Overture

Imagine having to leave home to get away from the thoughts and opinions of those surrounding you. Imagine feeling so alone. Imagine having to live your life through a secret. Overture is a short film that is about a transgender girl who starts college and locks away her past from everyone. In the beginning of the film Samantha, the main character, refuses to allow people into her life. This all changes when she meets Will and Jeff. Around Will she. Jeff is her gay friend and the only person that knows Samantha’s secret. She kept it hidden from everyone else fearing what others would think. Samantha’s roommate was the one to uncover the truth. Her roommate told all of Samantha’s friends and Will. This was the turning point in the film. Until this point, she felt like she was complete. After the word was out, she let that take control of her life. The film shows her sad and alone, it is like she is afraid to leave the comfort of her room and face people. Then, the first encounter between her and Will since finding out the truth, ends rather harsh. Through all the pain, she learned some valuable lessons like to embrace being transgender and force others to really see her. She learned to face reality with pride.

This short film was different from Casey Plett’s writing discussing her life as a transgender. Casey wrote in a very casual tone and, at times, made it even humorous or light hearted and straight forward where Overture was mainly a sad film. The entire film was about Samantha hiding the fact that she was transgender instead of embracing it. Casey seemed more open to allowing others to understand what she was going through. She was willing to open up to her roommate, friends, and girlfriend and they turned out to be very supportive. The people that mattered most, respected her and liked her for being herself. Samantha did not want to open up to anyone; she tried to stay closed off and hide any evidence of her previous life. When others did finally find out, they were angry with her for keeping it from them. They also looked at her differently. In ways, these pieces can be very similar, though. Both are about a young adult who now identifies as a female. Both pieces show how others do not understand transgender people. They struggled with coming to terms with being transgender and how others react to that. These pieces both show their struggle with dating. Casey writes a piece about the guy she met at the bar showing she was afraid to pursue him. Samantha was hesitant towards Will, at first, and even after getting to know him, refused to reveal the truth. I believe Casey and Samantha came to an understanding about themselves, as well. There was a special moment for Casey when she decided to refer to herself as a female, and there was a similar moment for Samantha at the end of the film, when she realized she should stand proud and stay true to herself.

I think this film did a decent job of showing how challenging it is for transgender people to feel accepted. I think it also goes to show that the people who truly care about you, do not care what you identify as; they just want you to be happy. I do think the film could have been a little more realistic of the hardships a transgender college student would face. To me, it did not seem like the film took place at a college, and the way the characters acted did not match up with how I would assume a college student would act.

Pretty Little Transgender

The ABC Family television show, “Pretty Little Liars” has recently been one of the most popular shows on air. Over the past five years, millions of fans have been watching the lives of (from left to right) Spencer Hastings, Hanna Marin, Emily Fields, and Aria Montgomery unfold after the queen bee of their group (center), Alison DiLaurentis, disappeared one night.

Soon after Ali went missing, the other four girls began recieving threatning text messages from an unknown source known as “A.” I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not Alison. It would be far too easy if it was Alison. Besides, Alison ends up coming home later in the series and getting tortured by “A,” as well. The entire plot/mystery of this show would take me far too long to try to explain. However, there is one aspect of this show that connects directly to the LGBT community: “A.”

“A” is one of the most cruel, heartless, and insane characters I have ever come across. “A’s” goal in life was to ruin the main character’s lives, and “A” did pretty well at it. While “A” managed to reveal every secret each girl ever had, these girls also have been put in the hospital, been in trouble with the police, been drugged, gagged, gassed, burnt, and even attempted to be drowned.  Here’s some examples of how terrible “A” is:

1. “A” hit Hanna with a car!

2. “A”  crashed a car into Emily’s home!

3. “A” tried to burn the girls alive!

4. “A” kidnapped all of the girls and put them in a real life dollhouse where they were tortured!

5. Finally, “A” set them up as murderers!

In summary, “A” has done a lot of terrible and psychopathic things.

In the most recent season finale, the identity of the horrendous “A” was revealed after five years of waiting.

“A’s” real name is Cece (full name Charlotte) Drake, who was born as Charles DiLaurentis. Charles just so happens to be the lost brother of main character Alison DiLaurentis.

“A” is a transgender woman.

Charles DiLaurentis

Cece Drake

As a child, Charles acted out. For instance, he accidentally dropped baby Alison into the tub while trying to give her a bath. His father found them and thought that Charles was trying to drown Alison. After multiple incidents, they sent him to live at Radley, a mental hospital.

A very crucial video (pay attention until 2:12):

Charles spent his whole childhood and teenage years in the seclusion of a mental hospital where only his mother visited him. His father never accepted him. His mother, however, accepted Charles for who he really was and let him become Cece. Although she was accepting towards Cece, she told everyone on the outside that Charles had died in Radley.

Alison never even knew of Charles’ existence, and Mr. DiLaurentis was under the impression that Charles was dead and gone.  Mrs. Dilaurentis continued to see Cece in secret after her transition.

This transgender woman lived a life of seclusion and loneliness, only wanting to be with her family and accepted for who she really was. Instead, she was surrounded by a world of hatred and lies.

Looking back on the horrible, crazy things that Cece did as “A”, it sheds a terrible light in the transgender community.

Since Cece was so full of rage towards the girls and her family, she tormented them. Susan Stryker talks about the term “Transgender Rage”  in her article, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above The Village of Chamounix,” that easily applies to Cece: “Transgender rage is a queer fury, an emotional response to conditions in which it becomes imperative to take up, for the sake of one’s own continued survival as a subject, a set of practices that precipitates one’s exclusion from a naturalized order of existence that seeks to maintain itself as the only possible basis for being a subject” (249).

Cece was secluded and rejected from her family her entire life. When applying the term “Transgender Rage” to Cece, one can assume that it was her motivation to become “A.” However, I don’t think a normal transgender person would ever go as far as to do what Cece did to innocent people, and it is an awfully negative representation of the transgender community.

ABC Family associated transgender with evil, sociopathic behavior; an association that no group of people would ever want. Transgender people all deal with major hardships when transitioning as it is, and this negative representation in such popular media is a slap in the face.

“Pretty Little Liars” is also a series of 19 books by Sara Shepard. The major plot of the books is represented in the show, but the show has many different aspects. In the books, “A” is not a transgender woman, and I think the mystery is still just as captivating, if not more captivating.

ABC Family did not have to choose the transgender route, and many fans think they did it just to jump on the transgender bandwagon following Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner. However, the creators of the show claim they made the decision to make “A” transgender four years ago.

Executive producer Marlene King told Buzzfeed.com, “I knew we had so many years to build this story and make it layered and not what it could have been. We were pretty confident we would get a few negative responses — and there are negative responses from people who just don’t want to see transgender on TV at all,” she said. “To be honest, I see a lot more of those than people who were upset about a transgender villain. I think, again, we’re bringing more awareness to the subject and, really, humanizing Charlotte.”

I disagree with the fact that they are “humanizing” Cece. According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, the definition of “humanize” is to “to make (someone or something) seem gentler, kinder, or more appealing to people.”

The character of “A” completely contradicts that definition. “A” was not gentle or kind; she tortured people and even killed some.

That is definitely not “humanizing” to me. If anything, it reflects to the public that they should fear transgender people because they are insane.

I will admit that the creators of the show did give Cece a back story that probably many transgender people can relate to, and it does spread awareness for the terrible treatment that transgender people go through. However, I think “A” was the wrong character to spread awareness with. Most of “A’s” wrath was directed towards Spencer, Hanna, Emily, and Aria, who did nothing to Cece directly. In turn, she hurt innocent people that had nothing to do with the foul treatment against her.

Overall, the representation of the transgender community in the television show, “Pretty Little Liars,” comes off as extremely negative and may even increase transphobia in our society. Cece Drake, previously known as Charles DiLaurentis, may have a past that other transgender people can relate to, but how she turns out is insulting to anyone like her.

Valentina Thompson (theseoverusedwords)

For my last ever post on this blog, I am going to be writing about my best friend and poet, Valentina Thompson. A little backstory: I have known her since we were little 10/11 year olds competing for the most reading points in our English class. The competition made us bond and we became friends and she stuck by me all throughout high school and even through college even though I moved across the country. We are from a small city just outside of Los Angeles, California and she started writing sometime in high school—somewhere around our junior year—and our whole friend group knew her as “The Tomboy.” In October 2012 (our freshman year of college), she made a Facebook video coming out as bisexual. She explains how she feels about sexuality and clears up some misconceptions about who she is as a person. Nowadays, she identifies as a lesbian and she attends the Pride Parade in San Francisco every year.

She has grown as a poet since writing on her calculus homework in high school: she runs a poetry blog on Tumblr and she has even been published on Poetry.com; she is also looking into publishing her own book of poems. She is very much an open book and writes through a lot of her pain. Valentina share something in common: we were both told that we suffer from depression and poetry is her outlet. Everything she writes, you can feel in your soul.

One of the poems I want to bring attention to is one she published 10 months ago titled “A Facebook Post about Facebook Posting about Sexuality.”

A Facebook Post about Facebook Posting about Sexuality

The title is pretty straightforward—she vents about what it is like to be “different” in a heteronormative society. She talks about what it feels like to have stigmas have an effect on how she goes about her day. She explains how words make a difference and that she is not asking for much—she is just asking for equality and for people to listen and try to understand.  This poem speaks to how frustrated she is because she feels silenced. She feels the heteronormative pressure that keeps building no matter what she does. My favorite line in this whole poem, though, is “…every single one of us who is out and visible and vocal about what we’re being denied is brave. And special. And worthy.” This speaks so much to me because I know how hard it is for LGBTQ+ adolescents and adults to accept themselves, much less think they are worthy of basic human rights such as equality. It it frustrating to read how torn my friend is about her lack of equality, and that’s just dealing with one aspect of herself. That’s just the frustrating that comes with being out of sync with heteronormative society.

Another one of my favorite poems, that should have attention brought to it is “Broken Fuses and Bathtubs (LGBTQ/Suicide Awareness).” This poem hits so hard with me because the people she is speaking about in this poem are people that I also know. These are people that also understand her struggle and just need to feel worthy and special. This poem also highlights how important it is to recognize that their lives are not something to be sexualized but also looked down on because it is different. It deals with the very real reality that suicide is not just an idea. It deals with the very real reality that there are people that have to hide themselves for their own safety and for their own sanity. The people she lists at the end are people I know I love–they’re people I didn’t realize were struggling. These aren’t just people who identify as gay and lesbian. These are people who are often forgetten when equality is sought. These are people who also identify as bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, asexual, etc. These are people who should not feel forgotten.

The last poem that I will talk about is “Why Your Depressed Lover Keeps Saying Sorry.”

Why Your Depressed Lover Keeps Saying Sorry

 

This poem never fails to make me cry, and she even read this poem aloud at a poetry reading and I come back to it every once in awhile to remind myself that I am not alone in feeling the way I do. This poem speaks to the side of her that has to deal with another sect of misrepresentation and inequality: mental illness. I can tell you from my own experience that dealing with depression sucks. It’s awful. It feels like nothing could ever make you happy again. It feels like someone has turned off all the lights and left you alone in the dark. But then trying to explain this to other people is a nightmare. As soon as I saw this poem on my Facebook feed, I tagged my boyfriend in it and I read it to him that night because there were finally words for me to help me express these feelings to him. Her poetry is rarely gender-specific, so it is something you can identify with and apply to your own life. Being able to identify with the author is so important because you don’t feel like they’re feeding words to you that they think you would want to hear. She speaks from the heart and gives the reader every piece of her.

Valentina Thompson, what can I say. Her poetry is so beautiful and if you get the chance, you should really check out her poetry tag on Tumblr. (i love you val)

The History of Pride Flags

The very first gay pride flag made its first appearance in 1978. The original flag had eight colors. Today’s gay pride flag has only six colors. Each of the colors represent a different aspect of life. The first gay pride flag was created by Gilbert Baker. He is an artist from San Francisco. Among the gay pride flag there is other pride flags that represent different pride groups. Some of these other pride flags are Leather Pride, Bear Pride, Bisexual Pride, Lesbian Pride, Transgender Pride, Asexual Pride, and Feather Pride. These are only a few of the other pride there is many more. The other main one that I want to focus on is the Bear Pride flag, because this was the next pride flag that was created. Craig Byrnes was the designer of the Bear Pride flag. He came up with the official design in 1995 as the bear pride community was growing. Each color represents all the different types of real bears all around the world.

                        

(the flag on the left is the original 8 color flag and the flag in the middle is the present 6 color flag and the flag on the right is the ear pride flag)

Gay pride and bear pride along with leather pride are the top three pride groups that usually attend pride fests. In class we watched a short clip from “Where the Bears Are”. This is an internet show about the Bear pride community. It is a comedy mystery web series which won the 2012 “Best Gay Web Series”. It has become a big hit ever since it made its debut in 2012 with over 10 million hits. This show represents basically one group of gay men who are very hairy and have a larger masculine body structure. These men also usually have facial hair as well as chest hair. The Bear pride community has many different slang terms to describe what type of bear every man is that’s in the community. Another short web clip we watched in class was “Easy Abby”. This is a web series based on a lesbian who has a lot of girlfriends that she doesn’t remember when she runs into them after not seeing them for a little while after they broke up. Both web series are based on gay people weather they are men or women. Before other pride groups were formed and came up with their own pride flags they all would have originally used the rainbow gay pride flag to support their sexuality. But now each gay group has their own pride flag. there is a pride flag for transgender people, lesbians, straight, asexual, and many more different groups.

       

I chose to do my history archive on the history of the most common gay pride flags because not many people realize that there is more than just the original rainbow (gay) pride flag. Along with the gay pride flag being one of the most popular pride flags, the bear pride flag is also one of the three most popular pride flags as well. Bear pride has been growing more popular since 1995 when the official design of their flag was debuted to the community. No matter how many different gay pride flags there is the original gay pride flag (the rainbow flag) will never fade away because it is what has formed our community and shaped the future for other pride flags to come to gay groups that do not have a special flag of their own. We all share the original pride flag, but like to stand out with our own pride flag that represents who we truly are.

PrideFlags

 

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Raised As a Girl

John Colapinto Author of As Nature Made Him PictureJohn Colapinto is most recently known for his New York Times bestselling novel “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Raised as a Girl.” The author grew up in Toronto Canada, and earned his master’s degree in English literature fairly close to home, at the University of Toronto. For the next several years he was a freelance writer for many local magazine companies in Canada. In order to pursue a more permanent career he made the decision to move to New York City, and he then wrote for many well-known magazine companies like Vanity Fair, New York Times, and the New Yorker. Six years later in 1995 he became the contributing editor for the Rolling Stones. During his time working there, John wrote a story about a medical scandal involving a botched circumcision. The story became so popular he won a National Magazine Award, and he evolved it into a novel in 2001. Today he lives in New York City with his wife and son.

As Nature Made Him Book CoverThe novel “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Raised as a Girl” by John Colapinto tells the tragic story of a young twin boy who had a botched circumcision. When he was only eight months old, a doctor used an electrocautery needle instead of a scalpel during a circumcision, which burned off his entire penis as a result. This forced a life changing decision for the parents to raise baby Bruce as a girl named Brenda, based on the persuasion by Dr. John Money, who strongly believed that “The sex a baby was born with didn’t matter; you could convert a baby from one sex to the other.” Like many other families, they believed the doctor knew best and they believed Dr. Money’s theory that if baby Bruce had a sex change by age of two and a half to three years old “she could be given a perfectly functional vagina, she would develop psychologically as a woman and would find her erotic attraction to men.” The Reimer’s agreed to the sex change simply because they wanted to give their child the best life he/she could have, and they honestly thought this would be the best option. They could not have been more wrong.

“The bestselling account of the now famous “Twins” case that became a touchstone in the debates on gender identity and nature versus nurture” –New York Times Book Review

Brenda Reimer

However, the family noticed as Brenda grew up that she was masculine in every way, she refused to play with any stereotypical girl toys and even stood up to pee instead of sitting down like a girl. I think her twin brother explained it best when he said, “When I say there was nothing feminine about Brenda, I mean there was nothing feminine. She walked like a guy. Sat with her legs apart. She talked about guy things, didn’t give a crap about cleaning the house, getting married, wearing makeup. We both wanted to play with guys, build forts and have snowball fights and play army.” The story goes in depth about how the Reimer family raised Brenda as a girl, how they dealt with her differences, and how Brenda struggled growing up feeling like a boy in a girl’s body. Everyday Brenda felt deeply confused, alone, and depressed because of her not feeling like the biological sex she was given. Until the age of fourteen, the parents refused to tell Brenda what really happened to her as a baby, because Dr. Money told them it would ruin the process and therefore they had to keep this a secret. Later in life when Brenda found out about this accident, she made the mature decision at the age of fifteen to have another sex change to become a male.

“I didn’t like dressing like a girl. I didn’t like behaving like a girl. I didn’t like acting like a girl.”

I think this novel belongs in the digital archive because although it is a sad and tragic story, it is the reality of living in a queer culture where you are not totally accepted. “I appear to be a tangled knot of gender contradictions. So they feverishly press the question on me; woman or man? Those are the only two words most people have as tools to shape their question.” This idea of gender contradictions would ultimately describe David Reimer’s struggle identifying with masculine things as Brenda, even though she knew this is not what girls are supposed to do.

“You don’t wake up one morning deciding if you’re a boy or a girl. You just know.”

David Reimer

“As Nature Made Him: The Boy Raised as a Girl” relates to the transgender unit in regards to the life of a transgender, as well as the idea of gender identity. I think this novel connected well with the article we read in class from the novel “Transgender Liberation a Movement Whose Time Has Come” by Leslie Feinberg. In the article she says “Our lives are proof that sex and gender are much more complex than a delivery room doctor’s glance at genitals can determine, more variegated than pink or blue birth caps. We are oppressed for not fitting those narrow social norms.” I think that quote explains David Reimer’s life because being raised as a girl, did not make her a girl. She refused to play with Barbies, she detested wearing pink dresses, and only wanted to do things a boy would do. For example, she constantly fought with her twin brother over his toys and clothes. He was criticized daily, teased, and bullied for being different. David Reimer is just one of many stories about living as a transgender, and I believe it is imperative for society to learn about these stories and become more educated about queer culture.

“I was never happy as Brenda. Never. I’d slit my throat before I’d go back to that. I’d never go back to that. It didn’t work because that’s life, because you’re human and you’re not stupid and eventually you wind up being who you are.”David Reimer Transformation

Sadly in 2004, David Reimer decided to take his own life at the young age of thirty-eight. The author Colapinto discussed how there were many factors that contributed to his suicide including the death of his twin brother two years prior from a drug overdose, marital problems with his wife, financial issues, and the constant emotional struggles he dealt with daily due to his painful childhood. This story is truly a tragedy and something that he should never have experienced. I think this fits in well with the digital archive because it shows many aspects of the queer community, and the struggles they endure. People outside of the queer community often do not understand the complexity of gender dysphoria

Becoming An Image by Heather Cassils

“It calls into question the roles of the witness, the aggressor and the documentor”

Heather Cassils is a performer/artist from Montreal, Canada who currently resides in Los Angeles, California. The goal of zir work is to challenge societal norms in terms of gender and its current perceived binary. Ze does this with multiple exhibits and projects but more uniquely, with zir own body and the bodies of other individuals. Through strict physical training and artistic brilliance, ze challenges bodily gender expectations with zir own body structure and the body structure of other gender non-conforming people.

In zir work, ze attempts to reinvent what it means to be transgender. Ze likes to express trans (and gender in general) as a continual state of being, not necessarily the transitioning from one sex to another through surgery and hormones. Although transition is one way to look at gender and trans identity, Cassils’ portrayal of gender and trans identity is extremely unique and thought provoking.

Zir projects reflect deep rooted themes of gender in our society. Zir work is captivating and challenges gender conformity and stereotypes of gender. Ze focuses greatly on body image and bodily expectations throughout zir exhibits. In all projects, ze uses physical bodies as canvas’, tools and other forms of art. Zir work is metaphorically genius, with interesting messages in every performance and work of art that get the audience thinking about gender and its current portrayal in society.

Of Cassils’ many projects, the one that is most relevant to this class and this unit is zir performance entitled “Becoming an Image” which came about in 2013. This is a show that takes Cassils, a photographer, a 1,500 pound block of clay and an audience and turns them into an extremely valuable lesson on gender in today’s world. The performance goes as follows – The audience is seated in a blacked out room facing, unbeknownst to them, Cassils and the 1,500 pound block of clay. Cassils begins the show and starts pounding and molding the block of clay solely with zir body. The audience hears zir grunts and pounding. As this continues, a blinded photographer intermittently take photos at which point Cassils and the clay are revealed to the audience, but only for the second that the flash illuminates the room.

This a wonderful archive that uniquely represents queer culture. It is an interesting way to think about gender. Often times, we analyze gender as male, female, unisex or in transition. All of these gender identities reinforce the gender binary. Even though transgender individuals challenge the concept of cisgender, it reinforces the notion that you can only be one gender or the other.  But, Cassils challenges this binary and the concept of gender which really makes zir audience think. Why is gender so salient in our society? Why can’t humans beings be just that? Cassils’ work makes zir audience evaluate the relevancy of gender in a beautiful and artistic way.

In class, we discussed how Trans* Identity may in fact reiterate the gender binary by saying “I don’t feel like I am X, I feel like I am Y.” Because of this, Cassils provides a unique view to trans* identity in a way that does not emphasis the dichotomy of gender. Similarly, while I analyzed my archive, our reading by Leslie Feinberg came to mind. Ze talks about how “unnerving” ze is to people because of zirs mix of masculine and feminine traits. Ze talks about how the root of this issue is that the norm is a gender binary. If the binary is eliminated and gender is reared irrelevant people would not have to rely so heavily on gender cues and a lack of gender cues would not trigger such confusion.

Quoted above, this archive calls into question many relevant roles that contribute to our perceptions of gender. Those who witness gender are a part of it, those who physically mold gender are a part of it and those who document gender are a part of it. These are all things to keep in mind for how we can eliminate such rigid definitions of gender and enforce a continuity of being human rather than being gendered.

“Boobs”- Ollie Renee Schminkey

“I was not born into the wrong body. I was born into a world that does not know what my body means.”

Ollie Renee Schminkey is a genderqueer poet/activist who directs the Macalester Poetry Slam and is the founder of Well-Placed Commas, a weekly poetry workshop to serve the needs of the Twin Cities area.They have competed on the nationally ranked MacSlams CUPSI team for two years, competed on 2 Twin Cities NPS teams, placed 2nd at the 2013 Great Plains Poetry Pile-Up, and competed twice with the Macalester team at Rustbelt.  They have also performed and published work with 20% Theatre Company’s The Naked I: Insides Out, and they tour locally with this show.  They are the author of one chapbook, The Taste of Iron, and they have work that was published in September 2014 as a part of Write Bloody and Andrea Gibson’s anthology, “We Will Be Shelter.”  They have featured at venues and events such as Rachel McKibben’s Poetry and Pie Night, Slam Free or Die, Port Veritas, Mama’s Crowbar, Zeke Russell’s New Shit Show, OUTspoken!, Intermedia Arts, and Patrick’s Cabaret.

In Schminkey’s poem titled Boobs, they explore the idea of bodies in relation to how transgender people are perceived and how that relates to their self-acceptance.

“But I also know that most gods punish more than they forgive, and my own body feels more like a guillotine than a gift.”  

“Boobs” is a spoken word piece that begins with Schminkey talking about how much they loves that specific part of the female anatomy and that they are one of the seven wonders of the sexual world. The piece then takes a shift as it highlights Schminkey’s uncomfortableness in their own skin as a transgender woman. Society’s ideals of what a female should be and how that gender should be defined has placed a strain on the relationship they have with their own body.

“I say not woman. They say, silly girl, it is not up to you to decide.”

Schminkey is questioned daily by society as to when they decided they were transgender, as are many people in today’ society. Gender is a social construction that is constantly being perpetuated. The idea that a female must be a “housewife, mother, or woman” is taught at an early age in the way that children watch their parents interact or even the way they learn to interact with others.

They reflect on how a friend has tried to convince them that wanting to get surgery to cut off a “perfectly healthy body part” is a bad idea but Schminkey retorts with the idea that living with a piece of you that you do not want is what is unhealthy. We place people into boxes not realizing the effect of living in these boxes really has. Society handcuffs bodies to gender and gender roles. From the moment a child is born, a doctor takes on the almighty power to announce whether the child is female or male, and they are forever linked to those words spoken in the first ten seconds of life.

“My body is not wrong. The way people talk about my body is wrong. But my body is the only thing I can change.”

Schminkey’s idea that they are not trapped in their body is something that I have not heard talked about in the transgender community. It’s a different perspective that many people do not consider on a daily basis. Not all transgender people want to go through dangerous reassignment surgeries or spend loads of money to be comfortable in their own skin. Society does not take the minute to reflect on whether it’s the idea of being trapped in a body of the opposite gender or if it has to do with being comfortable based on the perceptions of those around you. This spoken word piece is very important to the transgender community because it gives them a voice to a perspective people have not consider in the past.

“I am not trapped in my body. I am trapped in other people’s perceptions of my body.”

Tomboy

Listen. I am not doing this to hurt you or to teach  you a lesson. I have to, do you understand? I don’t mind you playing “the boy.” It doesn’t even make me sad. But this can’t go on.

During the recent increase in support of the Transgender Rights Movement, the French film Tomboy was released in 2011. Only one year before the movie came out, France emerged as the first country to declare that Transgenderism is not a mental illness. In the year following the film, the French senate voted to prohibit discrimination specifically against those who identify as transgender. After such a long time in the shadows, daily struggles encountered by trans* people were finally beginning to surface in the mainstream, heteronormative world of both film and government. I believe that the timing played a large role in not only the creation of the film, but also with its success. Céline Sciamma, the director and writer of the film, pointed out in an interview that although France is viewed as one of the most LGBT friendly countries in the world, the film was still very unique for its time.

Tomboy is an artistic and heartfelt film about Mikael, a transgender boy, and his summer experience exploring his gender identity in his new community. The film begins with Mikael and his family settling into their new apartment. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, Mikael’s gender becomes a topic of opposition; the tomboy-560-x-342audience is both introduced to Mikael as a boy among his new friends, and as a girl among his family. Mikael explores his gender identity by participating in stereotypically male activities such as sports and getting into a physical fight while among the local children. In contrast,  his mother pulls the audience’s, as well as Mikael’s, attention back to his biological sex by constantly referring to him as a girl. Although his family is supportive towards his “tomboy” qualities, allowing him to dress gender ambiguously, have his room painted blue, and cut his hair short, they are unaware that he has all of his friends believing that he is a boy. The film shockingly ends by revealing how his family reacts and attempts to “correct” Mikael’s choices.

I chose to include this film in our digital archive for a few reasons. Firstly, I thought that Mikael’s experiences speak to queer experience more broadly. I think that his struggles with fitting into the normative dichotomy of gender, fearing of how others would react to his gender expression choices, and acting in a way which is not conformational to his biological gender norms align with many topics of queer culture. Mikael’s choices about his appearance, his preferences in activities, as well as his interactions with others contradict normative culture by defying gender norms. Secondly, I chose this film  because it gave a slightly different perspective to queer culture. I feel that a large majority of queer culture revolves around adults and teenagers, and children are often left out of the picture. I felt that Tomboy did a great job of revealing the struggles with identity and gender nonconformity that can affect children. People often feel uncomfortable when there is not a distinct separation between children and topics relating to sexuality, which could be why we do not hear about childhood gender nonconformity frequently. The film reveals that children can have complex identities, which may not fit within the constraining pink and blue boxes that our society assigns children into at birth. It attempts to break down the expectation that one’s identity is always easily discovered through a normative direct path leading from biological sex to gender.

Lisa came by looking for you… She came looking for Mikael. Why are you doing this? You pretend to be a boy.

The film is constantly challenging the audience’s conceptions of the role of gender in the interaction of relationships. The opening scene of Mikael’s father teaching him how to drive, as well as the scene where his father offers him a taste of his beer, embodies the cliche developmental milestone of the coming-to-age interaction between a normative father-son relationship. I think that the importance of these scenes lies within the implication that gender roles are attached to an expectation of how people of a specific gender should interact with others and form relationships. I think that Mikael’s relationship with his father reflects what our society expects out of a father-son relationship, which allows the audience to feel more congruent with Mikael’s masculine gender identity.

tubShortly after the movie begins, there is a scene in which Mikael is bathing with his sister. Mikael’s little sister uses the soap to form Mikael’s hair into a masculine associated Mohawk. As Mikael exits the tub, the audience can see the primary sex characteristics which define and restrain Mikael as a female. The bathtub scene questions the audience’s idea of where the line is drawn between gender and biological sex, where they are correlated, and where they are opposed. So much of the story revolves around Mikael’s masculine gender identity, emphasizing the possible variance of gender expression people can have, which is not dependently restricted by one’s sex. The film reveals that there is no one correct way in which to express gender, and that we should not limit our self expression and identity to restrictive normative roles. In the “TransLiberation: Beyond Pink and Blue” article, Feinberg describes the importance of difference in gender expression.

“We are a movement of masculine females and feminine males, cross-dressers, transsexual men and women, intersexuals born on the anatomical sweep between female and male, gender-blenders, many other sex and gender-variant people, and our significant others. All told, we expand understanding of how many ways there are to be a human being.” -Feinberg

Feinberg is trying to express that everyone is different, and instead of trying to diminish that difference, it should be something that is embraced, encouraged, and accepted. Tomboy is a beautiful and touching portrayal of the variation within childhood gender identity and expression, which leaves the audience more conscientious and welcoming to the possibilities of gender differences.

 I have a big brother, which is way better (than a sister). Cause a big brother can protect you. You know, once my brother fought some boys that were bullying me. He punched them really hard cause they were rude to me. That was in our old home. He was the strongest boy in the neighborhood.

(- Mikael’s sister bragging about Mikael)

Mandy and Eva

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Photographer Willeke Duijvekam has always been attracted to photographing subjects whose lives deviate from the standard norms of society. In 2006, Duijvekam met subjects Mandy and Eva, 11- and 13-year-old boys who wanted to live their lives as females.

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For the next six years, Duijvekam followed both girls around, documenting all aspects of their lives, both casual and personal, with her camera. Through the project, Duijvekam wished to learn more about gender dysphoria. Her ultimate goal was to show that although the girls were experiencing a rather extreme change in their lives, they were still two “remarkably normal girls.”

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Duijvekam feels her project differs from that of other documentaries about transgender people because of the time she spent working with the girls. When first starting out with the project, the photographer explained that the girls still saw her as part of the outside world, and made frequent visible efforts to “prove” their femininity. However, once comfort was gained over time, Duijvekam was able to capture more candid, genuine moments of how they were living their lives.

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“I think because I followed Mandy and Eva for so long, my eyes were able to penetrate far below the surface. When you begin to photograph you see the outside first.”

For many, gender dysphoria is an entirely unknown concept. It is difficult, for some nearly impossible, to be able to empathize with someone who believes that they are meant to identify with a different gender. Generalizations form from lack of knowledge of the condition, which is why it is important for someone experiencing the transformation to share the basic process of what it means to change your gender.

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Duijvekam chose to leave out from her documentary photos from more dramatic events such as one of the girl’s gender confirmation, feeling that it was a particularly emotional event for her and her family. Instead, Duijvekam’s work focuses on showing the “everyday struggle of two teenagers.” In doing so, Duijvekam creates a parallel between these girls and other teens who are not changing their gender, but may be experiencing some other kind of stressful or life-altering event, proving that although not everyone is going through the same things, everyone is almost always going through something.

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“I was guided by my fascination with the perplexing split between body and mind. But also by the courage of the young people who refuse to allow society’s expectations to dictate their lives.”

 Because the process is undoubtedly different for everybody undergoing a change in his or her gender, the way the occurrence is perceived varies greatly. For example, the film “Ma Vie en Rose” portrays family members and those close to Ludovic generally reacting negatively to his wish to be a female. Support is attempted, but for the most part, his desire to no longer be a boy is frowned upon. This perception conflicts that of what Mandy and Eva experienced throughout their transformation. According to Duijvekam, Mandy’s and Eva’s parents supported their children by allowing them the space they needed to find their happiness. While this may not be the case for others, their parents exemplify how simple it is to be respectful of what your loved ones want, rather than critical.

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This project provides a clear and straightforward look into the lives of two boys who made the active change to make themselves happy. It exhibits the idea that although gender transformation can seem complex, it really is just another procedure certain human beings choose to undergo in order to find gratification and fulfillment in their lives.

 

Duijvekam also presents her photos from the documentary in a book that delves deeper into Mandy and Eva’s story:

The Stories of Mandy and Eva

Orange Is The New Black

A critically acclaimed Netflix Original Series, Orange Is The New Black breaks down the walls of the prison and reveals a fascinating cultural dynamic. The series was produced by Tilted Productions in association with Lionsgate Television. It is based on a memoir by Piper Kerman, “Orange Is The New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison”. The memoir is Piper’s personal account of her experiences in prison, and her story very closely matches that of Piper in the TV series.

OITNB has received 12 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations. It started out as a 2-series hit, and has now been cleared for third. It all began with Piper Chapman, the main character, being convicted of drug trafficking. She is sentenced to a year in a women’s prison, and this is where we begin to see an entirely different world of competition, status quo, and pseudo-economy. Intertwined in all of these prison-specific events, is an outright takeover of lesbianism. Many of the inmates are lesbians to begin with, but some simply start joining the fun when they realize there are no males to have sexual relations with. Lesbianism is not the only part of queer culture at Litchfield, however. Sophia Burset is a transgender woman serving her sentence at the jail. She encounters additional struggles as she lives day-to-day, while remembering the events that landed her there in the first place. In the episode “Lesbian Request Denied”, we learn a lot about Sophia and where she comes from.

Throughout the episode, we get flashbacks of Sophia’s life before entering prison. She was a father and a husband going through a difficult transition while trying to maintain her relationships. After getting married, Sophia began going through emotional turmoil as she was fully realizing her true identity. In order to undergo transition, she used stolen credit cards to pay for her surgery and hormones. All the while, her wife and child had no idea that she was stealing money. In fact, Sophia is supported and embraced by her wife, Crystal, during the transition. Crystal even promises to teach her everything she knows about being a woman. This is all to keep the family together.

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“Better my kid have two moms than a dead dad, right?”

-Crystal

Things take a turn for the worst when the cops show up at the door to arrest Sophia. Crystal is completely surprised and taken aback from what is going on. She had shown a large amount of support and love for Sophia to keep her family together, and now it is being torn apart. Sophia’s relationship with her son is already in shambles because he is embarrassed by the transition. But now, he must watch his father (now second mom) get taken away by the cops. This affects him so much that he refuses to ever visit Sophia in jail.

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Sophia’s life is a complicated one. She lived a long time and established a life as a man, and eventually decided to make a full transition. This put strain on her relationship with her son, and even put some doubt in Crystal’s mind.

“I’m fine with the rest of it: the hair, the makeup, I’ll teach you all of it. You’ll be a pro. Just please keep your penis.”

-Crystal

The drive to be a woman pushed her so far as to use stolen credit cards, and eventually end up in jail. This sends a message about how strong the feelings of transgender people really are. Sophia felt trapped in her own body, and she made it her first priority to do something about it. Even with the proper support from someone she loved, she still felt the need to do illegal things to become what she felt she needed to be. While this certainly isn’t the best course of action to take in this situation, it was a reality for Sophia because she believed she had no other way to go.

The actions of Sophia can be paralleled to those of Ignacio in Bad Education. Ignacio was born a boy, and later went through a transition to live life as a woman. Throughout the movie, she is seen steeling and blackmailing for money. Father Monolo sexually victimized Ignacio when she was a child. In return, Ignacio blackmailed him later in life for money for sex reassignment surgery. Like Sophia’s decision to use stolen credit cards, this is a highly dangerous and illegal thing to do, and ultimately led to a tragic consequence- Ignacio’s death.

While in prison, Sophia receives criticism, unwanted sexual advances, and even complications with obtaining her hormone medication. At one point, she is completely taken off of her medication. This frightens her greatly because she didn’t want all of her losses in life to be for nothing. She did the things she did to be a woman and she doesn’t want it taken from her. She pulls some strings and eventually receives her hormones. Regardless of her struggles, in most of her interactions with other inmates, Sophia is very confident with herself and how she lives her life. She establishes herself as the prison hairdresser, and is generally well-liked and appreciated. Even though she’s in prison, Sophia seems happier that she can finally be herself.

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If Orange Is The New Black sounds interesting to you, you can check it out exclusively on Netflix.