Study Guide

Judith Butler Files

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Top Five Gender Bending Films

With random thoughts and commentary, of course. Be warned: I'm not listing all of these films because I think they're great. A lot of them deploy negative stereotypes of transsexuals and transgendered people who are just out there trying to make a statement about identity as a manifestation of desire and domination.


When you think of Psycho, you think of the shower scene. Admit it. The whole curtain parting, knife blade, screeching violin soundtrack, and Janet Leigh's blood circling the drain. I'm not interested in that stuff. What gets me is that Norman dresses up like his mother. No one should do that! This movie set gender empowerment back several centuries. Yikes.

We know Norman is nuts from the get go because he killed his mother. maybe he wanted her in a creepy Freudian way (we know he was jealous of her lover), or maybe he had repressed longings to be a woman. Whatever the case, the movie screams that transgendereds are "psycho." In fact, it was the first movie to ever use the word "transvestite'—and not in a good way (source).

See, when the D.A. calls Norman a transvestite, not even the doctor can handle the idea He responds: "Ah—not exactly. A man who dresses in women's clothing in order to achieve a sexual change or satisfaction is a transvestite. But in Norman's case, he was simply doing everything possible to keep alive the illusion of his mother being alive. And when reality came too close—when danger or desire threatened that illusion—he dressed up, even to a cheap wig he bought. He'd walk about the house, sit in her chair, speak in her voice. He tried to be his mother! And, uh—now, he is" (source.) If that's not a poor reading of transvestitism, then I don't know what is.

By the way, the judgers are everywhere: The MPAA censors got prickly about the term "transvestite," so the screenwriter had to confirm that the real definition had no relation to sex. This slasher film is a terror for all the wrong reasons.

The Silence of the Lambs

Oh great, another psychotic transvestite. Wait, it's the same one. Both Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs are based on the same serial killer—Ed Gein. (So was Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for that matter). Anyway, when you take a moment to reflect on this creeper of a film, you remember Hannibal Lecter with his fava beans and Chianti.

I, on the other hand, think of Mr. Billy Gumb, the unstable nutjob nicknamed Buffalo Bill. As Lecter describes him, "Billy hates his own identity, he always has—and he thinks that makes him a transsexual. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage"—which is to say that transvestites are just a little bit savage? Give me a break!

Don't even get me started about the moment when Billy talks to his reflection in the mirror. The movie's director had it coming when it came to all of that criticism from the GLBT community. He tried to shut up the GLBT peeps by featuring a gay man in his next movie, but the toast was already burnt.

The Crying Game

The public was in a tizzy about this film—getting all inquisitive about the film's "big surprise." So here we have a movie about the generations of violence in Ireland, but everyone is talking about transgender issues, instead. Why does that have to be everything this movie's about?

Victor Victoria

This one doesn't make me mad, but it does raise the proverbial eyebrow. How mad can I be at the woman who starred in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, though?

Good old Victoria down and out in Gay Paree. But everyone loves them some female impersonators in the City of Lights, so why not get in on that hilarious game? Well, the puzzle is that she is already a female. Side-splitting, ain't it? So she dresses up as this guy named Count Victor Grezinski, a gay female impersonator. She basically becomes a woman, acting like a man, and dressing up in drag as a woman. Oh the layers of irony.

Mrs. Doubtfire

You may not have a problem looking at Robin Williams in drag, but I do. This movie is chock full of tedious stereotypes. Everything from the gay brother's boyfriend, who embodies every gay stereotype under the sun, to the annoying Mrs. Doubtfire her/himself. (By the way, his brother is clearly the manly man paired with the womanly man, so we get to see the whole boring male/female thing played out all over again.)

Oh, and I'm supposed to get a big belly laugh over this masculine nanny? Hardly. The GLBT community outed this one as "transphobic." Get over those gender binaries, already, Hollywood.

Boys Don't Cry

Two thumbs up for this movie successfully showing how stupidly brutally people can react when someone doesn't toe the social line. Brandon Teena dresses in a masculine way but is actually female. When some Nebraska man's men discover that Brandon is transgendered, they murder him in a horrific way. It's gut-wrenching, and based on a true story, to boot.

Two thumbs down for making the love scenes between Brandon and his girlfriend look like lesbian soft porn. There's no ignoring that the two actresses are smoking hot. That's how they get the audience to care and experience a little sexual gratification in the meantime. But is that really necessary? Personally, I think it obscures what this flick is all about.

And yet I still rank this in a top ten for most heartrending transgender film ever, because it's just so good. End of story.

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