painful as it was, it makes me realize that perspectives don’t have to be limited. We don’t have to participate in these perspectives…. even if we are cis. Or white. Or male. Or able-bodied. Or het. We can turn them down, and be human anyway, in not allowing convenience or an easy laugh to ever lead us to forgetting the humanity of those around us.

Or maybe not. Maybe that wasn’t there. Maybe she was dialing it in and that’s just the hope I want to see.

But as I said, we find these things where can, when we need them.

Comments

  1. Besomyka says

    I didn’t remember that about the movie. I had watched in my teens while drugged up on pain killers after having had my wisdom teeth out. What of it I do remember turned me off enough that I shied away from just about every other movie he made until the Kaufman flic.

    At some point I turned it off, and I have no memory of the villain.

    I’m now very glad for that.

    I wonder if the people involved in the film, now that time has passed, have any regrets?

    • Mackenzie says

      yeah it’s weird, I never remember the trans “villain” of the movie, probably because I didn’t really get it as a 6 year old and didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until my ex who had rewatched the movie or nostaglia’s sake mentioned her character that I even found out how horrible it all was.

  2. Josh says

    How weird, was just thinking about this movie.

    I was traveling for work, walked into a depot and the techs had this playing on their TV. Was in the third act, leading up to the ‘Finkle is Einhorn’ scene and it struck me how blatantly stupid and hateful it was.

    I admit to laughing at this movie when it came out, but hadn’t thought about it in awhile. Now, it’s gone for boringly unfunny to stupid, trashy and hateful.

  3. says

    I remember much of that when I was younger, seeing that movie, wanting to be like Lois, seeing her as a beautiful, powerful woman and wanting to be that in my life. I didn’t realize how much I’d forgotten about the movie and how horrible it actually is. Major triggering…

  4. gragra says

    Oh fuck, I always thought that was a puerile, idiotic movie, but now you’ve made me see how evil it really is.

  5. busterggi says

    I have avoided seeing this film since it came out for many of the wrong reasons.

    I will continue to avoid seeing it for the right reasons now.

  6. Dalillama says

    I have only the vaguest recollections of the movie, mostly of being mystified the whole time as to what exactly I was supposed to be laughing at. Being a cis male, it wasn’t triggering or traumatic for me, just mind-hurtingly stupid and unfunny.

  7. julian says

    I’m the same as gragra. I’ve always considered Jim Carrey a moron and his movies stupid at best but, yeah, the transphobia in Ace Ventura never really hit. Jesus that’s fucking terrible. And I thought Me, Myself and Irene was bad with it’s attitude toward schizophrenia. This is a whole another level of bigoted.

  8. cami says

    I never saw that movie. I’ve also never seen silence of the lambs or the crying game or any of the other hateful movies that have been made. I’ve been wanting to see that Hedgewig movie but I reckon it’s not exactly a priority or I would have seen it by now. I could care less what mainstream folks think about us or how they want to portray us. I’m a subcultural gal. I have, for the last 25 years, immersed myself in the ‘counter-culture’. I’m queer, I’m a hippie, I’m a gutterpunk. This stuff works for me. It keeps me insulated in my own subversive bubble. I do what the fuck I want and I don’t answer to, or explain myself, to the squares. I honestly feel that my rejection of mainstream culture has given me the strength and unwavering resolve that I need to survive. For example, I have been a weird looking kid since I was a teenager and when I started me transition I was already totally used to people pointing and staring at me. In fact, sometimes I like it. Like when I’m on the road and stop at some random truckstop in Nebraska and my presence becomes the event of the day for the hicks. Sometimes, but not always,I think it’s fucking hillarious to freak out the squares. Also, after running with a crew of tattooed and pierced kids with purple mohawks for so long, I now have no problem at all with going out in public with other trans grrls. I like it. I wish other gals felt the same way. It sucks to meet someone and then find out that they will invite me to their house to hang out but us walking to the corner store together is out of the question because she is embarrassed to be seen with me. Not exactly the type of friendship I’m looking for.
    I recently saw an awesome movie that I highly recommend. It’s called By Hook or by Crook. The protagonist is a gender variant individual and I really liked it a lot. Also, another movie I like that has a important gender variant character is called The Itty Bitty Titty Committee. Bad name, sounds like a cable TV softcore porn, but a good movie. That one reminded me of myself when I was a youngster.
    What is horrible and painful for me is when someone who has been a long time subcultural hero of mine says or does some fucked up shit. That fucking hurts. Kim Gordon interviewed some actor who plays a trans grrl in some movie and, well, ouch. I’ve admired her for decades and now I’m all like what the fuck. I listened to Daydream Nation last night and it still rocks but the things she said, fuck.

    • says

      I just want to mention that Silence of the Lambs is quite a good movie, and – in stark contrast to this – is NOT transphobic. Although the content gets misinterpreted a lot by people who don’t know more about trans than ‘Hurr hurr man in dress’, Silence’s Jame Gumb was specifically described as NOT trans, and the differences between trans and his pathology were used to track him down.

      The misinterpretations cause us problems, but in this case they *are* only misinterpretations.

      • paul says

        Yeah I was also a bit confused to see Psycho listed as a triggering film; I never considered Norman Bates to be trans*.

      • Vitreous Humour says

        The psychiatrist’s insistence that Jame Gumb was not *really* trans did nothing to allay the movie’s transphobia. Instead it argues that trans people cannot be trusted to understand our own gender identities and that we need psychiatrists to tell us who we are. The movie psychiatrist’s supposed ‘scientific’ insights about Gumb come from a test in which trans women were asked to draw a tree and then told that they were not real women if they drew the wrong tree and thence denied access to vital medical services.

        Art is not created in a vaccuum. For example, let us say I make a movie in which a swarthy, hook-nosed character named Goldenburg who plots to take over the world through secret business deals serves as the main villain. When the Anti-Defamation league complains that my movie is anti-Semitic, I explain to them that there is a throw-away line that reveals Goldenburg is not *really* a Jew. He only thinks he is a Jew because he was driven criminally insane by contemplating Jewish guilt after eating a bacon cheeseburger on Yom Kippur.

        Goldenburg is not really a Jew, so the character is not really anti-Semitic. If my audience can’t grasp such narrative subtleties, that is hardly my responsibility. If other directors made films about Jewish conspiracies that happened to be anti-Semitic, that certainly isn’t my fault.

        Do you buy that argument? I don’t.

        In a hypothetical world with no anti-Semitism, maybe a movie about a megalomaniacal Jewish banker would be OK. But that’s not the world we live in. A movie about a MAAB character who identifies as a trans woman who just *coincidentally* happens to match most of the transmisogynistic stereotypes? I don’t think so.

    • Sas says

      Don’t bother with Hedwig unless you’re interested in seeing “transsexual woman as written by a drag queen who never met a trans woman before”.

      • Salmo says

        I’d disagree with that. I don’t think the movie supposes for one moment that Hedwig is a transwoman. He doesn’t even contemplate it until he sees it as a chance to get out of East Germany, like so many homosexuals have accepted in Iran today. He took surgery as a viable alternative to his existing life, not because it’s what he wanted. Now, as to why Hedwig maintained a female identity afterwards, I think that was partly out of utility, partly out of necessity (she had immigrated with forged female papers), and partly due to not being particularly emotionally stable, as we see growing and growing trough the rest of the film.

        SPOILERS FOR REALS NOW

        I think at the end, when ze adopted either a male or possibly a completely nongendered identity, shows that the movie was not an attempt to write a transwoman at all. If anything, it was an argument against a common view of transwomen, that it’s as simple as getting a surgery and ‘becoming a woman’.

        • Sas says

          If we lived in a totally neutral world I might agree with your interpretation. However, we live in a world where transition and surgery are commonly regarded as mutilation, faking it, a way to avoid being gay, or a symptom of being hyper-gay. A movie where a gay man is pressured into surgery to “trick” his way into the US (as we are often viewed as deceivers and as gay people pressured into transition), whose surgery is completely botched by a shady doctor (since SRS is often called mutilation), who is mentally unstable (as trans people are often portrayed), whose story then goes on to become a psychological exploration of gender (as we are often used in fiction as props for cis people to explore their thoughts on their own gender rather than ours) reads to me as bog-standard transphobic cliches. If they really wanted to have a movie about a drag queen exploring his gender, then they could have written about that instead of pulling trans surgery into it for shock value.
          .
          As to whether they were purposefully trying to write a trans woman, it’s a moot point. When authors write a transitioned character but the story says that they’re “really” their birth gender or genderless, then it can be interpreted that the character is not intended to actually be trans. However, since the most basic aspect of cissexism is the idea that trans people are not really the gender we say we are, then that’s exactly what you would expect from a transphobic portrayal of a trans character! Someone who believes trans identities are fake is going to write trans characters as being fakes and all aspects of transition as false and unnecessary. A non-trans character who transitions for non-trans reasons is going to end up indistinguishable from an actually-trans character written by a transphobe who thinks there is no valid reason to transition.

          “If anything, it was an argument against a common view of transwomen, that it’s as simple as getting a surgery and ‘becoming a woman’.”

          Except that common view is what transphobes think trans people believe, not what transphobes themselves believe. Arguing against that view as if it had any merit doesn’t support trans people, it supports transphobes by attacking their own straw-man for them.

      • Bia says

        I don’t think that’s a fair characterization or interpretation of Hedwig at all, and it completely leaves out the character Yitzhak, and her relationship with Hedwig. Hedwig, you see, is so jealous of how more accepted Yitzhak is than she, and demands that Yitzhak never dresses in drag again. This interplay is important because at the end Hedwig realizes that she’s unfairly tried to suppress Yitzhak’s identity.

        Further, Hedwig isn’t transgender, and was never actually portrayed as such. Her origin and reasons are explained in the production / film. Moreover I think the reasons for the sex change (that got botched) illuminate issues of heteronormativity. Besides the entire narrative is about Hedwig trying to find acceptance from others, and from her self. As such I think it’s a story anyone can relate to.

        It’s an empowering musical and film, just don’t watch it expecting it to be a story about a transwoman, because it never even pretends to be about that. Just because Wikipedia says something doesn’t make it true.

  9. says

    *sigh* do I really want to admit to this? I distinctly remember laughing, a lot, when I saw this movie when I was 13… all these years later, I can’t remember if I actually found it funny, or if I was laughing because my friend was there (and he was laughing)… I feel unspeakably awful now, thinking back, because I bought the premise… I saw Einhorn as being a man when her history was revealed. I saw the violence against her as acceptable because “she’s a man”. I bought that she was the villain, and therefore deserving of anything and everything the hero did. I feel sick now, thinking about it, having read this… because I didn’t see anything of myself in her. I saw her as a man pretending to be a woman. My deep hidden wish was to “truly” be a woman, not something approximating one… ugh, this transphobic streak, telling me I could never be one of “them” persisted right up until just (days) before I was able to come out to myself. I feel disgusted with myself for being a willing participant in viewing this (what is essentially a) hate film… especially now, knowing as I do if I were to rewatch it I would see it for what it is…

    • azrael001 says

      I’m very much in the same boat. I wasn’t at the point where I knew that I was trans yet, but the movie was probably one of the things that helped shape my aversion to being ‘one of those people’. At the time I didn’t know what being a trans person even was, and to me everything from the disappearance of the hiker on was all part of the same elaborate plot to get revenge on the guy.

      I hadn’t seen the movie recently, and so I never really reexamined my views on it. The blog doesn’t really say anything that I disagree with.

  10. says

    Sometime in the late 90s I caught Ace Venture on TV. I don’t remember laughing at all… indeed, I recall wondering what the actual joke was supposed to be. The scenes varied from pointless, to stupid, to arrogant, to violent, and none of that is what you could call funny.

  11. authorizedpants says

    Triggering as fuck. Yeah, I expected it to be triggering but I didn’t expect the tears just from reading the description of the final scene.
    I remember seeing her standing there, humiliated, seething with rage while all those guys started retching. I’d forgotten about the flip into the water.

    I had already decided to never watch that movie again. When I saw it originally, I was surprised at the revelation of her trans woman status because I was still young and dumb enough to think that going trans meant having your dick cut off. How can she have breasts and a penis at the same time?

    Same reason I don’t want to watch Bachelor Party again.

  12. Erin W says

    I remember seeing this movie around the time it came out. Not in the cinema, probably as a rental. Funny thing, 1994 is when teenage Erin was putting 2 and 2 together and figuring out she was trans.

    I’ve never forgotten the sexual assault scene from the end. Not the violence, which I suppose I blocked, but the forced stripping. That movie probably set my transition back by several years.

    Funny thing is, I had dissociated the Einhorn character from the Finkle character. I remember Finkle as the villain, and I didn’t remember Finkle being Einhorn at all.

    Also, is there anyone here that believes the name “Einhorn”–which is German for unicorn–was a coincidence?

  13. Sarah says

    Oh yes, I remember Ace Ventura. And I remember my gf telling me “Well it’s funny so if you can’t laugh about it, you’re taking yourself too seriously.” She left shortly after that, and I moved on and made my first serious attempt at transition, which ultimately failed due to….internalized transophobia. So, thanks again Jim for your delightful comedy entertainment. In the abstract, I don’t believe in retribution, but in the specific, it seems I can’t always live up to my ideals: someday I hope Mr. Carrey and his writers look back on what they did with that scene and feel every ounce of the shame they made me feel when I saw it, and the even greater shame I felt when someone I loved mocked me with it.

    • Dalillama says

      I could be wrong, not having watched many of his movies, but Jim Carey’s ‘humor’ is pretty much all punching down, isn’t it?

  14. Braavos says

    I’ve never seen Ace Ventura (can’t stand Jim Carrey in anything except Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and don’t like him as a person), and after reading this, I sure don’t feel like I missed out. I had no idea the movie was so transphobic – I’ve never heard that there was a trans character in it, whenever I’ve heard people talk about it. Talk about erasure from society! I’m glad you were able to deal with watching it; it sounds awful. Yuck.

  15. jamessweet says

    Or maybe not. Maybe that wasn’t there. Maybe she was dialing it in and that’s just the hope I want to see.

    You know, I don’t know. You just might be on to something. The last time I saw Ace Ventura, it would not have occurred to me for even a moment that it was offensive or that the blatant transphobia was any kind of problem. And yet, I still remember being a little put off by the face-into-metal-support-beam scene, and I can still pretty vividly recall the battered expression on Young’s face after Ace Ventura tears all of her clothes off — even though it’s been like over a decade since I’ve seen that movie.

    In other words, despite the fact that at the time I was utterly buying into the judgment(s) the movie is asking the audience to make, I still felt discomfort at the brutalization of the Einhorn character in the final scenes. Young was… not very funny in that scene. I dunno, it’s an interesting observation you make.

  16. HumanisticJones says

    I saw this back when it came out in theaters in 1994. I was 12 then, living in rural Georgia and very much steeped in the pretty much omni-phobic culture of the area (it takes about 5 seconds to list the things you weren’t expected to hate). I remember laughing my ass of at this movie when I watched it then, oblivious to the fact that, as you say here, it was practically a horror film. I don’t think I’ve seen it since nor have I really thought about it since then until your retelling of it here.

    I now want a time machine so I can go back and punt 12 year old Jones in the head… repeatedly. After that a good ass kicking for all the people that had drilled it in to me to mentally dehumanize anyone that wasn’t just like me. Seriously, I’m ashamed to my very core to think that I ever thought this shit was funny. Then again, I was the demographic the film was relying on, a young white cis-male deeply infected with privilege and with all my empathy switches flipped off by years of phobia-rific socialization.

    On a positive note, I really enjoy your writing. Very few people have ever made me consciously pick through the way I was raised and the way I’ve acted towards others as a result of it the way you have, and I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity be exposed to a perspective so different from my own baseline.

    • James says

      I’m in much the same situation. I rarely experience nausea based off of things I’ve read, but realizing that my barely pubescent self laughed along with all the other cisprivileged transphobes in the audience makes me ill. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but one that I know is good for me, and will make me a slightly better person moving forward. Thanks for helping the scales fall from my eyes, Natalie!

  17. DefragDoll says

    Last time I saw that film I was in my teens, before I transitioned (they only ever play the sequel now, and on Disney no less), I can be a very naive person however, and back then probably didn’t give it much thought. I guess I’m the ultimate stereotype of the “dumb blonde” (who is into quantum mechanics), because all of a sudden I have this feeling of “Heyyyyyy waitaminnit!”.

    I feel embarassed, ashamed, and disgusted for not having seen this film for what it was much sooner, but then, like I said, I haven’t seen it in almost a decade and a half.

    Sick stuff.

    • DefragDoll says

      Actually come to think of it. I wasn’t that stupid or naive. I buried it. I buried the rage so deep that even I couldn’t figure out it was there. I’ve done that with every transphobic thing i was confronted with because thats what society expects. I buried my rage with the 3rd naked gun film, and I buried my rage with South Park. And people wonder why these things trigger me. And people wonder why I’m on medications.

  18. says

    Oh, you know I agree with all of this (though it kind of moots a big chunk of the secret project). I wish it were an isolated case, too, but it’s not. Not by a longshot.

  19. says

    What bothers me most about Pet Detective, is that I actually liked the movie as a kid. I had no idea what it meant to be trans, and the movie only worked to reinforce an idea that being trans was a bad thing to be, that having feelings like these were innapropriate, and should be burried. And we should shame those that display this kind of activity. It hardenned my internalised transphobia which as a result made me put off confronting my gender identity for so long. And I kind of hate myself for this. I loved this movie, but now all I can do is look back on it in disgust.

  20. says

    It reminds me of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, but without the good writing, and about a thousand times more brutal. Shylock got off easy by comparison.

  21. chexuma says

    I saw in in the theater when I was ten. On one hand, it was terrible to see a trans person treated as sub-human. On the other, the concept of someone successfully transitioning was AWESOME.

    It was weird.

    A couple years later, I caught a few “I’m really a man!” episodes of Jerry Springer. Between the audience’s hostility and the look-at-the-freak atmosphere it was a disturbing watch. But it was one of the most inspirational and important things I saw. HOLY CRAP I CAN BE A WOMAN ONE DAY SWEEEEEEEET.

    Trans pre-teens have it sooo easy these days with this “internet” thing.

  22. A. Person says

    I remember seeing this multiple times as a child, because my brother absolutely loved it and the cartoon(?!). I don’t recall my own feelings towards it, except that it was in the category I termed “stupid humor”, but that moment of Ace outing Lois in front of the cops was seared into my brain. I didn’t remember the other physical violence in the scene at all, beyond the forced stripping.

  23. T-X says

    TBH i only saw it in my 20s – and accustomed to poetic justice in films i had a WTF moment when she didn’t kill him or everyone afterwards. Because Natalie is spot on, the whole thing read purely as a hatefest on the level of prejudice-based execution documentaries – and produced much of the same emotions.

    Natalie, you write well. Please make that Dexter crossover a reality =) You already have a reader.

  24. northstargirl says

    I saw “Ace Ventura” when it first hit cable, while visiting some friends. Even without the trans considerations I considered it one of the most vile movies I’d ever seen, and that’s on top of me not caring much for Jim Carrey then or now. I’ve not seen it since, and don’t want to again…particularly since this post has reminded me of why I think it’s more than just a bad piece of cinema.

  25. valeriekeefe says

    Honestly at the time I thought it was about a sociopathic animal rights activist (I know, often redundant) and his refusal to allow one iota of empathy to disturb his position as a big fish in a very small pond…

    This rereading, however, is absolutely brilliant, and I think I’ll have to rewatch the movie.

  26. says

    I have to say, that if you could redo this from Einhorn’s perspective (and ew, I just realised that her name is a transphobic pun) then you would have a film I would definitely watch and would probably be one of the best films about being trans EVER.

  27. Tamsin says

    This is an excellent post, Natalie.
    It also inspired some interesting brain-tangents on my part. I started thinking about tragic anti-heroes and -heroines whose stories I’m more familiar with (not having seen Ace Ventura, thankfully). I played Hedda Gabler in a school production years ago and still love the play. Being pretty feminist even then, I interpreted Hedda as being driven to desperation by stifling 1890s gender roles (among other things). But your comment about how common it is for trans women to pursue ultra-masculine activities led me to wonder if it’s possible to interpret Hedda as a trans man trying to perform femininity…? I don’t know. I might be completely off the mark in cisgender cluelessness, but that’s where my brain went and I thought it might be worth sharing.

  28. says

    I saw this loathesome film on video fairly soon after release, and the only part of it that stuck in my memory, for all the wrong reasons, is the horrific scene of the beating, disrobing, and trans-shaming of Lisa Einhorn. When she is revealed to have her penis tucked in the back of her panties, the “joke” I suppose is to mock “The Crying Game”, which is why there’s a musical cue to clue the audience in… and therefore it only works if you’ve actually seen “The Crying Game” (which I hadn’t). I can’t describe how flat the supposed “joke” falls. The transphobic and homophobic reaction of the police officers who then start retching at the thought that up till now they’ve been attracted to a trans woman (“… she used to be a man? A man?! Oh my god!”) then puts the seal of outright shittiness on this desperately unfunny pile of dreck.

    Natalie, you and Monica really have taken one for the team, subjecting yourselves to a viewing.

    • Movius says

      The vomiting/retching is part of the Crying Game parody (as in Naked Gun 33 1/3,) though in the Crying Game I believe Fergus had the excuse of being quite drunk at the time, plus theres the small matter of the rest of the movie.

  29. carolw says

    I’ve never seen this steaming pile, and now I for sure never will. I hate the old manic rubber-face Jim Carrey. He can do drama, but his “comedies” are rotten. I had no idea that it had such a hateful plot device. That’s just sick. You’re a stronger woman than I, Natalie. Treat yourself to something nice as a palate cleanser after that!

  30. Rilian says

    I always thought that einhorn was not really trans but just did it as a disguise to hunt down dan. What person in their right mind would transition when they didn’t have to, you ask? Well, einhorn was crazy.

    • says

      Yeah, well… perhaps think about how that last word has been applied to trans women in the past? Perhaps think about the fact that the ONLY thinkg we have to go on about Einhorn’s motives being “disgusie”/”revenge” is Ace Ventura? Perhaps consider how completely full of shit and monstrous and often wrong Ventura is?

      • Rilian says

        I guess her true gender isn’t really made clear in the story. I guess the assumption is that it’s irrelevant.

        • says

          It’s probably not made clear because to the production team, regardless of whether she was trans or “crazy” (which to them are likely to be synonymous anyway), her “true” gender was male. If they truly believed that transsexual women are in fact female, the whole third act of the movie would have played out very very differently.

          • Rilian says

            Well they would word it as “how you feel is irrelevant; all that matters is what genitalia you were born with.”

            Are you talking about how he burned his clothes and all the other men were spitting and stuff? Yeah, that’s stupid. I mean, they expect women to kiss them… yet they find their own sex so disgusting?

    • says

      Seems that the simplest assumption though is that she’s trans. Otherwise, why wouldn’t she have just simply assumed the identity of a missing male hiker (I’m assuming she assumed a female hiker’s identity, since that fits the “logic” of the movie)? Why would she spend years on HRT (since clearly that’s the case… astounding results like those don’t come quick)? Why would she spend years building a career (which seems like it was pretty tangential to her plan… she didn’t need to work her way to the top of the police force to kidnap a dolphin and Dan) under her new identity? It doesn’t make a great deal of sense that her transition would be a part of her revenge plan. Even “crazy” doesn’t make that convincing here, since it’s rather absurd to assume that of all the “crazy” plans she could have come up with, she chose the one that remarkably resembles the life of a very successful transsexual woman. And besides, the only place she’s clearly shown to be “crazy”, is in the mind of Ace Ventura, someone who doesn’t display a great deal of the hallmarks of sanity himself.

      • Rilian says

        But don’t we SEE her do crazy stuff? Like torturing someone or something? And also there’s at least one part where she kisses someone and to me it seemed like she was doing it just because she knew that he would find it gross if he knew that she was trans. I totally agree that the writers would only have written that if they were hating of transwomen. But that would just mean they wrote an unrealistic character because of their own prejudices.

        • says

          They really DON’T show her actually doing much horrible things. The only things we KNOW she did were kidnapping the dolphin, kidnapping Dan Marino and kissing him (he doesn’t know yet), tying up Ace, threatening them, and then trying to kill him AFTER he beats, sexually assaults and outs her.

          And really, we have incredibly little go on in terms of her actual intentions, just a few facts that suggest the story I described. We have to assume what’s plausible and what’s not, and just try to recuperate the narrative as best we can (as always).

          Also, given that I’m explicitly recontextualizing the film, and talking about a trans reading / deconstruction of it, writer intent REALLY doesn’t matter. I mean, we might as well say Lois Einhorn wasn’t real, so she wasn’t trans at all. She wasn’t cis either. She didn’t exist and had no motives. Or say that it was actually SEAN YOUNG in disguise as a trans woman. But since the whole idea here is about what the story looks like once you throw away the cissexist premises on which it is based…

      • says

        Even “crazy” doesn’t make that convincing here, since it’s rather absurd to assume that of all the “crazy” plans she could have come up with, she chose the one that remarkably resembles the life of a very successful transsexual woman.

        Bingo.

        The writers may have been total cissexist asshole idiots. Indeed they probably were. But they still (probably accidentally) wrote a very compelling story about the life of a successful, strong, confident, beautiful, powerful trans woman being completely shattered by the shittiness of macho, cissexist society, and being horribly, brutally abused in the process.

        • says

          I’m actually strongly tempted to attempt to rewrite the story of the movie entirely from her perspective, as a kind of anti-fanfic… even it means I’d have to watch the film again (although… maybe rewatching it, seeing it for what it is, and subverting it to present a story of trans success and destructive cissexism, would be redemptive, considering the uncritical way my younger self bought the movie wholesale…)…

          • Rilian says

            sounds cool to me.
            You know, I think it could be good to do this with a lot of “villains” as they often seem to become villains through being or feeling persecuted. Often when I’m watching tv I find myself siding with the “bad” person.

  31. Steinar says

    I would just like to say, as a cis-gendered, hetero male, this is perhaps the strongest and best explanation of being “the other“ I have ever read. I learnt something today. Thank you, Natalie!

  32. Louis says

    I’ve never seen Ace Ventura. I don’t like Jim Carey much and when this one came out someone (I think it was dad – if so, dad notches up another Awesome Point) told me it was a pile of egregious shit. So I never bothered with it and I’m pleased about that now. Just reading this makes me feel ill.

    But I must admit I’d like to know how teenage Louis would have interpreted Ace Ventura. I suspect he probably wouldn’t have been as disgusted by it as adult Louis, but it’s a fair bet he would have thought Einhorn was the real hero. Teenage Louis liked strong, badass characters like Einhorn and would have felt cheated that he didn’t get to see her exact revenge on Ventura.

  33. Rinzo says

    I loved that movie! Jim Carrey is great. That scene where Lois goes into the water really cracked me up! Even tho you didn’t like the movie, thanks for bringing back some long ago memories. It’s too bad that you are angry. You seem very mean and accusatory. You would probably have a happier life if you learned to be kinder to people and to laugh a little. Stop judging people and calling them names.

    Rin

  34. StevoR says

    “God I’d love to see a Dexter / Ace Ventura crossover”.

    WIN! Me too.

    Superluminous (beyond merely brilliant) post here, Natalie Reed.

    Thankyou.

  35. Brad says

    Powerful writing, Natalie. Thanks for the change in perspective.

    I certainly don’t have the video editing chops to do this myself, but maybe what this needs is a “recut” of the trailer, showing Einhorn as the trans hero, and Ace as the transphobic, sexually assaulting villian?

    (In the spirit of the Scary Mary Poppins trailer, or the Shining as romantic comedy.)
    See some other trailer recuts here to see what I’m talking about:
    http://listverse.com/2010/02/20/top-10-brilliant-movie-recuts/

  36. MichaelD says

    I think I’ve seen the movie a 2 or 3 times I can’t say it ever left any big impression on me at the time. But I think in hindsight the worst part is the first time I saw this was on a school trip. Alas that was years ago when I was less socially aware and generally dumber. Still unsettling to think that someone thought this was a good movie to show to a group of 8th graders.

  37. says

    I have never watched it (same reason as carolw #30: his dramas are wonderful [especially The Truman Show] but his comedy [with the lone exception of The Grinch] is horrible) and now I never want to, unless someone gets me a DeLorean so I can go back to 1993 and quietly change the release copy for one where the movie ends with Carrey getting the shooting gallery from the cops.

    Lacking that, I also want to see this Dexter crossover. (I would try to write it…but I also have barely ever watched Dexter).

  38. Drew says

    Wow, reading this really shook me up.
    I think I’m going to watch that film again to deprogram some of the cis-genderism.

  39. vicki says

    When I saw the sequel I misheard the tribe names and just assumed that it was directly referring to the Rwandan Genocide that had happened a year earlier.

  40. Zack says

    I saw Ace Ventura when i was way too young; But i am glad now because the visions of Einhorn’s abuse was forever burned into my brain. I felt so sorry for her. But my own environment caused me to bury my feelings of pity but also the fact i developed an innocent crush on her. She was so beautiful but strong but could still be seductive when wanted to be. Long before i was old enough to know it; Einhorn showed me the type of woman i am attracted to. My pity is even more now because while i admire her as a strong, independent girl — I see so much unhappiness in her because no one around her truly loved or cared for her except her “screwy” mother. As a guy she was loved for her athletic ability and as a girl she was basically just lusted after by egotistical macho skirt chasers — No one in the movie tried to see her inner beauty; Not Ace, not the cops who vomit later. And even now this happens too often.

    And by the way; I would so love a REAL Einhorn fan fic/reboot of her story from her point-of-view.

  41. Zack says

    Also… I someday plan to find just how many Crying Game spoofs exist. For my own curiosity if nothing else.

    One of the first i saw (besides Ace Ventura) came in early 1999 on thd WWF/WWE program “RAW” — At the time the company was in the hyper-macho “Attitude Era” — And basically, in a nutshell the wrestler Mark Henry was a “victim” in a storyline where he was seduced backstage by a t-girl called Sammy — Basically, while making out; Henry grabbed her bottom and then screamed “OH SWEET JESUS! YOU’VE GOT A PENIS!!” (implying it was tucked between her legs). He then promptly ran to the toilet nearby and barfed — Yet another offensive/unfunny poke at transgirls. And as usually it’s a trans joke laced with a gay joke since we were suppose to think it’s the same thing and thus question the guy’s manhood…

    I’m sure there are many more spoofs though. But anytime i see a story where a guy pukes after discovering a woman’s trans identity i always know they’re saying “This is how you are SUPPOSE to react”

  42. Nick says

    Oh no!

    The link to the Monica Maldonado’s companion piece (and actually the entire TransActivisty) blog is down. Is there ANY way you can contact her to send me a copy of that piece? I’ve read both of your pieces before and both of these are SO BRILLIANT — I need reading them to be in my life.

    Thanks!
    Nick

    • says

      Yeah, she decided to discontinue that blog a few months ago. I can certainly ask her if she’d be okay e-mailing an archived copy to you, if she has one, but I can’t really promise anything or speak on her behalf. Sorry!

  43. Ben says

    This really is a great article. I just watched this properly for the first time with friends, they had nostalgic memories of it, I must admit I was giggling at some of the earlier stuff: the physical comedy, but the end made us all feel physically sick. It was an arduous assault and you are completely right in equating it with Boys Don’t Cry. I’m amazed it is still shown on TV pre-watershed. I’m going to write a complaint and try to get this off the screens. To think my friends were subjected to this as kids, and he was seen as an aspirational rebel rather than a sociopathic abuser chills me.

    The look on Sean Young’s face catatonic with angst is still haunting us.

    Well done on this article will be looking at your blog a lot from now on.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I didn’t start out that way. Just as recently as two years ago this was an idea that would have horrified me. That alone should tell you how much damage our society can do to a person. Though I don’t think I need to tell any of my trans brothers, sisters, and siblings this, cis people might be surprised to learn that the jokes you make can actually harm trans people. […]

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