Anyone remember the awful Jim Carrey film from the nineties, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective? The one that we get the catch phrase, “Alllll riiighty then” from?
Natalie Reed has a lengthy analysis of the transphobic violence in the film, which is worth reading. It’s hard reading and talks about violence and bigotry, but I think that it’s especially important for white men (cisgender and transgender/transsexual) to read, because we’re the ones whose supposed perspective films like this are assumed to be taking up. White dudes are the heroes, de facto, whether or not they have any redeeming qualities positioning them as such.
I’ve seen some young (transmasculine, even?) people using the term “trap” to explain their identity recently. I think it’s a term that is somehow being used for anime characters, and without any awareness of its negative, violent history, teenagers think it’s a cute term to apply to themselves.
Well, this film (and many others like it) shows just what it is to be a “trap”, in the eyes of a gender binary society. (Also, I’d say, what it is to be a “tranny”, but that’s a dispute which I’ve already weighed in on and don’t want to revisit here.) As Reed points out,
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective isn’t cissexist in a simple way. It doesn’t just present a trans villain. And the audience, even, aren’t just being asked to be complacent in the cissexism and transphobia. What makes it so much more disturbing is how the film relies on the audience’s cissexism and transphobia to function. In order to be recuperated as the “comedy” it presents itself as, the audience MUST participate in the hatred, MUST embrace the transphobic perspective its built on. And must not question it, either. It’s not that Ace Ventura is just a transphobic movie. It’s that transphobia (and other forms of bigotry) are the very principle on which it operates.
And I’d argue that this is what the term “trap” does, by its framing of a pre-operative transsexual woman as being inherently deceptive and inherently dangerous. It turns things on its head. Even though such a woman is, in fact, living in a way to be true to how she perceives her authentic self, that is described as deceit. Even though such a woman is, in fact, subject to threats and violence on the basis of her gender in the way that a straight white man is not, her life is described as a danger to him.
I’m not the language police, I’m not a trans woman, I have no authority to tell people what to say about themselves. I do think, however, that listening to the experiences of other people is important in considering the way we describe the world. Words aren’t perfect and they always come with extra “stuff” hanging off of them that we can’t quite erase, and often stuff that we’re not aware of. However, some terms are just so loaded with stuff that, in my opinion, they’re too unwieldy to do much good in other contexts.
Either way, that word aside, look at the ideas in play in the film, and see how far we (haven’t) come in twenty years.