#71, cultural myths often lead to dominant ideologies

March 30, 2017

This #100hardtruths was given to me by my friend, the filmmaker Sam Feder, who is currently in production on “Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen,” a documentary feature on the history of trans images in Hollywood.

“History likes to forget trans people keeping us out of public space and memory  – just like the current  ‘bathroom bills’ are trying to do.  Yet, we’ve been around since … well, forever. Especially, in the past century of film and TV as jokes and psychopathic killers. But also models elegantly gracing a magazine cover or newspaper headline. Or tastefully pointing out social ails.

In the late 1890’s ‘female impersonator’ Julian Eltinge said, ‘I’m not gay, I just like pearls.’ Critics dubbed Eltinge as the ‘queerest woman in the world’ and ‘ambidextrous.’ Eltinge’s work was known for pointing out the social and political double standards for women. In the 1925 film Madame Behave a man pursing Eltinge’s character says, ‘I don’t care If you wear B.V.D’s as long as you’re my wife.’

Where do these silly ideas of men in dresses in women’s bathrooms come from anyway? You only need to look at the 1917 film by Fatty Arbuckle, Coney Island. Wearing a ‘woman’s’ bathing suit he fans himself off in the women’s restroom. In the delightful Some Like it Hot, 1959, Tony Curtis steals a kiss from Marilyn Monroe in the washroom when the train comes to a sudden halt. Or, the 1974 film Freebie and the Bean where Christopher Morley as the ‘transvestite’ holds a gun to child’s head in the women’s bathroom.”

When Sam and I spoke about this sordid history of trans representation through ridicule or threat in our conversation “Does visibility equal progress? A conversation on trans activist media,” they emphasized the connections between false images and real violence, one of the #100hardtruths I have been committed to keeping in my sight-lines across this project. Sam says:

“This is the problem that keeps me going back to making media in hopes of impacting social movements. I believe media is the greatest myth-maker of our time and that cultural myths often lead to dominant ideologies. Media creates ideologies, and ideologies create social norms. The biggest obstacle for trans people and any marginalized group is that because we are outside the visual (and other) regimes of dominant power, we are seen as outside, different, and lesser-than. Through that process we are dehumanized. Dehumanization leads to violence, which is then systematically sanctioned in such places as the legal and the criminal justice system, health care industry, and employment and housing, thereby denying us our basic human rights.”

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