Recently there was a dust up on lists and blogs in and around Indy about the inclusion of The Gendercator in the upcoming LGBT film festival. Many people stated that the film was transphobic and should be pulled from the schedule. Many of those people had not seen the film and some cited the director's comments in support of their judgement. Some of us were concerned at what we perceived as a rush to judgement, and made uncomfortable by the idea of silencing or erasing someone or their ideas. As the brouhaha developed, the board of INTRAA thought that the issue needed to be addressed, but that we should not comment without having seen the film ourselves.
Coming to a theater near you
By the time that the film was screened, the issue was much bigger than the unimportant film itself. The issues of how we deal with diversity and dissent in our community deserve a thorough ventilating, and how we deal with unpopular or uncomfortable views needs to be explored. There are many names for our community; I prefer "the accepting community," because while our roots are in GLBT history and culture, we struggle to accept everyone. It is not always easy. It is not always possible. But it is always worth the effort, and it makes me proud to be involved. The organizers of the film festival have agreed with INTRAA and others to host a discussion early in the new year of the issues raised by the discussion of the film. I hope everyone will attend, listen, and be heard.
The Gendercator is a transphobic film. Let me explain. I do not think that we should use such labels lightly, and I believe that we owe our audience and those involved in presenting it a detailed explanation. A film is not transphobic merely because it shows some transpeople in a bad light nor because it raises issues that make us uncomfortable. The Gendercator is a small film, not worthy of this controversy, however useful the controversy made prove to be. The premise of the film is that fundamentalist Christians have taken over the government in the future and imposed their narrow, bigoted views of sex and gender roles on everyone. "The trannies went along." The first part of the premise inspired Margaret Atwood to pen The Handmaid's Tale. I do not find it outlandish. Atwood used it to inform a cautionary tale on the evils of trying to ensure conformity, which is an important message. The second part of the premise is somewhat puzzling, but might with qualifications, be allowed as dramatic license. What is not acceptable is that having sold the new regime as fundamentalist, the author never again mentions the Christian influence, neither in the policies nor in who enforces them. All of the oppressors are transpeople, even though there is no exploration of why they would adopt such a role. That is intellectual dishonesty and bad art.
Moreover not only are transpeople depicted as the oppressors, they are also the victims--how horrible to be trans--, and the heroine's nightmare. In short, the only subject of The Gendercator is the evils of trans; and only FTM. The comments of the author are not essential to a discussion of a work of art, and in this case would not help to explain away its failures. The most basic tool for discovering what the film is about is to measure how it spends its most valuable asset: in the case of a film, running time. As I have noted, the time of this film is spent depicting trans people as oppressors who force innocents to transition (again, the premise would seem to allow people to remain as they were, but the film only depicts what it views as the awfulness, or tragedy, of transition) and the imagined horrors of that transition. Seen as what it does and how it does it, The Gendercator is entirely devoted to various imagined evils of trans people and transition. As such, it is simply transphobic. There really is no other message or issue in the film.
Nevertheless, I do not think that it should have been pulled. Nor do I think that it should have been scheduled. The act of pulling under pressure of protest seems to me too close for comfort to the evils visited on our community because of the "strongly held beliefs" of a few vocal bigots. Were this film an eight reeler (or feature-length film), and were it the opening-night offering rather than an inconsequential short, I probably would have reluctantly supported pulling it. I do not think that the film is worth the effort to pressure festivals or movie houses to ban it. I do, however, urge the writer/director to remove it from circulation; it does her no credit. I do not think that the LBGT Film Festival should have scheduled it. If the selection committee cannot understand why it is inappropriate, INTRAA would be happy to provide someone with a trans point of view, and there should be film critics available capable of performing the kind of analysis that I have demonstrated above.
A word about Birth of a Nation which was mentioned as analogous to The Gendercator in the discussion prior to the festival: Birth of a Nation is a venomously racist film, and that is not its only flaw. But it holds a place in movie history as the first release longer than one reel. It is also a grandiose film well worth seeing, if your stomach is very strong. I would hope that it is shown only in the context of understanding of film and American history, in an advanced class or with ample oportunity for discussion, rather than in general release or at Klan rallies, but it is not a part of our culture that should be swept under the rug until all the echoes of its ignorance and hatred have died away. The Gendercator is forgettable and should be forgotten.
The Bloomington Pride Film Festival just closed a very successful weekend. They screened The Gendercator along with a film on Latina butches and FTMs, followed by a panel discussion and generous question and answer period. They also had an screening of another work about FTMs and butches followed by a discussion with the director. They screened a variety of films about trans folk, including the amazing Cruel and Usual, a film about MTFs serving time in prison.
The panel discussion following The Gendercator addressed the film and controversy from a historic, academic and national perspective. It was not the conversation about tensions in our community I hoped for, but it was interesting to learn some of the history of the San Francisco part of the story. The discussion did raise questions about what the film was doing.
Uncomfortable questions are... uncomfortable. We could crawl off into our separate corners feeling hurt, or we can trust each other and talk it out. We have done amazing things together in the past, I look forward to our future together.