Tag Archives: silence of the lambs

Sissy Killer: Silence Of The Lambs’ “Good/Bad Queer” Dynamic

24 Mar Sissy Killers Queer Coding

sissykillers1

It’s been 25 years since Silence Of The Lambs was released, and there have already been plenty of hot takes to go around. Recently, Jos Truitt over at Feministing posted an unflinching and thorough deconstruction of what the character “Buffalo Bill” represents to the trans community. Naturally, cis people completely lost their shit.

“How could anyone identify with a serial killer?” they lamented. Good point, it’s not like Hannibal Lecter wound up in four novels, five films, and a television series currently on it’s third season where he is the protagonist. Oh wait.

sissykillers2Dinner’s Ready.

Why is it considered ok to empathize with Lecter and not Jame Gumb? Both were brutal mass murderers known for short tempers and for mutilating their victims. Gumb was a gender dysphoric survivor of child abuse and neglect, and Hannibal Lecter was a calculating abusive manipulator that shut her off from medical care and murdered her boyfriend. So why do people root for Gumb getting gunned down yet also for Lecter’s escape and promise to kill again?

Seriously, check out the last couple minutes of Silence Of The Lambs again. Lecter all decked out like Truman Fuckin Capote bragging about “having an old friend for dinner”. He’s a triumphant anti-hero rather than a villain. And it gets worse with each subsequent film/tv depiction.

sissykillers0

The answer is simple: Lecter represents the “good kind” of queer, and Bill represents the “bad kind”.

While I don’t share Truitt’s particular tattoo choice (although I have seriously considered both the spear wound and the “LOVE” hand tattoo), I do have a tramp stamp of “In Voluptas Mors”, and yes it is a reference to Silence Of The Lambs. I, also, have a bit of a soft spot for the movie. A particularly fascinating element of the movie is that it features two queer codedsissy villains”, but coded in different ways and pitted against each other.

What’s that? Hannibal Lecter isn’t actually gay? That’s ok, because Jame Gumb “isn’t actually transgender”, right?

sissykillers3Meanwhile, the only definitely gay person in the movie is dead.

In the book, the infamous “tucking scene” also invites the reader to voyeuristically review Gumb’s hormone regimen, thinning body hair, voice training, electrolysis and even passing mention of breast development. This is presented with both a clinical air and a sense of disdain at the progress. But this is ok because Gumb is not “really transgender”, right?

Later in the book Agent Crawford threatens to have federal funding cut from the Johns Hopkins sex-reassignment wing and have the surgery re-classified as of non-medical necessity. There’s no telling how many transsexuals ongoing medical treatment were effectively being held hostage as an afterthought in this power-play. But this is ok because Gumb is not “really transgender”, right?

I’m sure there is also something to be said about namechecking the Johns Hopkins Trans Surgery wing as a plot point in the book, considering the actual one was shut down a decade before.

And even as Ted Levine’s lumbering, gangly tr*nny monster performance is frequently superimposed over depictions of the lives of trans folks, and the spectre of which haunts discussions of everything from “bathroom bills” to TSA clearances, Lecter represents the opposite of this stereotype. Lecter is theatrical without camp. He is effette but not effeminate. He drips with sarcasm and is impeccably refined and cultural and worldly.

The comparisons don’t stop there. In the novel, through Agent Starling’s feminist hero eyes she recognizes Lecter as “small, sleek, and in his hands and arms she saw wiry strength like her own” in contrast to Gumb’s frequently referenced large hefty frame. In the film, Lecter is depicted as deliberately clinical and meticulously clean, a contrast to the squalor of Gumb’s living area and poor hygiene and posture. Anthony Hopkins came up with the idea of having Lecter dressed in white in order to invoke imagery of doctors and dentists and peoples instinctive unease around them. But it also positions him yet again as an virtous-appearing authority figure. Perhaps this is why we are expected to continue to take Lecter’s gatekeeping of Gumb’s dysphoria at face value, despite the fact that it’s coming from a man restrained in a strait jacket and spitter’s mask.

“He’s not a transsexual, Clarice. He just thinks he is, and he’s puzzled and angry because they won’t help him.”

There’s almost definitely a “high/low functioning” mental illness dynamic going on as well that someone may choose to explore further down the line. How does nobody ever question Lecter’s capacity to make psychological diagnoses not only without clinical observation but while also himself deemed in a dangerous enough capacity mentally to warrant institutionalization?

sissykillers4Definitely someone with authority’s best interest in mind – Everyone Somehow

It’s not like positioning the audience to arbiter Lecter as a gatekeeper of queer sexuality is limited to his interaction with Jame Gumb. I mentioned earlier his murder of Gumb’s boyfriend, named after a leftist French intellectual. In the opening to the movie Red Dragon Lecter is literally shown in judgement of Raspail’s performativity, and Jesus Christ as Lecter scowls at Raspail’s unsatisfactory ability to blow the flute I’m sure Freud was doing cartwheels in his grave. And then, in the following scene, a bunch of progressive intellectuals giggle over Raspail’s missing status and subsequently nonperson him based on the same inadequate perfomativity Lecter judged him worthy of death over.

sissykillers5He’s either decided to kill a man or poop himself.

This sort of gatekeeping, this arbitration of judgement over folks less desirable is clearly the role the unexamined audience wants from Lecter. He returns to this role over and over and over, evolving from a useful monster to a justified protagonist in his own universe, while his gruesome body count silently grows.

Maybe y’all should re-evaluate what you consider so identifiable in Hannibal Lecter.

Advertisements

Seriously, I’m #NotYourRayon, And You Can’t Recast Me As One.

12 Mar

In contrast to the “decievers,” who wield their feminine wiles with success, the “pathetic transsexual” characters aren’t deluding anyone. Despite her masculine mannerisms and five-o-clock shadow, the “pathetic transsexual” will inevitably insist that she is a woman trapped in a man’s body… Unlike “deceivers” whose ability to “pass” is a serious threat to our culture’s ideas about gender and sexuality, “pathetic transsexuals” -who barely resemble women at all- are generally considered harmless. Perhaps for this reason, some of the most endearing portrayals of trans women fall into the “pathetic” category.  – Julia Serano, Whipping Girl

FULL DISCLOSURE: I still haven’t seen Dallas Buyer’s Club, but I do intend to see it. Truth is, I’ll probably even like it. I have a soft spot in my heart for sad sack “pathetic transsexual” stories. Hell, the Christmas after I began transition my dad made a clumsy shitty joke about a certain character from Priscilla Queen Of The Desert f0r obvious reasons in order to make the most hamfisted shitty jab at me or whatever, so like I know certain stereotypes I may never escape so I might as well sit back and enjoy?

So like in the whole aftermath of Leto winning an Oscar from this whole mess been seeing two common responses that I feel the need to jump in on, and how they curiously intersect in my own experience. The first is the WHARBLGARBL WELL MAYBE RAYON WAS JUST A GAY MALE CROSSDRESSER TRANSVESTITE AND NOT TRANS AT ALL DID YOU THINK OF THAT GOSH THE TRANS UMBRELLA DIDN’T EXIST BACK THEN (The following are assorted responses to Parker Marie Malloy’s recent Advocate articles on the subject)

dallas2Except in the real world:
Heterosexual trans women are heavily impacted by AIDS, frequently due to lack of healthcare and/or discrimination/stigma by healthcare professionals regarding testing and treatment.

dallas3
Except in the real world:
1) Christine Jourgenson, one of the most well known trans women of the past 50 years, frequently referred to herself as “transgender” since the late 1970s.
2) The movie takes place in 1985, the same year Richard Ulster founded the first Transgender Literature Archive at Ulster University. Also at least a year after this 1984 article by sexologist Roger E Peo.
3)Virginia (Charles) Prince didn’t invent the word, but she did help popularize it. The word appears in the psychology reference manual “Sexual Hygiene and Pathology” a full five years before the first issue of Prince’s magazine “Transvestia”.

dallas4
^the above was screencapped from the excellent Trans Hollywood blog, which has been swarmed by persistent assclowns of every flavor over their stance on this issue.

And, like fucking seriously y’all? Gay men don’t get sexual reassignment surgery. That’s like the shittiest laziest most homophobic stereotype out there, and it’s suddenly a better alternative than just saying the character is a sad inaccurate stereotype of a trans woman? The difference between gay men and trans women was already a well-known enough phenomenon in the real world half a decade before this movie takes place that, when the late-70s/early-80s tv show Soap suggested that the gay character would desire a sex change it faced protests from both gay and trans activists for trying to conflate the two. How easy motherfuckers forget history.

I mean, this isn’t 1975, and this isn’t Dog Day Afternoon, even though the scriptwriters (and anti-trans bloggers/commenters) apparently can’t tell the difference.

And it’s like, Rayon was a 100% fictional character unbound by any sort of narrative convention; why exactly does the character seem more and more like one that wouldn’t even fly in the 1990s?

In any case, it’s a game of semantics to pretend that people aren’t going to associate this character with the lived experience of trans women. It straight up says multiple times in the movie (as well as the book) Silence Of The Lambs that Buffalo Bill doesn’t exhibit any of the traits of trans identity, yet he’s a consistent go-to trope, a cognitive bias horror reflection of the insistence that the lived experience of trans women are a figurative/symbolic theft of women’s flesh somehow. Body autonomy? What the fuck is that? And it’s just one of dozens of similar movies pushing the same image.

leatherfaceindragOh hey look, another movie with a timely, sensitive transfeminine portrayal starring Matthew McConaughey

Anyway, enough of that.

The other point being made I take contention with (perhaps even more so) is this assertion Calpernia Adams makes in her recent Advocate piece regarding the controversy.

But I have known people like Rayon. She is not a made-up grab bag of random hateful attributes. She’s a portrayal of an uncomfortable segment of the trans experience that a few TLGB folks would rather be erased rather than discussed. I think many of the haters hate Rayon because she isn’t beautiful, she isn’t passable, she isn’t gender-binary, she isn’t 2014-political. And when I see that elitist hypocrisy, I’m inclined to push back.

It’s hard being trans, even more so in the era and circumstances of Dallas Buyers Club. I’ve known plenty of trans sex workers, self-medicators, wise teachers, hilarious weirdos, and people taken before their time due to violence and lack of health care. I’ve known trans people very much like Rayon, and maybe if some people got up from their remote activism -devices (computer screens and smartphones) and left their ivory towers and privilege bubbles, they’d meet a few people like Rayon face-to-face too.

Excuse the fuck out of me? Where in the actual fuck do you get the gall to recast all concerns about this character into some tired gross archaic “transsexual vs transgender” elitism?

I’m *from* Texas. I’ve self-medicated. I’ve done drugs. Like, a *lot* of drugs. I haven’t done sex work, but I can’t say I haven’t considered it. I’m not HIV+, but I’ve dated people who were. I spent the latter part of the 1990s getting sneered at by older transsexuals in “support” groups during a time when I was young and lost and really could have used some guidance. I frequented gay bars, and often slept with gay men (slept with an awful lot of straight guys too, for the record).

krossover1Me, literally standing in the doorway of the infamous, frequently cop-raided, Harker Heights,Tx gay/drag bar Krossover, in 1999(?).

And being concerned about passability? Christ. I’m the tallest, gangliest, most shittily-tattooed, donkey-faced thing out there. And apparently I dress like a Hot Topic threw up. So lets just say it isn’t high on my concerns.

bangs

So like, when Leto talks about “the Rayons of the world” or whatever, he’s talking about people like me. Except fuck you no he isn’t.

And it’s like, maybe I don’t really want to be spoken for in this gross pandering “No Homo” way and romanticized as some sort of “impossible creature” and yet again have my narrative, a path and experience I’ve fought for and struggled with for a lifetime, repackaged in a cynical fashion by people with no understanding of it.

Not sure what I really expected from a movie that repackages it’s protagonist as a uber-heterosexual and homophobic (yay bisexual erasure) in order to learn some sort of hamfisted lesson, tho.

That said, I still intend to check the movie out. No homo.