Hi everyone, welcome to another Weekly Wail/Fireside Chat with me, your occasional wet blanket and voice of reason, J.M. Brannyk!
Happy Trans Week 2020! We’re reaching the end and I hope it was a safe and happy week.
I myself identify as genderfluid, which is old person talk for NB/nonbinary/…..sigh “enby” (I’m old, sorry little ones). Which I was recently reminded is a form of transgendered. I sometimes forget the umbrellas I stand under.
But, let’s talk trans, eh?
Especially trans in horror.
What is it?
Well, dipping into https://transequality.org’s website, I’m going to take some info:
Transgender people are people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. “Trans” is often used as shorthand for transgender.
When we’re born, a doctor usually says that we’re male or female based on what our bodies look like. Most people who were labeled male at birth turn out to actually identify as men, and most people who were labeled female at birth grow up to be women. But some people’s gender identity – their innate knowledge of who they are – is different from what was initially expected when they were born. Most of these people describe themselves as transgender.
A transgender woman lives as a woman today, but was thought to be male when she was born. A transgender man lives as a man today, but was thought to be female when he was born. Some transgender people identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of male and female. There are a variety of terms that people who aren’t entirely male or entirely female use to describe their gender identity, like non-binary or genderqueer.
People can realize that they’re transgender at any age. Some people can trace their awareness back to their earlier memories – they just knew. Others may need more time to realize that they are transgender. Some people may spend years feeling like they don’t fit in without really understanding why, or may try to avoid thinking or talking about their gender out of fear, shame, or confusion. Trying to repress or change one’s gender identity doesn’t work; in fact, it can be very painful and damaging to one’s emotional and mental health. As transgender people become more visible in the media and in community life across the country, more transgender people are able to name and understand their own experiences and may feel safer and more comfortable sharing it with others.
The Trans Killer:
There are so many amazing articles out there about the trans killer, so I’m going to highlight a few for you to check out.
Logan Ashley has an amazing and incredibly in-depth look at some trans killers in the article, “A Timeline of Transgender Horror”. Which was also hilarious because he said, “I refused to watch Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives on principle” and that was a podcast Jim and I did for ComboBox at my own request: part 1 and part 2.
But honestly, if you want a good, long read and analysis before bed, this is the article for you (plus he’s got other really good articles about gender and pop culture).
“Blood, Bodies, and Binaries: Trans Women in Horror,” by Jenni Holtz is a classic piece that everyone should read about some major trans women killers and their influence in horror. It’s short, but concise and is a cornerstone piece when talking about horror and gender (however, I’m still not convinced about Angela):
Horror movies provide a vehicle for viewers to project their own struggles with fear, loss and death and to be able to engage with those feelings in a contained manner that is socially acceptable. By making trans women objects of fear, films like these reinforce harmful ideas about trans identity.Jenni Holtz, Blood, Bodies, and Binaries: Trans Women in Horror
In an article titled, “Who’s Afraid Of The Big, Bad Trans Woman? On Horror and Transfeminity”, Mey Rude talks about her own experiences while watching Insidious 2 (besides boredom…wait, that was me) and the trans experience in horror as a larger theme and as that translates to real life:
The movies that use trans people or crossdressers as a scare tactic don’t bother to make a distinction between the two. Because of this, for many viewers of these movies, these characters have been their only pop culture reference points when a trans woman is mentioned. That means that when they hear that someone is a trans woman, they have a list of characters that are lumped into this general category of ‘women who are really men’ and that category is filled with psychopaths and serial killers.Mey Rude, Who’s Afraid Of The Big, Bad Trans Woman? On Horror and Transfeminity
Trans as Body Horror
And while werewolf films are perhaps the most obvious example, body horror in a more broad sense still checks most of the parallels. Any film about the transformation of the body, or about the death and rebirth of a person, can have a transgender reading.Logan Ashley, A Timeline of Transgender Horror
Before we start with the next articles, here’s a fun exercise from https://transequality.org:
Thought Exercise: Thinking About Your Own Gender
It can be difficult for people who are not transgender to imagine what being transgender feels like. Imagine what it would be like if everyone told you that the gender that you’ve always known yourself to be was wrong. What would you feel like if you woke up one day with a body that’s associated with a different gender? What would you do if everyone else—your doctors, your friends, your family—believed you’re a man and expected you to act like a man when you’re actually a woman, or believed you’re a woman even though you’ve always known you’re a man?
Sounds like the start to a good horror film, right?
Because for some people it is. I mean…real life, not a film. I guess a docum- you get the point. This is a common and easy trope found in thrillers and horror, all the way from frickin’ Gaslight (Reddit users, calm yourselves at the mention) to The Vanishing Hotel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
It’s basically Star Trek’s four lights, over and over, except by the people that are supposed to be taking care of you or holding your well-being at heart.
Except it’s your own body that everyone is telling you that you’re wrong about. So not only is there a disconnection/disphoria with your own body, but the people you need to listen to you.
Samwise Lastname on the website GenderTerror.com, expresses in detail the similarities of the trans experience with Cronenburg’s Antiviral and The Brood, in the article, “Antiviral: A Transgender Take on Body Horror”:
There’s a long history of queer people being institutionalized, forced into psychiatric programs, and stripped of their privacy. Gender nonconformity or being gay were once mental illnesses, after all. Even if that’s no longer true, many gender clinics still require patients to have their gender dysphoria diagnosed by a psychologist.Samewise Lastname, Antiviral: A Transgender Take on Body Horror
Matthew Rogerson goes old school with “A Body in Transformation: Cronenburg’s Body Horror as Transgender Cinema” and has some good citations of other places to check into trans body horror. He brings us back to horror being for and to the marginalized, much like the horror genre generally is:
Horror is, of course, no stranger to empowering narratives for marginalised people, and recently, Cronenberg’s most visceral, most visually unsettling and disturbing output, has contributed to conversations of transgender cinema.– Matthew Rogerson, A Body in Transformation: Cronenburg’s Body Horror as Transgender Cinema
And Sasha Geffen’s incredible and utterly heart-felt, “Trans Horror Stories and Society’s Fear of the Transmasculine Body” talks in depth about Hereditary, transmasculinity and society’s misunderstanding and fear of it:
It can be nearly impossible to describe this experience to those who do not share it. Arguing for the existence of a primordial gender — not a clothing preference, not an affinity for a certain color scheme, not a set of stereotypical behaviors — is like arguing for the existence of a soul. The only language we have is spiritual, and more often than not we are preaching to nonbelievers.Sasha Geffen, Trans Horror Stories and Society’s Fear of the Transmasculine Body
You’re Reading Too Much Into It. It’s Not That Big of a Deal.
In October I was in a webinar about intersectionality (because of course I was) and thankfully I always have my webcam off because I was overwhelmed. I think a lot of things hit at once, but something the speaker said really hit me in a way that blindsided me.
“The life expectancy of trans women of color is just 35 years old.”
Now, Imma cut this off here, because it’s a bogus stat: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2019/09/23/41471629/is-the-life-expectancy-of-trans-women-in-the-us-just-35-no
It was basically a game of telephone, but it shows how little we really know about our own trans communities (especially POC and Black), scientifically and as a whole. Trust me, I am NOT saying this to discredit any hardship that trans people face because without a doubt they face some of the worst discrimination and harassment, including physical violence and sexual assault.
But my point is that it’s easy to throw up stats, and feel sad, and keep going without even looking into it.
And in our beloved horror genre, trans people have been quite the punching bag for a long time.
In the Dead Meat podcast #54: Transgender Representation in Horror, Joan Ford joined James and Chelsea to talk about some of the trans icons and stereotypes. In it, Ford mentions the big push back that many trans/LGBTQ people hear constantly: “You’re reading too much into it. It’s not that big of a deal.”
But when you are marginalized, it is. Our culture, especially pop culture, is representative of our collective thoughts, feelings, and motivations as a society. It is a reflection, a mirror of who we are during a period of time. Horror cannot and should not be excluded. It should be examined and held up to the light for imperfections. I’m not saying that any of these movies are bad, but I’m saying that representation matters and it’s time to let old tropes, shadows of our fearful past of “the other”, die.
As bell hooks said (pulls out heavy grab-bag of bell hooks quotes), in “killing rage: Ending Racism”:
Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.bell hooks, killing rage: Ending Racism
And while she was speaking on racism, many of the same sentiments can be linked towards the LGBTQ community because, guess what, there’s a lot of different ethnicities and colours within our LGBTQ and #HorrorFam.
The more we can see and understand that intersectionality and be open to people’s points of views and criticisms, the healthier and stronger our community and culture will be.
So, that being said, please go watch an old timey movie that was mentioned in the articles (some are on Tubi for free) and just take a mental step back this time watching them. Try to figure out a few new things for yourself.
I’d also say hug a trans person, but instead (pandemic and all), maybe just follow some people on Twitter and let them know that, yeah, maybe they’re not reading into it and it is a big deal.