It seems as though irony has managed a furtive comeback. Even worse, it's permeated the world of transgender AND, even better, it's emerged in one extreme form of the ironic arts -- its flashiest and silliest incarnation:
John Waters and Lloyd Kaufman, what have you done?!
A little backstory here. There's an ongoing controversy surrounding the showing of a film called Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives at the Tribeca Film Festival. It's been a prominent blog topic for a couple of weeks now and I've decided to just suck it up and toss my two cents in to those murky waters.
From the Anti Camp:
News of the showing spurred the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) to send out a Call To Action stating,
"GLAAD has since seen the film in its entirety and can report that the title is far from the only problem with this film. The film, its title and its marketing misrepresent the lives of transgender women and use grotesque, exploitative depictions of violence against transgender women in ways that make light of the horrific brutality they all too often face."
Others have also taken offense and chimed in, like blogger Rebecca Juro who wrote,
"Including graphic depictions of anti-transgender hate violence in a movie that's clearly being played for camp and comedy comes off as complete ignorance of the reality of anti-transgender hate violence at best and outright mockery and denigration of transpeople and the hate violence perpetrated against us at worst."
From the Pro Camp:
Others have spoken out in defense of the film, like Tom Leger who wrote in An Open Letter In Support Of "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" In The Tribeca Film Festival,
"First, and really the letter should end with this statement as well, censorship is never the answer. Ever. And if you believe that pulling a small, low-budget independent film, that features trans people as main characters, does not constitute censorship, you have never tried to make art about trans people in America in the 21st century... This pattern is sincerely troubling to me, as it brews a climate of fear among trans film and video artists and people looking to make work about trans people. Censoring these films is a step in the wrong direction."
Or Krystal Summers, a transgender woman and one of the stars of the comedy, who responded to the controversy in a statement:
I am a transgender woman and one of the lead actors in “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives.” Our film does not promote hate or violence against transgender women. It is not a documentary, but a work of fiction and a revenge fantasy. Read More >My Two Cents:
And so it goes, on and on, around and around and up and down and back again.
So here are my two cents. To start with, three of the five leading ladies in the film are actually trans women. The other two are actors playing trans women. Aside from that, Ticked Off Trannies with Knives is an exploitation film - in league with a whole genre of films that have a long, rich history of controversy and subsequent censorship.
And this film is in a fairly recent sub-genre called 'transploitation'.
As a result of this censorship, the exploitation film emerged as a distinct class of motion picture - one that not only excised the subject from the mainstream but served to create a separate industry that began to make films on topics that Hollywood wouldn't approach with a ten foot pole.
These are the beloved types of films that filled up old Grindhouse theaters in the 1960s!
Aside from the heavily censored 1930s-1940s cautionary films like Reefer Madness!, there's Blaxploitation (think Blacula, Coffy, and Foxy Brown), Carsploitation (Death Race 2000) - and a whole list of sub-genres, all the way to Nazisploitation (She Wolf of the SS), Sexploitation (Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, Showgirls), and my all-time favorites: Shocksploitation, Slasher Films, and Splatter (Pink Flamingos, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead...).
When it comes to exploitation film, no one is safe. No topic too taboo.
They're low-budget and independent.
They combine intensive and gimmick-laden publicity with movies featuring vulgar subject matter (as judged by mainstream standards) along with often outrageous imagery dated back decades.
They're fun artistic expression.
And they're the antithesis of censorship.
My biggest love towards exploitation films has always stemmed from the underlying belief that censoring disagreeable ideas will not make the disagreeable realities go away. Censorship is a simple band-aid approach that serves to distract our attention from addressing the real causes of social ills.
Being a trans person, my only hope of working to remedy oppressive attitudes depends on freedom of speech. Without the liberty to protest, parody, and mock transphobia, how can any of us accomplish equality?
As exploitation films have always showed us, artists express the dark as well as sunny side of human life and use many techniques to dramatize their concerns---exaggeration, symbolism, metaphor, dream, and fantasy.
In the long run, free and open discussion of the issues raised by artists has been the best chance of achieving our goals - and this includes the freedom to be campy and silly about trannies, too.