….in a bad horror movie from the ’80s! (Who knew?)
You remember Sleepaway Camp, right? In 1983, Robert Hiltzik made
Friday the 13th again a movie about kids at summer camp getting stalked by someone who kills them in gruesome ways without showing anything but xyr hands and feet.
Our heroine is a painfully shy girl named Angela whose dad and twin brother were killed in a boating accident. She rarely speaks, she’s bullied by all the kids at camp, and heads off a sexual assault from the head chef. It’s finally revealed that Angela’s the one killing everybody, and I think: “No kidding! I figured that out in the first 10 minutes!” But then she’s standing on a beach holding a decapitated head by the hair, the camera pans down, and…Angela has a penis.
Now the faked physical Angela’s aunt sends her to camp with makes sense. Now come the flashbacks that clearly show the twin girl dying in the boating accident. And the boy’s been living his dead sister’s life for her all this time.
Angela’s transgender status is the penultimate lie in a long line of lies the filmmakers have heaped upon us. The audience is deceived by a villain disguised as a hero. The murderer has deceived the campers by being a quiet, unassuming girl whom they think they can bully with impunity. The girl has deceived everybody by being a boy. And the boy is deceiving himself and everyone else by pretending to be someone else entirely (i.e. his sister).
But Angela’s not deceiving everybody because she’s a trans* person. She’s deceiving everybody because she’s a (fictional) trans* person created by cissexual filmmakers. As Drakyn points out, the trans* person who’s “fooling” us on purpose is a myth we cissexuals invented. Why? Because we are so focused on our own narrow experience of gender that we can’t imagine anything outside it. We take it for granted that everyone’s gender matches the sex they were born with. With this assumption in place, the only logical reason to change one’s gender is to lie to somebody.
Thus, so many trans* characters in fiction are really cissexuals in disguise. Men only dress as women to hide out (Some Like it Hot) or trick their enemies (countless Bugs Bunny cartoons). And women only dress as men to break through the glass ceiling–Mulan does it to join the army, Yentl does it to study Jewish law. This view of transition is simplistic, cissexual-centered, and, like the characters who exemplify it, entirely made up.
Unfortunately, a lot of cissexuals don’t realize that, and apply what’s essentially an urban legend to actual trans* people. The consequences are hateful, dangerous, and deadly:
A 32-year-old man has confessed to the killing of 18-year-old transgender woman Angie Zapata
As [the killer] would reveal to police, he met Zapata on July 15 for a one-time sexual encounter through social networking site MocoSpace. [He] reportedly discovered Zapata’s male genitalia the next day after seeing photographs around the apartment, becoming suspicious, and forcibly grabbing her crotch after her insistence that she was ‘all woman.'”
Forcibly grabbing someone’s crotch is sexual assault, no matter what. When you do it to ascertain someone’s gender, that’s some serious cissexist entitlement right there. When you assume someone is cissexual and find out they’re not, you haven’t been deceived. You deceived yourself by making yourself the default type of person.
This is privilege. This is power. This is wrong.
Anyone who thinks that trans* women only transition to assert their power over cissexual women, or who asks when trans* women will “learn straight males are VERY homophobic” has bought the cissexist lie. The lie that centers the very act of transition around cissexual people, when it’s not about us at all.
An Open Letter to *Cis Feminists, by Queen Emily (with commentary by Lisa Harney)
Roundup of Angie Zapata Posts, also at Questioning Transphobia.
Holly commenting at Feministe about how the “trans panic” defense is often a smokescreen.