End of Gender: "Transsexual Killer" Strikes Again

Trigger warning for transphobic language

Next month Paul Abbot's new miniseries Hit and Miss premieres on DirectTV. Chloë Sevigny, former star of queer-flavored films like Party Monster and Boys Don't Cry, plays a contract assassin who "just happens" to be transgender.

This is not the first time a fictional killer has "just happened" to straddle the gender divide—people have always used horror stories to work out their fears around gender.

Chloe Sevigny holds a gun up to her face and looks intense

Remember Psycho? In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock introduced the gender-bending killer Norman Bates. Unlike the werewolves and other species-hybrids of previous horror films, Bates is your average "guy next door" who owns a motel, mummifies his mother, and occasionally dons her clothing and personality to kill any woman who threatens mama's place in Norman's heart.

Along with plaguing an entire generation with some serious shower phobia, Psycho reinforced the Freud-induced anxiety about gender-bending "mamas' boys" that still makes parents squeamish.

A few bad B movies later—Homicidal (1961), Dressed to Kill (1980), Sleepaway Camp (1983)—the 1990 thriller Silence of the Lambs brought "Buffalo Bill" to the big screen. Repeatedly denied a "sex change" by gender clinics, Bill is driven to kill and skin his female victims to complete a "woman suit." Nope, the storyline wasn't a call for trans-inclusive healthcare. Silence of the Lambs played on the fear that crossing gender lines pushes people over the edge.

In the past decade, this trope has hacked into television. "Transsexual killers" have shown up on crime shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and CSI. Now Hit and Miss writer Abbott is leaning on the same old trope for cheap scares, and he's feeding an environment that facilitates violence against transgender people.

For years the "transsexual killer" trope has haunted the trans community with a bad reputation. And while transgender people are being portrayed as killers, we're the ones getting killed.

report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender women represented 44% of anti- LGBTQ murders in 2010. Perpetrators of that violence target transgender people because they fear our identities, and portraying transgender people as killers doesn't make us look any better in the eyes of those who are out to get us.

What does Sevigny, who previously starred in a film about violence against transgender people, think about her character in the upcoming miniseries?

Earlier this month, the star complained to the Huffington Post that she "got reamed out by the Advocate" when she referred to her character as a "tranny." "You can't say anything anymore," Sevigny said, calling the Advocate's helpful hint "reee-donkulous."

Guess I'm crossing Chloë off my ally list.

Previously: "He" Wax, She Wax, We All Wax?, Public (Trans)portation

Comments

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Meh . . .

While I sympathize with some points in this post, I do not think art is subject to the same sort of social criticism we can direct at say, politicians or other public figures. After all, art is something meant to challenge and exploit our fears and desires. Sometimes it pisses people off. Often it crosses boundaries.

While I have no desire to see this film, I don't think that we should begin placing "politically correct" mandates on ART, of all things.

really?

have you seen the miniseries? i would assume not since you refer to it as a film. do you really think a miniseries of this caliber deserves to be given the label "art?"

cis people using the word "tranny" is just not cool. they are allowed to say it, as much as they are allowed to be assholes denying their own privilege whenever and wherever they want. it's a slur. asking that an actress who is playing a trans woman not use a slur should not be seen as such a dramatic demand.

also, i'd recommend reading this interesting insight into people's use of the term "politically correct": http://restructure.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/political-correctness-is-a-r...

All culture is art, wether it

All culture is art, wether it be pop, folk, or fine. To believe otherwise is likely due to classism or other forms of social elitism.

Yes "tranny" is horrible word

Yes "tranny" is horrible word choice and she shouldn't have used it. And of course, the mainstream hetero-normative media does usually portray transgendered people negatively. But can we put everything done in the mainstream media into that negative category? Every year hundreds of crime movies/shows are produced with cisgendered killers and murderers. But it becomes a problem when one criminal happens to be transgendered?

I think the difference is in this: is transgenderism portrayed as the source of criminal behavior in this show, or is this character a criminal AND also transgendered?

I understand criticizing portrayals that link being transgendered with criminal behaviour, but I don't really follow what's wrong with the portrayal of a murderer who happened to be transgendered. Criticizing the "transsexual killer" stereotype is one thing, but are we know saying that transgendered people can never be shown as criminals? This to me is incredibly oversensitive to the point that disrupts the messages we try to give as a community. Subsuming all transgendered portrayals in horror films/shows into the "transsexual killer" stereotype is in my opinion very intellectually lazy.

The problem is that there are

The problem is that there are so few transgendered people being shown in the media at all, and when they are it is often in a negative way. It's linking transgender and murderer, in this case, together in the minds of a lot of people and that's hard to overcome.

wrote sevigny off my list for a whole host of reasons...

trigger warning for ableist language/cis privilege

i must say i have not seen this show in question and am definitely not their target audience, but as she was preparing for this role and doing the press junket it became quite clear the chloe i had romanticized in my mind was not the person i thought. i think a lot of people associate sevigny with this edgy progressive culture because of some of her prior roles, her fashion culture reputation, and so on. but i suppose this speaks to my own issues with celebrity culture in general (you are made to feel like you can actually get to know a person, but you can't really) than it does this specific question.

danny over at sex art and politics posted this quote back in early april: "What’s most shocking for me is how well these people know themselves. How can you be so sure? Aren’t you always questioning yourself in some way? It’s amazing to be so steadfast, to just say, “I’m going to go through this insane hormonal treatment and then I’m going to have this surgery." Chloe Sevigny

it's not necessarily blatantly transphobic, but to me it reeks of naïve cis privilege. the whole interview is pretty nauseating, and i find it hard to take her seriously when she says something like this about having to wear a prosthetic penis:

"So crazy. But I cried a lot when they put it on. I don’t know why. I felt like a freak."

what danny and other bloggers have pointed out is how ridiculously dimissive, transphobic, and ableist these statements are - and how they are nothing but harmful.

whenever a hollywood (cis) actress plays a trans person, we see this kind of ridiculous script of "she's so brave" and shitty interviewers asking questions about how it must have been so challenging and difficult to be seen as a "man trying to be a woman" which completely misses the point. we seem to be so focused on what it takes a cis actress to play a trans character, that in the end, we completely lose sight of the trans character.

why can't we see trans folks playing themselves in these roles? when we start to ask that question, then maybe we can properly address the questions you raise in this article: do we really need yet another "transsexual killer" character? what stories about trans people get told, and in what ways?

thanks for writing about this. if you need more reasons to write sevigny off your list of allies, i can give you a few more - her close relationship to known sexual abuser and all around douchebag terry richardson, etc. etc.

I liked her for having been

I liked her for having been in Boys Don't Cry and If These Walls Could Talk 2 (and good god, her character in the latter was hot), but this is it for me. Very, very disappointing.

For shame, Chloe Sevigny.

Definitely agree that there

Definitely agree that there is an issue here, and not feeling great about Chloe's position/ ignorance on the matter. But I have to wonder if the old motif of the she-monster (little red riding hood anyone?) goes beyond societal fears of gender/sex deviation. Somehow I feel like there's a desire for some kind of edgy sexiness by making killers also sexual 'deviants.' in a way it conforms with other depictions of sexy serial killers, and the fetishization of power (Dexter?) The fact that Chloe is a model, and the fact that other gender-blurring themes are becoming more en vogue (vampire boys in makeup?) in pop culture might support that idea. Plus, the character is a hired gun, not a deranged psychopath, which lends a certain amount of power and perhaps normalization to the role. Then again, I'll probably never see the series, so maybe someone else can weigh in on that.

Norman Bates and the

Norman Bates and the character in Silence of The Lambs (along with 55% of the other characters in horror movies) were based on Ed Gein, an actual figure who seems to have scared and scarred the hell out of America in the 50s. His actual deeds and story aren't as sensational as what people at the time imagined and spread by word of mouth, and the various characters all take some aspect to an extreme (Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Hitchcock got the closest while taking some liberties. Then Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, two men who took credit for any unsolved murder officials asked them about after being caught for a few things, for some reason wove cross-dressing into their fabricated narrative. Maybe they were "fans" of Gein? These seem to fuel the recurring appearance of these characters. Why people are so terrified of them is a good question for the psychology field. But there was a South American drug cartel hit man or something who underwent a sex change to hide his identity. I figured this show was inspired by that story.

fyi

When we discuss trans violence, I like to point out, as Julia Serano necesarrily does, that it's often Trans-women of color who are targeted for violence. Gender plays a role, but the issue of trans violence runs sadly deeper than just that. :(

Fine, It's Art.

It still serves the purposes of propaganda.

If you are not a trans woman

If you are not a trans woman you do not get to decide whether painting trans women as serial killers or fetishists or perverts or men-who-are-trying-to-use-the-women's-washroom is offensive or harmful.

Silence of the Lambs wasn't

Silence of the Lambs wasn't trying to say that crossing the gender line puts one over the edge. Buffalo bill is way more complicated than that. It was stated in both he film and novel that he isn't Trans. He wants to under-go SRS, not because he feels a woman is who he is, but because he hates who is is, and thinks that the only way to get better is to totally change who is is, including his gender (in many ways, he is trying to become his mother).

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