I’m Not Your Candy Darling, You’re Not My Maury Povitch

“Exploitation Cinema”… it’s all in the name, isn’t it? One of those rare instances in which bigotry and kyrarchy brazenly names itself. And we, collectively, brazenly accept it as a legitimate aspect of our cultural discourse regardless.

How, exactly, is it that white male hipsters can go around describing themselves as fans of “exploitation film” and get a pat on the back for their “good taste”? Where the racism and misogyny of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino is accepted as “genius” so long as it remains filtered through “contextual” qualifiers of “retro-aesthetics”, “irony” and its allegedly “empowering” nature for whosoever is the target of the exploitation?

I’m rather reminded of how many people excused the incredibly sexist costume designs of many female superheroes as being examples of the “empowerment” of the fictional character in question (Starfire, Powergirl, Voodoo, whoever), and prioritizing the “empowerment” and “feminist pride in their body” of the fiction character above the actual affect these character designs had for would-be female comics fans… and for the way the young male readers came to conceptualize women relative to these portrayals. While “empowerment” or “that’s just who the character is” were the excuses trotted out publicly to place a flimsy “feminist” veneer over the blatantly sexist aesthetics that dominated the industry, it was nonetheless ultimately discovered (not so surprisingly) that the genuine reasons for such character and costume designs were simply to get a little boobs and butts into the comics to increase sales to their self-perpetuatingly male-dominated demographics. It was exploitation, called empowerment.

And yet, what we see from the critical adulation heaped on artists like Tarantino, that superficial excuse of “empowerment” isn’t even consistently necessary. Just as often, you can just say outright it’s “exploitation”, but say you “don’t really mean it” and aren’t “really racist” or “really sexist”, and the culture industry and media will give you the benefit of the doubt regardless. Such is the cultural contract of patriarchy and white-supremacy.

A few years back a film came out called “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”, written and directed by a cis gay man, produced and financed by cis men. It billed itself as a “transploitation” film, and was shot with the same “ironic” and “retro” sensibilities of similar “neo-exploitation” works from directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez.

It was brutal. It was violent. It featured horrible things happening to trans women (the sorts of horrible things that really do happen to trans women, entirely too frequently, the realities of which goes almost entirely ignored by the culture industry and media). It sensationalized and reveled in that trans-misogynistic violence, which sold a lot of tickets to cisgender audiences to earn a lot of money for a lot of cisgender pockets. It was exploitation.

But it was okay, right? Because irony. Because retro. Because they didn’t really mean it. Just like Tarantino invoking a rather loaded racial slur in virtually ever film he’s ever made. Right?

I could write a lot about this movie. I could write a lot about what was wrong with it. But why put my focus there? After all, it says it’s transploitation. It markets itself as such. It never pretended to be otherwise. It was simply applying a “retro” type of exploitative culture to a different sort of marginalized group, who hadn’t yet been subjected to “exploitation” in the culture industry.

Wait… what?

The aspect that I’ve personally found especially jarring about that film was the treatment of “transploitation” as a novel concept. The overall “pitch” of the film was that black people, women, sex workers, asians, gay men and so on had all been the subjects of “exploitation film”, but that trans women had thus far not been. Hence it was “new” and “innovative” to return to the aesthetics of 70s exploitation cinema, but positioning this heretofore “ignored” minority demographic as the focus.

The truth, however, is that transploitation was not, and is not, a novel or unusual phenomenon. It’s been a cultural institution since the time of “Glenn or Glenda?” and Christine Jorgensen, and has remained as such all the way into extremely contemporary examples, such as “Hit Or Miss” and “My Transsexual Summer”. Trans people have always been a fascinating and exotic pull for cis audiences, have always been easily taken advantage of (due to poverty, a hunger for visibility, a desperation to have our stories told honestly, and a hundred other reasons), have always been easy to ignore in terms of accuracy and our own wishes for how we are portrayed, and have always lacked the political and financial leverage to fight back against exploitation and misrepresentation. Transploitation is alive and well, and always has been. The reason the concept of a “Transploitation Film” in the style and aesthetic of 70s “exploitation cinema” seemed novel is simply because our exploitation was never restricted to that particular era (nor, to be fair, has been the exploitation of PoC or women, either). Transploitation was never limited to technicolor, and its soundtrack wasn’t Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Shuggie Otis and Isaac Hayes. It’s soundtrack was The New York Dolls, David Bowie, T. Rex and Lou Reed.

How much money do you suppose Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn ever saw from “Walk On The Wild Side”, “Candy Says” and the various Warhol films in which they appeared? I remember a particularly painful Warhol “candid” film, the name of which I can’t quite recall, in which Candy is there, beautiful and bubbling and full of life and enthusiasm, and everyone around her, including Taylor Mead, are wearing nothing but dull, vaguely uncomfortable expressions of patronizingly humouring her.

Transploiation thrived in The Factory and The Velvet Underground, and it thrived in glam rock. Playing with transness, as a dare, as a provocation… a little taste of the dangerous, exotic and erotic worlds of gender beyond the cisnormative binaries, safely restricted to 45 rpm vinyl. And don’t worry… none of them were really queer.

It thrived in the talk shows of the eighties…. the “is my girlfriend really my boyfriend?” specials of Jerry Springer and Maury Povitch. It thrived in countless similar “documentary” looks at our existence, buying our participation with cheap paychecks and empty promises of “a sensitive portrayal”, with our role, be it the “brave, inspiring tranny”, the “evil, deceptive, manipulative tranny”, the “pathetic, sad, misunderstood tranny”, or the “ridiculous, outrageous, can-you-believe-this-shit tranny”, always being fundamentally about the amusement and appeasement of the cisgender gaze.

It thrived in the terror of, and obsession with, “perverted trans serial killers!” portrayed in Silence Of The Lambs and Sleepaway Camp, based on cultural anxieties regarding gender, transsexuality and castration combined with half-remembered inaccuracies about Ed Gein. People still give those fictional characters more weight than real world facts in their debates concerning “bathoom bills” and the imagined need to protect cis people from trans people (rather than the very real need for the reverse). I honestly have had people tell me in a debates about bathroom access that “girls need to be protected from perverted psychos like that guy in Silence Of The Lambs!”.

It thrived in an endless array of “Dark Age” comic books during the nineties, endlessly toying with transgender themes while effectively never daring feature a genuinely transsexual character, instead always half-measures and ambiguity: shapeshifters and mutants and body swapping and magical gender bending and allegorical stand-ins like a future sub-culture of people who splice their DNA with aliens.

It thrived in the “twist” of The Crying Game, in which the entire cisgender world collectively acted soooo shocked and surprised when the trans woman who sings in the drag bar turned out to have a penis (hope I didn’t spoil it for you!). An arch performance maintaining cisnormativity on a massive cultural scale.

It still thrives in every “really a man”/”packing meat” joke in every sitcom, every comedy act, every cheesy game show (I’m looking at YOU, “Match Game”)… a form of humour so ubiquitous I no longer feel comfortable watching…well… any comedy at all, really.

It thrived in web-comics and erotica throughout the 2000s focused on gender-bending as an exotically sexy concept. And of course it thrived in Chicks-With-Dicks pornography, and “Transformation” magazine. And in the pornography of victimhood and “overcoming adversity” found in films like Boys Don’t Cry and TransAmerica.

It thrived in transgender victims-of-the-week In Law & Crime Scene Investigation: Special Miami Unit. Grizzled Old Veteran Cop gets grossed out. Sensitive Female Cop says “well, actually, trans people can be well-adjusted, valuable, productive members of society!”. Pronouns get abused. A Y chromosome ends up a red herring in the DNA evidence. And at the end Wise Old Leader Cop makes a nice little transphobic one-liner:

“They say the last thing you should be caught with in a men’s room is a dead man or a living woman. In this case, it was both!”

It thrives now in “critically acclaimed” and “edgy” cable dramas trotting out sensationalized trans characters to make them seem that much more “daring” in the subject matter they wish to tackle, that much more “mature” in their themes, that much more “adult” and “sophisticated”… all the while repositioning trans as something inherently a bit scary and “out there” in order to maintain the formulae. The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Nip/Tuck… Hit and Miss.

I could go on. At length.

The forms that transploitation takes are extremely varied, but what remains consistent is that while featuring superfically transgender content, or containing trans people as its subjects, it is created by cisgender artists and producers for consumption by (and entertainment of) a cisgender audience. It is both a product of cis-centric (and often cissexist) consciousness, while either failing to challenge such consciousness, or outright reinforcing it. In genuine acts of transgender visibility, cisgender assumptions are shaken up, and the audience is asked to consider wider perspectives of gender, self and human experience. In transploitation, however, the closest the work comes to this is presenting us as appealingly or entertainingly exotic, and at worst as a frightening anomaly that needs to remain consigned to the social margins. More often, though, we’re simply de-fanged, comical and/or pathetic, the work ultimately sending the message that while transness exists, no one needs to re-evaluate their existing prejudices and understanding of gender and patriarchy.

It’s frequently argued that blanksploitation isn’t really all that bad, because it provides some marginal empowerment, and much needed visibility, to minorities who otherwise would perhaps not have seen themselves reflected in their culture at all. As I’ve written about before, people can be extremely adept at finding their cultural needs where they can… even if it requires reinterpreting or reclaiming works that’s intent was obviously oppressive. And I do still believe that. And yeah, some transploitation can be empowering. But that doesn’t make it any less exploitative, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask for better.

Here I might once again bring up Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, a comic featuring a Brazilian travesti witch, Lord Fanny, as a principle heroic /anti-heroic character. This is one of the most overt examples of transploitation (at least, one of the examples most in the vein of the kind of cultural exploitation we tend to think of in the context of “exploitation cinema”), that I’ve ever seen. In the book “Apocalypstick”, in the story arc “Sheman” (seriously), the one that focuses on Lord Fanny most individually, she spends perhaps half (maybe more?) of all of her scenes being raped or otherwise sexually harassed and degraded. Another quarter of her time is spent on her confusing “origin” (I absolutely loathe any story that attempts to present an “explanation” as to “why” the character is trans) in which she’s sort of pushed into womanhood by her aggressive somewhat-racist-south-american-stereotype of a matriarchal grandmother. Butterfly motifs abound. Her internal monologue contains absurd narcissistic descirptions of how fucking sexy she feels in her sexy lady clothes (monologues that read very hilariously as “what cis people think we think”). Homophobic/transphobic side characters are put in their place by employing the incredibly problematic “well they’re all secretly queer or trans too!” trope. Her and all her sort-of-drag-queens-sort-of-trans-I-guess-Morrison-doesn’t-care-about-the-distinction friends are portrayed as vain, catty, gossipy, obsessed with their own appearance above all else, and so desperate for sex and drugs that they swallow anything they’re given, with an apparent complete disregard for any measure of personal safety (which is, btw, not REMOTELY like real life, where trans women seem pretty damn aware of how risky it is to go home with some random dude from a bathroom while high… and Lord Fanny is supposed to be some kind of savvy magical agent hero too!). Etcetera. Etcetera.

It’s exploitative. It’s gross. And it’s absolutely dripping with wildly inaccurate, unimaginative, transphobic stereotypical bullshit.

But it’s still a little bit empowering. A little.

The reason for that might be connected to part of why we do often find exploitative fiction to be empowering, even while it’s saying right to our faces “We’re exploiting you! Haha!” (a reason other than the stark fact of scarcity of representation, anyway). Although Fanny spends a pretty huge chunk of time being raped, demeaned and subjugated by other characters and by the arc of the narrative itself, she ultimately is, in her way, powerful. And this power, precisely because it is a transphobic, stereotyped, exploitative work, which fails to imagine the character much beyond the fact of her transness, comes from the fact of her being trans. From her “exotic sexiness” and ability to “transcend and unify the male and female, the cosmic dialectic”, or whatever other stupid concept people use when thinking up their woo-woo Otherworldly Other, Sacred Hermaphrodite stuff. It’s an extremely tempting thing, to imagine that there really is something magical and powerful and dangerous and witch-like and sacred about being trans. Christ it’s tempting. I’d love to believe it, that being trans is all in itself a supernaturally powerful thing.

And the kicker? Most of the time, when trans people or characters are presented in a “positive” light (I’m speaking still, by the way, of cis-controlled, cis-centric, cis-targeted media and culture), those “positive” qualities are depicted in spite of being trans. We’re portrayed as being able to be nice, normal, “passable”, middle-class, white, boring, consumers just like everyone else. “Transness doesn’t HAVE to mean being some weirdo! You can OVERCOME it to become a… well-adjusted, valuable, productive member of (cis-patriarchal) society!“. Given the choice, I’d rather embrace a loathsome exoticized heavily-Othered trans stereotype whose power emerges from her trans identity than embrace the typical “brave, inspiring” narrative of a trans person “overcoming adversity” to successfully assimilate into cissexist, heteronormative, patriarchal values. Maybe that’s partially at the heart of the “empowerment” that many others find in vile, exploitative fiction: that at the very least, the blackness, or womanhood, or poverty, or whatever-else of the character isn’t portrayed as something that is somehow ideally irrelevant to the character (like the black characters whose value lies in being just as “articulate” at their white cohorts, and a family man, who stayed in school, said no to drugs, and prefers jazz and classical to hip-hop. Or the countless “strong women” who walk around shooting guns and being just as competent at “boy-stuff”, but still finds time to deal with her daddy issues, her tragic-rape-backstory, her single-motherhood, and her need to remain sexually objectifiable for the male viewers. Or the countless awful sex worker characters who are “one of the good ones”, pretty and kind and clean, who don’t want to do it, and ultimately submit to the loving man who saves them from their life of sin.)

But we shouldn’t have to make that choice, should we? It shouldn’t be a call between characters who represent the worst, most horribly demeaning and Othering perspectives that dominant majority culture has of us, or characters who are “positive” and “sensitive” portrayals, whose value is measured by exactly how much they’re able to “overcome” the aspect of their identity they share with us. Again: transploitation… and minority exploitation in general… comes in a lot of forms, but the unifying theme is consistent. Cis production for a cis audience with cis perspectives and cis consciousness being ultimately rewarded, renewed and reinforced.

It’s not about us. It’s never been about us. Our existence, our exploitation, our reactions, and whatever little crumbs of empowerment may roll off the table are irrelevant to the process. Transploitation is all about cis consciousness. Sometimes it’s about exorcising and/or drumming up their anxieties (like the trans serial killers), sometimes about reducing those anxieties to a joke to be laughed at, sometimes it’s about getting off, sometimes it’s just about the appeal of the exotic, and it’s often all about reducing us to a concept that remains within their control to reconsider in whatever way is necessary to return to being comfortable with the threatening fact of our existence, our genders, our bodies, our sexualities, our desires and what those mean and imply about their own.

But mostly it’s about profit. In a funny way, it’s not about them and their needs either. Those are likewise incidental. And the cisgender audiences who pay the ticket prices and bring in the ad revenue are every bit the exploited too. In this case, their anxieties and inability to cope effectively with the nuanced realities of gender being a direct line into their wallets.

That’s empowering.


  1. yemangycoyote says

    You put to words the vaguely defined feelings of unease I have about the exploitative aspects of pop culture. It helps me think more clearly about things. Your excellent writing and analyses are much appreciated.

  2. That Guy says

    I’m kind of fucking baffled that anyone thinks “exploitation cinema” is an excellent thing to be fond of.

    I mean- this is like, trying to do blackface “ironically”. Sure, I GUESS you can make some argument that you’re reclaiming the racialised form of transethnic makeup expression or whatever, but what other people see isn’t “blackface, but not, y’know?” IT’s just plain ole blackface.

    Same with ___xploitation works- you buy it, you watch it, you consume it- no matter how “ironically” or self aware you are while doing so- you’re still endorsing just plain exploitative views. At least financially.

    I think the only ___xploitation films I’ve seen were kill bills one and two. The main thing about these films that sticks in my mind was the weird horribly stilted dialogue that tried to be ‘deep’ but just didn’t make any fucking sense. Oh, and all the awkward and sketchy scenes and reveals.

    So I used to think I was missing something? evidently not.

    • says

      Kill Bill jumped around a lot in the aesthetics it was ripping off. Like the long, tense, weirdly drawn out scenes that suddenly burst into very rapid violence is sort of the calling card of Spaghetti Western. The parts that were most clearly exploitation were the “kung fu” bits… with the big horde of (literally) faceless asians getting chopped to bits by our white hero, and then white hero killing the asian antagonist immediately after, and contextually “in response to”, her claim that she was being exploitative, “little American white girl running around playing with swords” (or something like that). So Tarantino is not only being a racist, orientalist fuck, he then symbolically murders anyone who would call him out on it.

      And then the scene with her Old Kung Fu Sensei Guy. How can that possibly be seen as anything other than enormously racist and exploitative?!

      Then there’s a bunch of sexism with all the women in the movie (except Elle, “the evil slutty bitch”), being all obsessed with babies and motherhood above all else (including, surprise! THEIR CAREERS!). But… yeah… I digress…

      • says

        P.S. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with Spaghetti Westerns (except perhaps the name). I actually really like that aesthetic, and the very deliberate slowness of the style, in contrast to the increasingly rapid-fire Hollywood style of storytelling. Once upon a time, quick cuts were avante-garde (Godard, French New Wave), but nowadays, it’s just MTV. So a nice little drawn out scene of three guys waiting at a train station for 7 minutes before the gunfight initiates and ends within 30 seconds is pretty good for us, really.

        But those aesthetics, of course, CAN be accomplished without any fucked up bigotry. 😀

      • That Guy says

        oh holy shit I forgot about mister kung foo racist man. iirc he gets poisoned when eating fishhead soup.

        I mean, that’s like the go-to for “creepy asian person food”. Oh, let’s not forget the Japanese schoolgirl/prostitute trope. Fucking marvellous.
        A LOT of that film was really just… bad now I remember- and uncomfortable to watch in bad ways. Like the nurse “Buck”. (Googling this deserves a TW: sexual assault).
        But yeah, the main thing I remeber about that film is the parts that just made plain zero sense. It’s not being insightful, just obtuse. Like the whole bleeping out the heroine’s name, and then revealing it in part two with no ceremony, no reason, and it has basically zero impact on anything else.

        I liked the action bits- because I am a base and easily amused creature, and I liked the cadance of what was being said- at times. But the actual sentences being used and the context the violence was in? That was kinda jarring.

        I’ve never watched any westerns. What would you recommend? I heard a lot of the seminal ones are a kind of odd product of crosstalk between the US and Japanese samurai films.(?)

        BACK ON TOPIX- Transploitation- Chuck Pahluinik’s Invisible monsters- I’m pretty sure this fits the bill of what you’re talking about in this post pretty snugly. One of the major characters in the book is a transwoman, and there;’s a whole heap of othering and shit going on here for the sake of novelty. In particular, her “origins” and motivation for transition seem really far and unhinged from reality when I read it- and this was several years before I started thinking about trans* people beyond the nice and neatly packaged women’s magazine and popular media portrayal.

        Then again, maybe I missed key things the first time round

        • says

          Like the nurse “Buck”. (Googling this deserves a TW: sexual assault).

          Disturbingly, there is a replica of his truck regularly parked not far from where I live.

          I heard a lot of the seminal ones are a kind of odd product of crosstalk between the US and Japanese samurai films

          Several of the most famous are basically remakes of Kurosawa films with gunslingers in place of samurai. Most notably, Fistful of Dollars is Yojimbo, and The Magnificent Seven is The Seven Samurai. Fistful is considered one of the classic ‘spaghetti westerns’ ( I don’t know what else to call the spate of Westerns made in Italy and Spain in that era), while Magnificent Seven is generally held to be a considerably weaker film. I haven’t actually seen it, on the basis of recommendations by people whom I know to have similar taste in movies to mine. There’s also Red Sun, which involves a literal samurai (played by Toshiro Mifune) teaming up with a gunslinger (Charles Bronson). It’s a similar premise to Shanghai Noon but not played for laughs, and honestly with less blatant racism. I’d recommend Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly as the absolute classics of the genre.

          Sorry for not really commenting on the main topic, but I haven’t really got anything to add to what Natalie said.

          • says

            I wouldn’t call Magnificent Seven a Spaghetti Western; it was an American movie by an American, and made several years before the Leone movies. It is really inferior to Seven Samurai, as well.

            Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars has a weird lineage. You’re right that Fistful is lifted from Yojimbo, but the latter is also derived from a Dashiell Hammet novel, Red Harvest. It’s kind of fascinating to look at the three works as an example of an idea being passed back and forth between cultures.

          • says

            Heh. Never thought of it like that. Especially cool when you imagine Red Harvest as the American take on the idea, Yojimbo as the Japanese take, and Fistful as the Italian / European take.

        • Wanderer says

          Recommendations purely as cinema, without any attempt to dissect the politics (but, warning: a certain degree of sexual violence is a common feature of these films, and they tend to be rather objectionable in a variety of other ways as well):

          The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the Spaghetti Western masterpiece. The soundtrack, the three-way standoff, the bridge scene…genius filmmaking.

          Don’t bother with mainstream American westerns (except maybe Shane, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance or The Outlaw Josie Wales); they tend to be either idiotic John Wayne cartoons or straight ripoffs of vastly superior Japanese cinema (eg: The Magnificent Seven vs The Seven Samurai).

          For modern westerns, go for Dead Man. Johnny Depp, William Blake and Neil Young, with a very unusual cameo from Iggy Pop.

          For a very different “Western”, see Rolf de Heer’s “The Tracker”. Three nameless troopers follow an Aboriginal guide across the outback in pursuit of a fugitive, surrounded by the beauty and horror of colonial Australia. Worth a look.

  3. says

    I have a trans character in my story I’m writing. She’s of a race of three-foot tall dog-people so she really doesn’t have to worry much about ‘passing.’ However, her race is highly tribal and regimented and her backstory kicks so much ass that I’m gonna write it as a little side-story that will eventually be published in a book of “minor characters’ awesome stories” sort of thing.

  4. Zack says

    I want to know when Tarantino has been sexist or transphobic in his movies. I don’t aim to defend the guy, but his sexism must have gone over my head, because I can’t think of any blatant examples.

      • Zack says

        Sorry if I misunderstood. Can you give me an example of racism in one of his movies then? I am genuinely want to know if there’s something morally wrong with his movies, since I have never noticed any racism and consider myself a fan of Tarantino’s work. I am not trying to defend anyone, I just want to make an informed opinion.
        If he’s really another Penn Gillette, then I want to know…

          • Zack says

            If that’s the case, I don’t know why Tarantino was singled out. I can point out racism and sexism on that level in almost every video game I play and movie I see. I’m not saying it’s right at all, but I don’t think Tarantino is to blame more than anyone else for mild racism/sexism in popular culture.

          • says

            1) It’s not mild.

            2) I was opening my post speaking specifically of the narrow aesthetics conventionally called “exploitation cinema”, which Tarantino gleefully indulges in.

    • freemage says

      Well, let’s start with From Dusk ’til Dawn.

      We’ve got three main adult male characters–the two criminals and the father of the family. Of these, two get fairly nuanced (for the sort of film we’re dealing with) portrayals (Tarentino’s own character is a shitty portrayal of the mentally ill, on the other hand).

      Even the two supporting male characters at the bar (the biker with the crotch-gun and the burly black man straight from one of the blaxploitation flicks) have some actual character depth, enough that you care about what happens to them.

      The women? Nameless, largely un-voiced (and certainly undifferentiated) stripper-vampires, up to and including Selma Hayek’s vampire ‘queen’, who use sex and eroticism to lure men to their deaths (compare that to the male vampires, who are shown as varied, at least, in how they go about enjoying their undead state, playing with it and empowered by it).

      Oh, and of course, the Token Virgin, who is also sexualized almost immediately by Tarentino’s own character.

      Yeah, there’s just a bit of sexism there, I think.

      • bspiken says

        But isnt that the point of the anti-hero though? These are bad people (Tarantino’s character) who do bad things, the movie never tries to tell us different, evil vs evil. Furthermore all the vampires were one dimensional (Danny Trejo as the evil mexican/vampire/bartender certainly didnt have any depth) not only the women vampire.

        I agree that its blatantly explotative, but I always saw that as representing the current way of thinking of hollywood rather than supporting it.

      • says

        I’m not sure why we want deep, drawn out characters in a violence movie.

        Does everything have to be deep and drawn out?

        It’s just not a point I really understand.

  5. busterggi says

    I guess the best I can say is that not all us cis-folk mean to offend. I mean there is a lot of difference, from my POV, between ‘Transamerica’ and chicks-with-dicks porn. As to the trans stereotypes developed in media/culture pretty much all fictional characters are stereotypes including Grizzled Old Veteran Cop and Sensitive Female Cop and even White Male Hipster (I’m white, male, short, old, fat & have never even been close to being hip).

    As to ‘The Crying Game’, as someone who has gone through a divorce followed not too many years later by an almost worse break-up I found it a serious look at how sometimes the people we love aren’t so much the people they really are but the people we think they are – trans or cis doesn’t matter.

    All I can do is what I can do.

    • says

      Why do you feel it’s necessary to point out that you don’t all “mean” to?

      Why do you think I am unaware of that, and why do think that it’s relevant?

      Why do you think whether or not offense was intended has any bearing on it’s consequences?

      Why do you think “stereotypes” like Grizzled Old Veteran Cop is at all comparable to stereotypes about viciously, systematically oppressed minority demographics?

      All you can do is what you CAN do, yes. But I guarantee for you, for anyone, that what you CAN do is more than what you ARE doing.

      • busterggi says

        I feel its important to point out that I don’t mean to because language & social mores change – what was not considered insulting when I was a kid now may be but its not easy to constantly monitor every word I say or write – I was character-assassinated over at Skepchick a few years ago for using the word ‘ladies’, apparently that is now considered an insult but it wasn’t when I grew up.

        I’m sure you’re aware of the difference, jeez, I’m just trying to communicate. Please bear with me.

        Ah, now as far as the consequences of an offense – the intention doesn’t matter but what happens after that may – if someone accidentally insults me I feel hurt but can accept an apology that is sincere and consider that person basically alright, if someone deliberately insults me and I feel hurt and they offer a fake apology or none at all then I consider them an asshole. I deal differently with people I consider alright and those I consider assholes.

        I consider that stereotypes are comparable only in that all involve pigeonholing and require no thought as to individuality – when a character is developed beyond a stereotype then that character is no longer a stereotype. Actual human beings are rarely stereotypes though I have known a few that came close and they’ve always been unpleasant ones.

        Okay, what else can I do? Seriously, as someone who is barely scraping by financially I can’t buy a lobbyist for LGBT rights so I support candidates that are in favor of them and vote accordingly. I’m trying to educate myself here but apparently I’m not doing a very good job of it.

        • That Guy says

          in fairness- “ladies” is a pretty obvious pitfall. Most US mass media inparticular sitcoms has used “Ladies! please!” as a wolf whistle for “Now now, let’s not get all hormonal up in this joint!”

          I mean, were you raised to identify people with explicitly gendered salutations when you were younger?


          Sorry, but that sounds sketchy no matter how I turn it.

          • That Guy says

            Thankfully, the awful sexist thinking behind these customs has changed. I’m surprised that treating women as equals wasn’t commonplace fifty years after they got the vote.

            Plus, fifty years hence, you really should be big enough to think about the overtones of outdated phrases you were taught when younger.

        • 742 says

          a lot of things werent considered ‘impolite’ when people were “younger”. its not that those things werent harmful, its just that society was a little more fucked up, and did not, as a whole, consider whatever group of people to be people.

          • busterggi says

            I agree that a lot of thing that weren’t considered impolite actually were inretrospect but why the quotes around younger? Do you think I wasn’t younger fifty years ago??

    • freemage says

      Busterggi: One thing–there’s a huge, huge difference between archetypes and stereotypes. The former, while cliched, mainly serve to plug us into a story faster. The latter specifically pigeonhole a segment of the population into a handful of tiny niches. One difference–even mediocre writers will give an archetypal character some traits that go beyond the archetype. A big bruiser who, for instance, curates bonsai trees, or a grizzled old cop who just so happens to also have a collection of Hallmark romance novels that would put most bookstores to shame. Archetypes are a tree you hang things on; stereotypes are a box you put people in.

  6. says

    Thank you for this much needed take on using post-modern irony as a way of excusing transphobic depictions of trans women. But I did want to clear up one inaccuracy, Ticked Off Trannies with Knives did have 3 transgender cast members in key roles (and Alexis Arquette wasn’t in the film) and one in a minor role. To me, this is irrelevant since the film was very much doing what you said it was. I was one of the people calling out the Tribeca Film Festival for its inclusion of that film and how they incorporated real life trans murders in the advertising.

    Most importantly, tv and film repeatedly use the tactic of having supposedly “unsympathetic characters” spouting off transphobic statements (think gym teacher Sue in Glee) as a way of somehow being trans supporting while still injecting plenty of trashy “tranny/shemale/penis jokes.” What filmmakers refuse to acknowledge is, just because they think a character is obviously unsympathetic doesn’t mean that figure is taken that way by the audience. A “bad guy” doing some ultra-violent act might be taken as cool by teenage boys (and adults whose brain development stopped in their teens). Any character who gets snarky laughs for no matter what reason is going to be taken positively by many people… because they crave that kind of attention as well. Post modern hipness is a marketing scam, not a nuanced way of viewing societal oppression.

    I’m not a Tarantino fan myself because, honestly, whatever other skills the man possesses, his view of the world is very much stuck at the a-hole teen boy level and I choose to not consume that product.

    • says

      That’s fine that you don’t like his product…

      …But your argument is that at no point can a film produce a truly negative view of a negative concept, and therefore shouldn’t ever try to use the concept. And that leaves you in the same space – with different settings – of Christian movie reviewers.

      I just don’t believe that. You can’t stop people from misappropriating things; but similarly, why should I censor myself so they don’t have material to misappropriate?

  7. says

    On exploitation cinema: A few years back I had this conversation with a proud old-skool horror movie buff –
    Him: You’ve never seen the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?!?!?!?!

    Me: Nope.

    Him: But you should.

    Me: No.

    Him: But why not?!?!?!?!

    Me: Never wanted to.

    Him: But whyyyyyyy?!!!!

    Me: Because it had the words “chainsaw” and “massacre” in the title.

    Him: But that’s not a valid reason to avoid a classic piece of filmmaking!

    Me: Um. Yes. Yes, it is. And that’s my call, not yours.
    And it’s not like I’ve never seen a schlocky horror film, or never encountered a genuinely good one. But when a movie practically screams its intent to torture and degrade people for the amusement of the audience, I have no trouble skipping it in favor of something more enjoyable and meaningful.

  8. Abdul Alhazred says

    This is my first intimation that anyone anywhere considers exploitation films “good taste” or “hip”.

    Even among people who like them.

  9. DPSisler says

    @Eric: I had the same reaction in the ’80s during High School when all the rage was “The Many Faces of Death…” series in which my friends tried to get me to watch. I could never articulate the reason but watching something be killed was not my idea of enjoyment. Same with boxing, two guys (only men back then) beating the shit out of each other for the glory of an audience just made no sense to me. I mean, at least put them on ice, with skates and a hockey stick. The main purpose there is to win the game, and the fighting was only to keep the heathens interested in between scoring plays.

    PS I am glad that fighting in hockey is mostly removed for the joke it use to be (old schoolers would disagree).

  10. says

    It’s still required in the military to address female officers as “Ma’am” and male officers as “Sir.” Additionally, we are required to refer to a group of male officers as “Gentlemen” and a group of female officers as “Ladies.” Obviously, a mixed group can be referred to with “Ladies and Gentlemen” which doesn’t sound outdated at all. Calling an officer by their rank is often considered disrespectful, as well, so no dice on that. It is somewhat odd how a word that used to be used for females of the nobility or for a female of a higher station than yourself now somehow connotes condescension, though.

  11. says

    I actually have a character in a book I’m writing whose back story is that she’s transsexual (at the start of the story she’s been doing hrt, but has had no operations). She’s one of the main characters, and a love interest for the main character, but I wasn’t planning on making her trans status a big deal, though it would be addressed at a certain point and it certainly drives some of her actions and feelings. On the other hand, reading this makes me think that writing any character at all as trans is automatically going to be viewed as transploitation even if I write her exactly the same as I would a cis character 90% of the time because it will play up the “passing” trope but if I write her as “obviously” trans it would come off like that Lord Fanny example or something. I dunno, what would you consider a well written trans character? Can a cis person write a trans character without it being transploitation?

    (Also, it looks like my reply to That Guy didn’t post as a reply even though I hit the button for “Reply.” So, yeah, that last post was a reply to what I guess you would call comment 5.3, if anyone was wondering)

    • says

      No, it’s not that trans characters are automatically transploitation.

      It’s transploitation if the trans character’s presence is only to reinforce preexisting cis udnerstanding of transness and gender, and to entertain or please cis audiences in a totally comfy way for cis perspectives. If you research things, if you write her as a full and genuine character, if you do your bloody homework and don’t take shortcuts and really understand her and who she is and treat her as a real human being… neither dominated by her transness nor “just like everyone else”… neither a “positive portrayal” by “overcoming” transness nor a portrayal where being trans is the only thing that defines her… with both virtues and flaws, hopes and fears, motives and a role in the story other than just being a trans character, if you talk to trans people and learn how we think and what we want and what drives us and what scares us, and talk to ENOUGH of us to understand those things as individual and understand how they vary and understand how individual traits and personalities and other experiences relate to the general experiences of being trans and affect eachother…if you do your job as a writer… you’ll be good.

      Writers who aren’t from the goup they’re writing CAN and DO write such characters well. Greg Rucka writes women terrifically. Gail Simone writes PwD terrifically. The only reason it’s so rare is because writers are so frequently lazy, and so frequently don’t bother seeing things through any eyes other than their own, and those of their “intended audience”.

      If you make an effort to understand the views, feelings and experiences of trans women such that you can write her (almost) as ably and intimately and intuitively as you would write a cis male character (DON’T take the shortcut of just “writing her the way you write cis characters”, because that’s a shortcut, and shortcuts SHOW), and if you make an effort to have the story be as meaningful to trans readers as to cis readers, it won’t be exploitative or othering or insulting.

      But seriously: don’t take the shortcuts.

      And seriously: “just writing her the same way I write cis characters” is a shortcut. You need to write her the way you write trans characters. And you need to do the work to know what that really means.

      • says

        Yeah, that seems pretty much standard. You can rest assured that I’ve been doing my research, though as has been noted in the past it’s difficult to get past the “standard trans narrative.” It’s definitely a challenge, but I’m certainly willing to do the work to create a compelling character.

        • says

          Oh, and one bit I forgot: it’s also super important that you consider social context carefully, and consider the associations that putting trans characters in certain positions or roles will have. Like it’s NOT a good idea to write a trans woman as a rapist, or to have her be a serial killer, or to have her primary role be as a victim or sex object, since all those things, even if executed well, will have associations with broader, problematic cultural context. If you absolutely NEED to get into that kind of territory, or feel its extremely important, than you need to go beyond doing it WELL, you need to do it FUCKING AMAZINGLY, so that you can compensate for all that cultural baggage.

          Also important, of course, is considering whether the “laws” of your universe or arc of your narrative are themselves cissexist. For example, having a trans woman get a “REAL” woman’s body through magic or supernatural means is going to reinforce the transphobic/cissexist idea that trans women’s bodies aren’t already real, and really female, and is therefore problematic. All those things need to be considered carefully as well.

          • says

            She might end up killing a dragon, but she’s a heroine, so no worries about the serial killer/rapist cliche. It’s also a more optimistic fantasy, so I’ll probably avoid the subject of rape altogether. The worst I’ll show may be some harsh bullying, but she’s… well, like I said, she might end up killing a dragon.

          • says

            Killing dragons is fine. 🙂

            It’s “serial killer” as a specific, contemporary-setting thing that’s problematic, given the history of things like Silence of The Lambs, Sleepaway Camp, and that other one I’m forgetting about.

            Just..you know… the shortest and best answer is just “do your homework, don’t take shortcuts”. Consider your choices carefully, research trans folk, talk to trans people, get trans input as you go, etc. If you’re doing those things in a sincere way, in a sincere effort to create a compelling, non-exploitative trans character, you should be okay.

            Most of the time transploitation occurs just because those kinds of things aren’t a priority in the cis creators motives, instead caring more about profit, spectacle, or selling their own conceptual or political or philosophical agenda.

  12. Alison Barone says

    On the subject of the sacred hermaphrodite archetype–there’s this interesting book called “Gender and Genius: Towards a Feminist Aesthetics” that discusses the idea in its historical context. The author’s argument is that the idea of an inspired angrogyne is an exclusionary concept that is based on maleness and masculinity.

    The basic idea is that the romantics thought that “genius” came to men who had the feminine qualities of receptivity and emotionality, so great artists had to be like women. The really important thing is that they were LIKE women. They couldn’t BE women. A female had no potential for genius, of course, because she lacked some male quality that depended on the thinkers of the time (some philosophers made misogynistic statements about how women lacked emotionality, probably because of a bad relationship they’d had. Others would say women lacked rationality. The sensibilities changed with the times but were always exclusionary).

    Likewise, a man who was like a woman was always at the risk of becoming TOO much like a woman–the way that mental androgyny was framed was that the genius was able to walk the fine line between rationality and insanity, masculine and feminine. Crossing that threshold meant that their masculinity and maleness could not keep their feminine qualities under control–because ultimately, that’s what it really was all about: the simultaneous presence of and control over the feminine.

    The ideology of “mental androgyny” was really based on that idea of a man being able to control the mysterious feminine and have access to a higher knowledge because of it. You see it in the Victorian colonial ideology–the British man had mental androgyny, so they were recipients of God’s will, but the savages were masculine without feminine, so they were beastlike and needed to be tamed.

    You see it in the ideology of Jung, who of course invented the language of the Anima, the Animus, and the Syzygy (the hermaphrodite). But he goes out of his way to say that the Anima and Animus are not merely opposites: the Anima inspires men to create, but the Animus inspires women so that they can inspire men. He thought that if a man identified with his Anima instead of incorporating it into his Self, then he’d end up with the mental disorder of homosexuality. In other words, a gay man is less than a straight man, because he couldn’t pass the trial of taming the Anima–he was less psychically complete, and this manifested itself in his infertility. The ideal of androgyny, ironically, is dominated by dangerous boundaries that must not be crossed.

    So, yes: there’s something poignant and captivating, and very alluring, about claiming that there is a sort of inherent power to transness–that there’s a psychological or mystical wholeness about having crossed the boundaries of gender–but the reality of it is that it’s just another patriarchal construction.

  13. trazan says

    I thought of the sacred hermaphrodite in Fellinis Satyricon. The scene is not in the Petronius story. What made him put it in? I think the L-word had fun with xploitation. The show used and examined many tropes. What do people think of Hedwig and the Angry Inch?

  14. says

    There are a LOT of exploitation films that I love unreservedly, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the category of film classified as exploitation is vast and the definition of exploitation is highly fungible. Even within the various subgenres of exploitation, there are a wide variety of political viewpoints. A good example of this are the Italianate westerns. Many of them are explicitly Marxist (particularly the ones made by Sergio Corbucci–the original Django being a good example). Many of them skew more to the right (the Leone westerns, for all their style, are reflective of Eastwood’s right of center Republicanism). Others are horridly fascist. While it is true that exploitation cinema sometimes lives down to the worst things you might expect from the word “exploitation,” it’s not necessarily true that all of it does. Or even most of it. This stuff had to find an audience, after all.

    A few years ago, I had a long email conversation with a friend of mine about the alleged misogyny in some varieties of horror movies–the slasher movie in particular. His take was that they were misogynist full stop, and that was all there was to it. My take is that, yes, there’s an element of misogyny, but there actually IS a level of empowerment for (some) female characters. The slasher movie is practically the only variety of genre film in which female protagonists are common (the curious custom of the Final Girl) , are not defined by men, and have agency of their own. Many slasher movies are made by women.( I say all of this in spite of the very small number of slasher films that I like, but then Sturgeon’s law applies). You might be surprised at how many horror movies pass the Bechdel test (indeed, the movie in the original comic strip was Alien, where Ripley was the Final Girl; others that pass it include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Carrie).

    There is empowerment in the blaxploitation films, too. Fred Williamson, star of many of them, absolutely hates the word “exploitation” in reference to those films because he doesn’t feel that he was being exploited. He was working when otherwise he might not have been and he was offering an image of black men as hero for audiences that might not have seen them on screen otherwise. Many of those movies–Superfly is a good example, though Sweet Sweetback’s Badasss Song is a better one–are the equivalent of “die cis scum,” shouted at the dominant white culture by black filmmakers who were afforded a voice so long as they hit certain exploitation beats of boobs and blood. Sweet Sweetback turns that on its head, too, by offering the black man as sexual being, something that was profoundly threatening to the dominant culture at the time (and still is, to an extent).

    The line between exploitation and art is so vague as to be useless as a delimiter. Is Bergman’s The Virgin Spring art? Sure. Is it exploitation? Maybe. It’s been remade three or four times as exploitation and those films have their virtues. Is there much difference between Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Ticked Off Trannies with Knives? In terms of the imagery, no. There is not. Hedwig, like TOTwK, is a the work of a gay man appropriating and misapprehending trans images and experiences for his own uses, and that galls me. In terms of the art behind them, and the essential humanity behind them, there is a wide, wide gulf, though, and even though Hedwig galls me, it’s an amazing movie on many other levels. ToTwK, on the other hand, is made by idiots without a whiff of art or empathy. I excuse a lot if there’s art or empathy involved. The main problem with transploitation is that, unlike the rape/revenge film or the blaxploitation film, etc., it does not offer the voice of the bully pulpit of cinema to trans people themselves, where every other exploitation genre has offered it to women, people of color, gays and lesbians, respectively. Given how few of us there are, this might be something that never rights itself, because we don’t have the numbers to support a mass culture of our own. Glen or Glenda is likely to remain the only example of transploitation issuing from a (arguably) trans person speaking for themselves. I get the feeling that Lana Wachowski is going to stay away from the subject, though I suppose you could make a case that Cloud Atlas is exploitation on several axes, including gender identity. I wonder what kind of fiction films Kim Reed or Gwen Haworth would make.

    As for Tarantino….well, he’s a thieving magpie. He needs to leave his enthusiasm for blaxploitation at the level of appreciator rather than appropriator. He can’t seem to help himself. The trailers for Django Unchained make me cringe, but I’ll probably see it. He got away with this sort of thing with Jackie Brown, so it’s possible that he’ll pull it off. Still, his late career seems like pop eating itself.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to threadjack. I have a rooting interest in this subject, so I thought I’d weigh in.

    Best for the holidays.

    • says

      If Tarantino can get black actors to make black films, I’m all for it. In a way, he serves as the dumb white kid often inserted into films to get Hollywood money, and since he’s behind the camera, he doesn’t spoil the film. At least, to my eye.

      But then again, I like cartoonish movies. I don’t want to cry all the time.

      • says

        People behind the camera have a lot more power to spoil a film than a single actor ever has.

        And when considering which movies black actors perform in, it’s important to consider what roles are even made available to them. Especially when considering black actresses, especially especially darker-skinned black actresses or black actresses who otherwise don’t fit into white, normative ideals of beauty, and especially especially especially when speaking of broader film history.

        It’s simply a straight up fact that minority and female actors simply don’t have the same range of roles as white male actors, don’t have as many options and opportunities, and don’t have as much leverage for turning down parts.

        As such, a black actor’s participation in a film can NOT be casually accepted as an actual endorsement of the film, nor does pointing out black actors’ participation really work as an argument that a film isn’t part of the racism in Hollywood.

        This also applies to female actors appearing in sexist films, gay or queer actors appearing in homophobic films, and trans actors (when they EVER get work!) appearing in transphobic films. And VERY much applies to exploitation in media in general.

        For instance, you ever wondered why so many trans women appeared on those shaming, exploitative, horrible talk shows in the 80s and 90s, like Jerry Springer? They were offered a paycheck, and few of them were really in a position to turn it down. Poverty directly allowed us to be made into spectacles and freak shows for the cis audience. Just like the people (often with disabilities preventing them from regular work) who participated in actual traveling freak shows back in their heyday.

        Nowadays, this still goes on. And a VERY frequent element is journalists or documentary filmmakers or whomever assuring the trans subject that it will be a “sensitive” portrayal where they get to “tell their story”. Then after acquiring the material, the journalists or producers or whomever just go ahead and write or edit it however they want to tell the story they wanted to tell right from the outset, and “sensitivity” stops mattering, because they already have the material. This happens RIDICULOUSLY frequently. I know several trans people who’ve been exploited like that by newspapers and documentaries.

        • ghenshaw says

          You can frequently find old footage of now famous actors doing B movies or commercials. One would imagine that they were not particularly excited with the roll and just took it for the paycheck. A minute percentage of actors reach the point in their career where they can choose a roll based solely on artistic merit of the film. So I’m not yet willing to say that not fitting into white beauty norms reduces one’s opportunity to get casted in artistically interesting rolls. The sample size just seems to be too small. But there may be people here who know some stats that will set me straight.

          However, when it comes to trans women and, in a broader sense, the poor and disenfranchised, there does seem to be fetishization and exploitation in society at large. One need only recall those poor white 13 year olds screaming “you don’t know me” on every afternoon talk show in the 90’s.

  15. Nils says

    I am having a hard time integrating the transgender struggles into my cultural activism.

    Maybe you can set me straight, Natalie, but for me (as someone who struggles to simply remove gender as an identifying quality in a person), I feel like highlighting transgender people is working against my own cause. I have to acknowledge both maleness and femaleness when I acknowledge the transgendered person – and I don’t want gender to be a thing at all.

    Clothes are clothes. I want to move past the idea that there are “women’s clothing” and “men’s clothing”. Sexuality is sexuality, and personal, and I don’t really care one way or another who you choose to sleep next to or have a quicky with in the copier room.

    Am I being daft?

    • says

      Simply put, yeah, it sounds like you’re being a bit daft, and taking an overly simplistic approach to what gender actually is, as well as what maleness, femaleness, clothing, sexuality and presentation are.

      Gender isn’t as simple as a “cultural construct” and to be totally honest, I think it’s literally impossible to actually “remove gender as an identifying quality”. I also don’t think gender itself is something that needs or demands removal. It’s not an inherently destructive process… it’s the codification, assignment, enforcement, and stratification of gender that is a destructive process.

      What gender IS is simply the means by which we express, communicate and understand sexual difference… that can be difference in anatomy, difference in sexual desires, difference in one’s relationship to one’s anatomy, difference in one’s relationship to sexual desire, and difference in how one relates to broader social and cultural codes OF gender. Basically, gender is a semiotic system, a sort of language by which we express and understand ourselves to one another (in a given cultural context) about issues of sexuality and sex (sexually dimorphic or sexually loaded anatomy).

      So long as sexual difference exists between human beings, we will attempt to articulate those differences to one another, and understand those differences in one another. Therefore, so long as sexual difference exists, GENDER will exist. So long as you have two non-identical human beings interacting in any way at all, gender will emerge.

      Gender ROLES, the rigid codes and expectations we develop around gender and sex, are a different issue entirely.

      Clothes are just clothes, yes. But they’re also a lot more than that: they’re also what we say about ourselves THROUGH them. There’s nothing INHERENTLY “male” or “female” about a given article of clothing, but it would be willfully naive to ignore the fact that cultures end up assigning social and personal and cultural significance to different kinds of clothes, including significance related to gender. So clothes, and other aspects of presentation (like haircuts, make-up, grooming, nails, etc.) end up being means through which we can communicate, express and signify aspects of ourselves, and of our gender. Like… my wearing a skirt isn’t really important or “female” in and of itself. It doesn’t matter. There’s no “female” part of my brain that is directly telling me to wear skirts and dresses and “feminine”-tailored jeans. And if I lived in a culture where skirts were coded as “masculine”/”male”, I wouldn’t wear them. But what DOES matter is what ABOUT myself I’m EXPRESSING by wearing a skirt… and that’s very, very, very complex, but to put it very simplistically, one of the things I’m expressing through my clothing and presentation is that I’m a woman, that “woman” is the concept of gender in our culture that feels most meaningful to me.

      “Trans woman” isn’t perfect, but it’s the BEST term, concept and means through which I can express my gender to others, and fit myself into our cultural systems of gender. It communicates, roughly, everything that’s important to me to communicate. “Man” and “male”, conversely, DON’T reflect me. They don’t accurately reflect my anatomy, or my feelings about my anatomy, or my sexuality, and sexual desires, and the ways in which I want those desires fulfilled, the body through which I wish to fulfill them, what I’ve made of my body and what I want for it, what feels right for me in terms of inhabiting this body and what doesn’t.

      It IS incredibly important to me to express my gender, and in expressing it, have it UNDERSTOOD by the people around me, so that I can inhabit our culture and society in a way that doesn’t feel suffocating and false, so that I’m not forced to live by expectations I despise, so that people aren’t making assumptions about me I cannot (and don’t wish to) live up to, and so that I can inhabit personal relationships (sexually intimate or not) in ways that similarly feel comfortable.

      Gender is important to everyone, too, whether they really realize it or not. Feeling like gender is “no big deal” is very much a luxury afforded by people who’ve never needed to negotiate it, for whom the gender they were assigned, and the expectations lumped on them along with it, never felt inaccurate or wrong or humiliating or impossible or nonsensical.

      It is also extremely important to me that my gender is self-determined. I’ve chosen how to negotiate the concepts and ideas we’ve built around sexuality and sex and bodies in a way that works for me and feels meaningful and fulfilling. I’ve also figured out how to negotiate the cultural codes and systems of signifying gender and identity (like clothes!) in ways that similarly work for me.

      I don’t remotely trust people who’s utopian vision is to strip people of that option of self-expression.

      Being a trans woman is NOT about assuming that wanting to wear skirts makes you a woman. It’s not about thinking “femininity” and “woman” are inextricable from another. That’s a patronizing and deeply mistaken myth about what trans people’s motives and feelings are, generally coming from feminists who’ve done a lot of theorizing without ever bothering to actually talk to a trans woman.

      It’s the other way around. IF a trans woman is feminine, and IF she wants to wear skirts, that’s her means of EXPRESSING her womanhood, which is a much deeper, much more personal and complex and nuanced thing than the relative “femininity” or “masculinity” of how one dresses and behaves.

      And there are PLENTY of trans women who want nothing whatsoever to do with wearing skirts and make-up and “girly” things. There are plenty of butch trans women. And trans women who are sexually into other women. And so on. There’s as much diversity in our genders as there is in the genders of cis women.

      So… yeah, I think you were being a bit daft. But there’s a lot of material out there. Lots of discussion and ideas and essays and trans-feminism through which you can learn more, and maybe rethink some of your ideas of what gender is and whether or not it’s really a “bad” thing, and whether it even COULD be “removed” from the human condition.

      Personally, I think gender is a part of who we are. We should simply try to make the most of it. Own it. Live it. Keep it as your own. Don’t let anyone else tell you what your gender “should” be (or that you should “remove” it). And find your joy in it, even if the gender you ultimately find most meaningful is one that seems as “non-gendered” as possible.

  16. scenario says

    I have less problem with explotation films that are labeled explotation films. If I’m watching a story about a bunch of jewish people going to kill Hitler during WWII, I don’t expect accuracy. I have more problems with films that pretend to be realistic while using stereotypes.

    If I’m casting a movie and I want to have a trans person as a minor character, how do I approach the subject? If I met Natalie in person and didn’t know her, I’d just assume she was cis woman, since cis people outnumber trans people by a large margin. If the movie maker doesn’t somehow point out the character is trans, the audience would have no way of knowing. If its casually mentioned, it might fly by the audience.

    The one advantage of exploitation films is that they let people know that trans people exist. If they start migrating into better roles, it could be useful.

    In the 1970’s, the common wisdom in hollywood was that white people wouldn’t go to a movie with a black lead, except for a couple of exceptions. When Blackslotation films started making money, producers were willing to take more risks.

  17. Stacy says

    white hero killing the asian antagonist immediately after, and contextually “in response to”, her claim that she was being exploitative, “little American white girl running around playing with swords” (or something like that)


    Um, no. Not at all. The killing of O’ren (like the killing of the other, non-Asian antagonists) wasn’t “contextually in response to” O’ren Iishii’s comment. It was in response to O’ren helping to beat the hell out of the Bride prior to (what was intended to be) Bill’s murder of her.

    And the Bride’s killing the Crazy 88’s is not racist. it’s a play on a trope in Asian films: the super-skilled hero fighting off and killing the many bad guy subordinates of the main bad guy. (And the fact that she took on and defeated so many at one time was clearly one of the film’s many distancing, “this is only a movie” jokes.)

    Then there’s a bunch of sexism with all the women in the movie (except Elle, “the evil slutty bitch”), being all obsessed with babies and motherhood

    What? No they’re not. The Bride certainly wanted her baby, and chose to leave the assassination biz when she learned she was pregnant, but that doesn’t make her “obsessed with babies.” Not one of the other women is “obsessed with babies and motherhood,” unless you mean Vernita Green trying to dissuade the Bride from killing her for the sake of her 4 year old daughter.

    Notice too that Kill Bill is full of tough women who are not dressed and made up to look like sex objects.

  18. ghenshaw says

    What Tarantino does is more of a meta exploitation film. He is exploiting the exploitation film itself. That much should be clear.

  19. florian says

    Your casual “Tarantino is a racist/misogynist” leaves me baffled. It´s not the main theme of your post, but the one that led me here – via PZ´s endorsement. Having read the comments, I still don´t get it. As a white male I might lack the antennas (I wouldn´t be the first), but I would sure like to develop them.
    I can´t watch Django until it starts in Germany this weekend. But the examples of alleged sexism/racism in former Tarantino movies seem far-fetched to me. Naturally, I am familiar with the “every German who likes Basterds must be a self-hating, un-patriotic left-wing etc.” discussion. But racism/sexism because of faceless evil-doers in an Eastern parody? Or under-developed female characters in one movie?

    Since Tarantino is not the core subject of your post, and since his sexism/racism at least isn´t obvious to me, would you care to elaborate, maybe on a different post? I might learn something, just as I learned a lot from this one about Transploitation.

  20. says

    There’s another aspect to glam-rock transploitation, how it equated androgyny with whiteness. It’s something that parlayed into the 90s with goth and industrial culture (marylin manson, jared leto), and into the 00s with emo and andrej pejic. The consistent message is that male-assigned androgyny is acceptable from skinny white boys.

    I can’t tell you how many times I was discouraged from androgyny because I’m was too big and too brown. To this day, I feel really awkward when women tell me how awesome my thick curly hair is. I’m like “Really, do you want to trade? And trade bodies too and i’ll just be a white girl for a minute?” Sorry, this might be veering into TIMI territory…


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