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«“I’m supposed to relate to this?” A Trans Woman On Issues Of Identification With Trans Moving Images Valérie Robin Clayman Institute of ...»

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“I’m supposed to relate to this?”

A Trans Woman On Issues Of Identification With Trans Moving Images

Valérie Robin Clayman

Institute of Women’s Studies

Faculty of Social Science

University of Ottawa

A thesis submitted to the

Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the

MA degree in Women’s Studies

© Valérie Robin Clayman, Ottawa, Canada, 2015










iv Acknowledgements

v Prologue

1 Chapter 1:


3 Chapter 2:

op and op

7 2.1) Literature Review

8 2.1.1) The Trans Character

8 2.1.2) Cross Dressers and Social Anxiety

12 2.1.3) The Gaze

14 2.1.4) What is Trans in film?

18 2.1.5) Do Trans Moving Images Affect Trans Experience?

19 2.2) Research Question

21 2.2.1) Transitioning Times

21 2.2.2) Transitioning Minds

23 Chapter 3:

Looks Familiar

26 3.1) Introduction

26 3.2) Stop Gazing At Me

27 3.3) Theories Of Identification

28 3.3.1) Identification With All

28 3.3.2) Identification With Some

30 3.4) Trans (Identity) Identification

31 3.5) Conclusion

33 Chapter 4:

Me, Myself, and Trans

34 Introduction

34 4.1) Storytelling

35 4.2) Autoethnography

36 4.3) Pseudo Scripts and A Chosen Few (Trans Moving Images)

39 4.4) My Trans CORPus

40 4.4.1) Hedwig and the Angry Inch

40 4.4.2) Dallas Buyers Club

41 4.4.3) Transparent

42 Chapter 5:


44 Introduction

44 5.1) Hedwig And The Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)

44 5.1.1) Make up your mind


The Origin of Love or The Origin of Hedwig

45 5.1.2) Deny Me and Be


Hedwig’s Inch Fits In Your Pocket

51 5.2) Dallas Buyers Club Marc Vallée, 2013)

54 5.2.1) Sticks and


This is what they are selling

55 iii 5.2.2) Mainstreaming


Jared Leto is not in my club

58 5.2.3) Untransing Dallas Buyers


Rayon as Drag Queen

61 5.3) Transparent (Jill Soloway, 2014)

63 5.3.1) Please Let Me Do


Transparent is transparent

64 5.4) TRANSlate This

69 5.4.1) Trans (Body) Image Received

70 5.4.2) Family is Familiar

72 Chapter 6:

Conclusions and Allusions

76 6.1) Trans Moving


Let’s Review and What Is New

76 6.2) Pass The


It’s Raining Trans

80 6.3) Maura means “Teacher”:

My Transitioning Gaze

81 6.4) Inclusion via Exclusion

85 6.5) My Transition’s Omission or Final Thoughts

86 Bibliography

88 iv

–  –  –

This thesis challenges common assumptions of trans moving images by applying theories of identification to an autoethnographic close reading of three specific texts – Hedwig and The Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001), Dallas Buyers Club (JeanMarc Vallée, 2013) and Transparent (Jill Soloway, 2014) - considered by both mainstream and queer audiences to feature transgender characters and experiences. This thesis, while limited to the author’s experience as a trans woman, attempts to advance the argument that identification with trans moving images may change with one’s transition and require a reassessing of “what is trans” along with resituating the trans spectator from

–  –  –

Acknowledgements Here I am, either at the end or the beginning of something truly wonderful. I would like to give a big thank you to my brilliant, supportive, and often quite funny supervisor, Dr. Florian Grandena. I would like to thank him for taking me from dizzy misunderstood young woman trapped in the body of an adult woman and turning me into an academic activist who feels as if she can change her world with words.

Dr. Kathryn Trevenen and Dr. Mireille McLaughlin kept me grounded me in reality when my ideas became too big for my brain and the allotted time and space requirements of the Masters program. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive committee.

My transition from nervous returning adult undergrad to graduate studies student and researcher could not have happened without the encouragement of the following people. In a very particular order, I’d like to give a warm hug and thank you to Dr.

Alexander Antonopoulos who believed in me from the start. Some of my best Concordia memories are of he and I hashing out gender politics over beer and fries at the local pub. I would like to thank Dr. Chantal Maillé who put up with my sarcasm and was instrumental in shipping me off to Ottawa. I would also like to give special thanks Dr.

Candis Steenbergen who championed my blending of theory, pop culture, and livedexperience.

My University of Ottawa experience could never have happened without the support and friendship of uOttawa Institute of Women’s Studies Ambassador Extraordinaire Dr. Alexandre Baril. I’d also like to thank the following colleagues here at the Institute for lending me their ears when I needed to talk and their shoulders when I

–  –  –

and Daphne Enns. A huge thank you goes to the incredible Jami McFarland first for introducing me to Florian and then for always making herself available to answer my random thesis related questions.

On the personal side of things, I’d like to thank my mom and dad – Barbara and Michael - for all the supportive phone calls that kept my spirits up while I was putting pen to paper during my weekly hotel stays in Ottawa. I’d also like to thank my in-laws, Gary and Glenda Susser for all the amazing pep talks they’ve given me these past few years. Go Team Valley!

Above all else, I dedicate this work to Stephie. You are my everything. You do more than simply encourage me to be the best person I can be. You love me, inspire me,

–  –  –

Prologue How Am I Expected To Identify With This Gaze? Or Thoughts of a Trans Viewer I knew from the moment I saw her hands that she was different.

She was stunning and even though I could not take my eyes off of her, I could tell that she had a secret. I looked around at all the other people in the darkened theatre and wondered if they knew her secret as well; I wondered if they knew that I shared the same secret.

As the film unspooled, I imagined a new script being written:

Scene: The Lowes Cinema, Downtown Montréal, 1992.

A young man, in his early twenties is enjoying the latest ‘word of mouth’ movie sensation with his female friend. The film is independently distributed by Miramax Films and was filmed entirely in Ireland and England. It has been marketed as an IRA thriller with a secret and for the first 60 minutes of its running time, the marketing has been dead on. The young couple, as well as the full house, has been on the edge of their seats since the opening credits. The biggest thrill, however, comes at the halfway mark in the narrative. It turns out that our gorgeous, sensual and passionate female lead is not what she appears to be. The audience gasps in horror and revulsion as they discover that the woman who had been charming them since she first emerged on screen had… a penis.

Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game was a critical and commercial smash earning six Academy Award nominations including one for Best Supporting Actor for Jaye Davidson’s portrayal of Dil, the film’s transgender heroine (Daniel & Jackson, 2003, p.

119). What followed the ‘big reveal’ was an amiable love story involving a rogue IRA soldier named Fergus and a trans woman that contained no sex and no possibilities for anything more than flirty banter between the two leads. After all, Dil had ‘deceived’

–  –  –

At the time, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I may indeed be trans myself. I knew how I felt inside but I had no idea how to reconcile these emotions. It was 1992, and I wondered if I could ever transition in a world where people were afraid of transsexuals. I was amazed by Jaye Davidson’s ability to convey on-screen the femininity that I felt inside, but did the screenwriters have to make her ‘big secret’ appear to be so deceitful? Did the audience have to cheer when Fergus discovered Dil’s secret and punched her in the face? I wanted to look up to Dil. I wished that I could be as confident, charming, and beautiful as she was. I wanted someone I could aspire to be, just like everyone else. I wanted to see some variation of myself up on the big screen. I wanted the world to know that trans people were just like them. The Crying Game showed them that

–  –  –

Chapter 1:

Introduction Does the autobiographical piece in the above prologue sound familiar to you? If you’re trans, or simply fascinated (however problematic that may be) by the trans experience, you’ve either experienced it or seen it before in some form of pop media. I finally came out as trans in summer of 2006, after years of internalized transphobia and shame brought on by harmful representations of trans people doomed to failure. My story (thankfully) has a happy ending even if these types of representations kept me in the closet longer than they should have. For many trans people, their ending is not as happy.

The rate of suicide or suicidal attempts is higher amongst the trans community than any other marginalized group. According to a recent study, 41% of the trans community reported a lifetime suicide attempt compared to only 4.6% of the entire U.S. population (Haas, Rodgers, & Herman, 2014). Statistics on acts of violence and homicide toward trans women of colour are horrifying (O'Hara, 2014). In 2012, 53% of anti-LGBTQ homicides were transgender women, while 73% of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were people of colour (Giovanniello, 2013). Negative representations of trans people in pop culture may be one of the reasons behind these horrible statistics. In the same way that mainstream audiences consider gay stereotypes acceptable regardless of the harmful implications they present, cinematic trans representations may allow for the use of verbal or physical violence as a defense to the unveiling of the trans person (women, in particular) on film as well as in real life. While it has never been proven that specific trans representations have a perlocutory power, they legitimize transphobic discourses

–  –  –

I have seen many trans moving images since The Crying Game, but I have yet to see one Hollywood film (not including bio-pics) that does not use a trans character as a murderer as in Dressed To Kill (Brian DePalma, 1980), The Silence Of The Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991) and Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 1983); a gimmick as in The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992) and Transamerica (Duncan Tucker (2005); or to generate laughs through the “repulsive” unveiling of a penis on a woman as in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Tom Shadyac, 1994), The Naked Gun 33 1/3 (Peter Segal, 1994) and The Hangover Part II (Todd Phillips, 2011). All of these moving images and the trans archetypes they reference had a profound affect on my coming out narrative.

Imagine if trans characters in the movies weren’t all serial killers or the punch line to a joke. Would I have come out sooner? What if trans people could be the “bearer of the look” (Mulvey, 1975) rather than the “object of the gaze”? Would this inspire trans people to become a part of a creative and cathartic process of storytelling?

Recent contributions to the scholarly research are starting to look past the male gaze and to an understanding of media representations informed by trans people (Ryan J.

R., 2009; Leung, Keywords: FILM, 2014), but much of the academic work available on trans moving images is not current and does not reflect the social and cultural human rights shifts taking place. This is not to disregard the incredible amount of pop culture discussion of trans moving images that are also valid and ongoing in both trans and cis gender blogs, forums, and online magazines. These passionate voices need to be heard as well and - as such - I have sourced quite a number of respected trans blog writers in my

–  –  –

Much of the available scholarly literature (at the time of this research) on trans moving images is confined to defining gender and sexuality through the lens of psychoanalytic theory (Halberstam, 2005). While Freudian and Lacanian theory provides the foundation for the better part of film theory, it has succeeded only in reproducing problematic concepts of a gender binary where subversion of this binary leads to either laugher (at the expense of the character) or death (of the character) (Phillips, 2006, pp. 3, 19, 21). If voyeuristic visual pleasure is derived from objectifying the cinematic object (according to Freud) and narcissistic visual pleasure is obtained through selfidentification with that same object (according to Lacan) (Smelik, 1999), can it not be said that film theory acts as a gatekeeper to trans moving images much in the way that psychoanalysis acts as a gatekeeper towards trans peoples’ access to health care? The theory used in this discourse determines the spectator and thereby distances itself from the actual lived experience of trans people. In other words, it could be argued that film theory pathologizes trans folk much in the way that the medical community does. As a trans woman, I feel alienated by film theory’s use of psychoanalysis.

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