Transgender Day of Remembrance Speech

Hello everyone,

This is the speech that I gave at my local Transgender Day of Remembrance event. This year another 226 names have been added to the list of people killed for their gender identity or gender expression. Although it was left unmentioned in my speech, it is critically important for us all to acknowledge that most of this violence happens at the intersections of race, poverty, homophobia, and transphobia. This is not a time to ignore these intersection, but a time to highlight, question them, and challenge society to change them

[Image] A solitary burning candle on a black background

Before I do anything else, I would like to acknowledge that tonight we are gathered on Treaty 6 land, which, before people who looked a lot like me came and violently removed the peoples from this area, has had a long history of understanding and accepting gender and sexuality diversity including two-spirit identities, which I hope we will hear more about tonight.

I would also like to take a moment to thank all of those who helped to plan, organize, and run this event, as well as Miki for being such a gracious hostess tonight. Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank you all for coming out tonight. I realize that events like Transgender Day of Remembrance can be depressing and anxiety-provoking for even the most optimistic of people. But, by being here tonight you all are making a statement. You are showing that you care about what happens to those in the Transgender communities, and you show that you won’t stand passively by as yet more people are attacked, abused, and killed for their gender identity or gender expression. Your presence here tonight shows that the people on this year’s list have not been forgotten, erased, or destroyed. So thank you. For all of those who can’t say it anymore, thank you.

But without further delay, onward to the reason that I am here tonight.

Tonight we have gathered to acknowledge the most heinous of violence against the transgender people and communities; we have gathered to honour those who have been taken by this violence; and we are here to challenge society to do better for us and our transgender peers. As it always is, the list of the dead is far longer than it ever should be. However, being confronted with this list, of people who have been killed, sometimes in the most gruesome and grotesque ways imaginable, can make us forget about all the other, less deadly ways, those in the transgender communities face violence, oppression, and discrimination.

Transgender people, including some of us in this room tonight, have experienced employment discrimination where we were removed from positions, or simply never hired in the first place, because of our gender identity and/or expression. Recently, a survey of 433 transgender people living Ontario found that 18% reported they had been turned down for a job because of their gender while 32% reported being unsure whether their gender influenced the hiring manager’s decision. Further, 13% reported that they had been fired or otherwise dismissed for being transgender.

On average, the transgender people who took part in this survey reported having an education higher than that of the general population, but yet experienced joblessness at a rate nearly 4 times the provincial average. With that, is it any surprise that so many transgender people feel forced to do sex work to survive?

Transgender people also face housing discrimination. In another recent survey, 19% reported being denied the ability to rent an apartment due to their transgender status and 11% report being evicted for being transgender. This same study estimated that transgender people experience homelessness at rates at least double that of the general population, and for transgender youth it is even worse. For these youth, who too often have to face being kicked out of their house by unaccepting family members and guardians, the homelessness rate is nearly 10x that of the general population.

However, housing discrimination doesn’t even end there. In 2008, Jennifer Gale, a transgender woman died in Austin, Texas after being denied access to an emergency shelter. Her death was attributed to the colder than normal temperatures she had to bare as she slept on the street outside the Salvation Army. Jennifer was third such death in 2008 alone.

But that isn’t all. Transgender people also report being sexually assaulted at rates far higher than their non-transgender peers. In one study, it was found that 54% of transgender people had been sexually assaulted at least once, while others suggest a more realistic estimate is between 45-51%. This is at least double the rates that are considered ‘an epidemic’ by sources such as the Globe and Mail, Mother Jones, and The New York Times.

With all of this bad news, it should come as no surprise that transgender people are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, social anxiety, phobia, and other mental health problems than their non-transgender peers. As a result, transgender people attempt suicide at rates much higher than the general population. In fact, it has been estimated that between 34% and 45% of transgender people have attempted suicide at least once, and even these numbers are dwarfed by those reported by the two-spirit communities.

So, while the names on this list seem so disconnected from us, here, in this room, I ask you tonight, tomorrow, and every night after to remember the reasons we have gathered, to call for changes that would leave this list empty, and leave those of us in the transgender communities protected, locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally.

Thank you.


Weekly Reader: October 18

Let’s be honest, sometimes anal sex is going to hurt.

There is a fetish for everything, and every fetish has a name. Like sideromophilia.

Sex-positivity is more than just an approach to sex, it is an approach to life too.

Sex education is about more than just sexual activities, it is also about the complexities of the people involved in those sexual activities.

Just WTF is sexuality anyway?

I have a question: Are you a slut?

Critical Reading Time! The Canadian Women’s Foundation released a report on sex trafficking.

The always amazing Thomas Millar educators us, yet again, as to why we can’t simply blaming alcohol for sexual assault.

Yet another thing that Focus on the Family completely misunderstands: Sex Education

Anxiety can ruin all the things, including sexytimes. Don’t let it.

Some desperately needed sex advice by two amazing poets.

Perhaps a better title for this is: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Receiving Cunnilingus

Before rushing into an open relationship there are some do’s and don’t’s you should know

Sex Education starts at child birth, whether you like it or not.

Good to go is an app to document consent… that could exonerate more rapists than it helps convict

Resource Guide: Asexuality

List: Of Yes/No/Maybe Checklists

[Reaction Paper] The Queer Theory of Heterosexism

Hello again everyone,

It is time for a bunch more reaction type papers! Yay! Aren’t you excited!? Because I sure am! (Gah.)

Anyway, this time rather than watching movies in class and then having time to write about them afterward, we are being assigned readings on a specific social issue each week. The first week (which I have finished already) was on prejudice against Aboriginal peoples. The seminar on this was presented by the professor of the course. The rest of the seminars will be presented by the students. This week it is my turn to present for the class, but I still need to read and react to the readings assigned by the other student that is presenting after me. Her readings are below.

Of particular interest this week is the second reading which is explicitly focused bringing Queer Theory into the practice of Counselling. 

Reading List:

van Gelderen, L., Gartrell, N., Bos, H. M. W., van Rooij, F. B., & Hermanns, J. M. A. (2012). Stigmatization associated with growing up in a lesbian-parented family: What do adolescents experience and how do they deal with it? Children and Youth Services Review, 34(2012), 999–1006.

Smith, L. C., Shin, R. Q., & Officer, L. M. (2011). Moving counselling forward on LGB and Transgender issues: Speaking queerly on discourses and microaggressions. The Counseling Psychologist, 40(3), 385-408. doi: 10.1177/0011000011403165

Considering my interest in sociological and feminist theory, it should come as no surprise that the article by Smith, Shin, and Officer (2011) captured my interest and started me thinking. Of course, this is because, in this article, the authors explicitly invoke Queer Theory in an attempt to offer fledgling counsellors new, more effective ways of addressing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT or Rainbow) clientèle in an appropriate and affirming manner. In doing so, the authors use an example of a counsellor who is meeting a cisgender, gay male client for the first time. The client appears to be experiencing some distress arising from his relationship with his transgender partner. After this first meeting, it is clear to both that things didn’t go at all well. The authors use the rest of the paper to de-construct, analyse, and discuss the actions of the counsellor, and how these actions may have portrayed negativity or ignorance rather than positivity towards the intersectional standpoint of the client.

Although Queer Theory is often referred to as dense and obtuse, even by experienced academics, the authors did a wonderful job of making their analysis clear, concise, and approachable. The authors accomplish this through winding their way through the analysis slowly, taking one step at a time. In this way, the authors lead the reader deeper into the applications of this complex theory without diving into (or being bogged down by) the depths of its finer points. This, while disappointing to the experienced reader of queer theory or post-structuralist literature, is ultimately of great benefit to the average reader of the article.

Further, through expertly framing the narrative of the article, the authors cover more advanced concepts of queer theory without explicitly mentioning the theory or the tenets thereof. Instead, the authors rely on their use of literary assumptions, and the readers desire to tie the entirety of the work together, to accomplish this. However, the implementation of this method of avoidance means that the authors never actually addressed their underlying assumptions in the article. Because of their skill in this regard, this may not have actually contributed to the confusion of the readership, though it very well could have. This is because many of the assumptions made throughout the article ran counter to those that make up our daily experience.

Nevertheless, the use of this framing allowed the authors to explain (without actually explaining) the mutualistic relationship between hegemonic discourse and the structural oppression that it reproduces. In the context of the article, this implicated gender and sexuality in perpetuating the oppression that those in the Rainbow communities suffer under. Taking this to its logical end, the authors argue that the mere existence of gender and sexuality as hegemonic identity classes birth, support, and reinforce heterosexism, cissexism, homonegativity, and transnegativity as we in the Rainbow communities experience them.

This notion that identity classes, through their very existence, actively recreate and support structural oppression—despite not being stated explicitly in the article—truly strikes at the heart of queer theory. In fact, many argue that this is the tenet which the entire theory is built around. If not, it is most certainly one of the points that the theory hinges on, and one which attracts much of the debate. And, realistically, there is much debate to be had at this point.

However, to claim that the debate is truly about whether or not identity classes should exist at all would be doing the debate, or queer theory more generally, a great injustice. As with most things, the actuality of the situation defies simplicity. Even the article seems to acknowledge this, as it both calls for the dissolution of hegemonic identity classes while endorsing them through their continued proliferation in the text.

This makes the reality somewhat complicated, as it isn’t so much the identity classes themselves, but rather the hegemonic nature of these classes, that create and facilitate structural oppression; a point made clear in the writings of Foucault. This means that, so long as the hegemonic aspects of these identity classes are removed, the identity classes themselves can stay. However, as is also made clear throughout Foucault’s writing, this is not a task easily accomplished. Rather, given our propensity to create hegemony through the selective inclusion or exclusion of members of our peer group, the argument to end hegemonic discourse and the argument to end identity classes are, at least at this point in time, functionally the same. To many, this is inherently problematic.

As much as hegemonic identity classes allow for the creation of structural oppression, they also allow for the construction of culture and shared experiences. Knowing that someone else belongs to the same socially oppressed class as yourself allows for a connection that isn’t possible without this knowledge. This bond is something that those in the overclass cannot and do not experience. This is, in part, due to the discourse of the other that reinforces and perpetuates social dominance through leaving the dominant identity unnamed, but also because the impetus for this connection is simply not there.

For those suffering under societal oppression, the need to cling together, develop culture, and find solidarity is very real. The stakes are simply too high not to. Those without the support system to counter this ever-present, top-down pressure are crushed into cultural assimilation. This obliterates the pride that comes from the development of the culture of the oppressed and replaces it instead with shame, self-policing, and internalized oppression. This becomes a self-destructive spiral, which feeds off both the continued pressure towards cultural assimilation and the inability of the person to ever fully assimilate.

For those with the cultural supports that comes with finding community around one’s oppressed identity class, these negative results can be largely avoided. What’s more is that positivity can start to take hold and personal strength and resilience can flourish. Tying this back to the topic at hand, this may help to elucidate the findings of van Gelderen, Gartrell, Bos, van Rooij, and Hermanns (2012).

In their study of adolescents born to lesbian parents, they found that stigmatization based on their parents sexual orientation was common; However, for the most part, the adolescents were able to handle these stigmatizing situations through the deployment of the adaptive coping mechanisms. If these adolescents, through finding other children in similar situations or with similar identities, had developed community pride and a community culture around their shared experiences with oppression and marginalization, this could explain the ability for these adolescents to deal with this negative attention in such positive ways.

Without the positivity of this community pride and community culture arising from the negativity that is oppression and marginalization, it is hard to say what would have happened in the case of these adolescents. Perhaps they would have still shown these positive attributed in dealing with these stressful and unnecessary aspects of growing up. But at the same time, perhaps, without the hegemonic identity classes that pigeon-holed their mothers and, by extension, them, these negative experiences wouldn’t have existed in the first place. Whether this would make for stronger or weaker adolescents, or whether this would make for a truly egalitarian society, free of oppression, marginalization, and discrimination, it impossible to really tell.

Sigourney Weaver’s red ribbon: A reaction to Jeffrey (1995)

Hello again everyone.

This is going to be the last film review for the semester. (Yay!) I can’t tell you how sick of writing these I am. Don’t get me wrong here, I am enjoying that I am finding something to write for school AND for the blog. However, I am finding myself hating the focus on movies that this class has. I am not a movie person in the slightest. When I do indulge in watching a fictional film, typically it is something silly, girly, and childish. When I am watching something that isn’t fictional, the films tend to be dark, scary, and documentary pieces. Other than that, I don’t really have much of an appetite for film.

So, yeah, I am glad that this is almost over. However, there is going to be one final paper due for the class. I am sure that it is something that I could post here as well. Though, I will have to think about how I am going to manage that. I am sure that if you have been interested in my writings so far that you will be interested in that as well, but it is going to be rather long (like 20-pages long). So, I will think about it.

Anyway, the film that I am working on today is called Jeffrey. The movie features a number of big names from the 1990’s. While I would love to summarize the movie quickly for you here, I am not sure that I can think of anything more to say about it than what is in the reaction below.

[Image] Jean-luc Picard in typical Make it so fasion.

At least Jean-luc Picard was in this movie.

Jeffrey (1995) is a gay romantic comedy about a man who gives up sex and ends up stumbling into Mr. Right in the process, but unlike all other romantic comedies, Jeffrey relies on AIDS—a deadly, incurable, sexual transmitted virus—for the majority of its punchlines. In doing so, the film awkwardly attempts to further acceptance for those living with HIV/AIDS. However, because of its frequent departures into the absurd, the film could easily pass as a satirical piece. In this, the film’s point could be to call out the stupidity and arrogance of the blasé treatment of safer sex practices in the post-AIDS crisis era or simply homonegativity itself. However, the ambiguous relationship between this film and the satire contained within leaves the viewer to decide whether it is truly a work of irony or a serious romantic comedy. As with all things, the truth likely lies somewhere in between.

In viewing the film, I was left with a deep sense of confusion over my inability to tell where satire ended and the plot began. Throughout the film, there are many points that are clearly meant to be satirical in nature. Some of these arose from characters, such as those played by Sigourney Weaver and Nathan Lane, which were included almost entirely for comedic effect. Because of this, however, it becomes unclear whether the same ironic reading could be extended to the likes of Sterling (Patrick Stewart), Darius, or even Steve—characters with a much more substantial impact on the plot of the film.

More worryingly, this problem I had in differentiating the satirical from the substantial extended to aspects of the film beyond its characters and plot. This means that, while I feel that many aspects of the film were problematic, I feel as though any raised concern can simply be countered with a defence stating that that aspect was intentionally absurd. Because of this, I wonder whether this film could be marked as the first film to demonstrate so-called “hipster homophobia.”

Hipster homophobia is a concept, similar to hipster racism or hipster sexism, where homophobia or homonegativity is presented in such a way to make it intentionally absurd or subjectively ironic. In this, those perpetuating hipster homophobia are attempting to challenge the societal expectation of homonegative depictions through over the top uses of these very depictions. In this way, the creator of the work is expressing their belief that blatant expressions of genuine homonegativity are no longer taken seriously and that such obvious depictions of such are seen as humorous and/or whimsical.

However, portrayals of this type often backfire on their creator. As Poe’s law would suggest, there is always going to be a subset of the audience of any satirical work that will not understand its satirical nature. As a result, these people will accept the work for its face value and not for the message at its core. In the context of hipster homophobia, this means that some of those in the audience will take the over the top depictions of stereotyped gay men as the way things actually are rather than taking them as the ironic representations that they were meant to be. Because of this, hipster homophobia inadvertently supports the homonegative actions of those who do not understand its irony and allows for (or encourages) the continuation of homonegative actions under the guise of satire or humour.

Of course, this is only one way of interpreting this film. The other obvious way of doing so would be to take the film on its face, as a realistic portrayal of the creator’s feelings about gay men. In this interpretation, the film moves from inadvertently supporting homonegative assumptions to actively bolstering them, taking on a much darker tone as it does so. This is because the film then becomes little more than a collection of harmful stereotypes and irrational ideas, not the least of which involves the active questioning of safer sex practices.

While the main character does eventually warm to the idea of practising safer sex towards the end of the film, the way in which he announces this seems as though he is making an exception for his desired partner. Prior to this, the message of the film about safer sex practices was one showing them as tiresome, dull, and romance-destroying. This presentation of safer sex practices offers support to misconceptions which pervade our society about these practices, and only serves to discourage their employment by the masses. Given the very serious nature of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, Human papillomavirus (HPV), and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea, the discouragement of effective prevention measures is irresponsible, but yet all too common.

Beyond this, however, Jeffrey did no better in its portrayal of the gay man. In fact, the film defined gay men (and perhaps men in general) in such a way as to make giving up sex a laughable, foolhardy endeavour. This was not done through the strength of writing or the power of performance, but instead it was accomplished through relying on tired tropes about men and (gay) men’s sexuality. These stereotypes of the oversexed man and the uncontrollable male sex drive are nothing new to media representations of gay men. In fact, it is for this very reason that gay men have historically been viewed as sexual predators exploiting others for their sexual desires. While this harmful generalization could be seen as applicable to heterosexual men as well, it is often assumed that gay men are far more sexual than even their heterosexual male counterparts. This makes representations of the uncontrollable gay male sex drive all the more salient to the audience and all the more problematic for the gay male community.

In addition, the main auxiliary characters in the story, Sterling and Darius, do nothing to improve this stereotyped view of gay men. With Sterling being a catty interior decorator and Darius being a “chorus boy” in the production of Cats, these characters are the epitome of the feminine gay male archetype. As such, these characters do little to move beyond the regressive notions that conflate homosexuality with gender transgression. Further, those in other marginalized communities do not get much better treatment. After all, the film’s only non-white character (a Black man) is portrayed as a server at a restaurant, and the film’s only transgender character is played by a masculine-looking cis-man in a dress and is depicted eagerly awaiting surgery.

Because of these heavily stereotyped representations that clearly harm the communities on which they are based, I almost hope that the creator of the film was aiming entirely for creating a work of satire. However, as I mentioned above, I am sure that the truth lies somewhere between these two opposing interpretations of the film. The reason that I believe this is because the film seems to have a plot that is far too serious to lend itself to an ironic interpretation. However, it is clear that many aspects of the film are not meant to be taken seriously at all. It is because of this that I feel that the line between satire and seriousness has been blurred. However, with either interpretation (or some complex mixing of the two), something that the film can not escape is the sense of unironic hypocrisy that comes with its attempted advancement of acceptance for those living with HIV/AIDS.

During the contrived courtship between Steve and Jeffrey, Steve mentions that he does not want to be Jeffrey’s red ribbon. In this, Steve expresses that he does not want to be reduced to a decoration highlighting Jeffrey’s acceptance of those with AIDS and implies that such self-centred, surface level engagement with the cause is all too common. Nevertheless, those in the cast and crew of this film do not seem to actually engage with this message. Instead, it feels as though many of the big names who got involved with this film did so as a way of publicly displaying their humanitarian efforts. In this way, the film serves as the red ribbon for its cast and crew, a status Steve expressed his explicit disapproval of.

Again!? So soon!?

*sighs* That’s right, it is time for yet another reaction paper on a film that was shown for the class. This time, the movie of choice is Silverlake Life: The View from Here (1993). Unlike many of the other movies that we have seen so far,Silverlake Life is a cute like documentary. I don’t think that I have much to say that I haven’t said below, so I will leave you to it.

World AIDS Day logo, with a bright red ribbon.

World AIDS Day

Silverlake Life: The View From Here (1993) is a powerful reminder of the personal devastation that often awaits those with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. From its outset, the film makes it clear that the ending will not be one of cheery songs and happily ever afters. Rather, the film announces its intentions to document the lives of partners Tom and Mark as they experience their spirals of AIDS-related decline. In this, the documentary does not shy away from even the hardest of facts; Instead, choosing to highlight the physical tole AIDS is taking on each of their bodies and even allowing the viewer the gruesome opportunity to see the ultimate result, at least in Tom’s case.

Throughout this entire process, the couple does their best to not only show the physical ravages of the disease, but also its emotional costs. Frequently, the viewer is confronted with the emotional dilemmas that Tom and Mark face as they try to understand, and prepare for, their eventual deaths. As an example of this, Mark and Tom talk about how family visits take on a new meaning as their health declines. In this, they talk about how, while they want family to be together in the hard times they are facing, they also understand that family visits are an undeniable signal of their quickly approaching end. However, this is not the only example, as even the most mundane of daily tasks has the potential to result in such emotional turmoil. When faced with a long day out at the shops, Tom gets quite angry with Mark as he continues to add “just one more thing” to the list of jobs. Although this anger is mostly at his own growing physical incompacity, to some extent, Tom still misdirects it at his partner, Mark.

Thankfully, however, this does nothing to harm the relationship or the dedication that either has to the other. Instead, it was just a passing feeling arising for the ever increasing limitations that AIDS places on the body. This physical and emotional realism, as well as the disease/life balance that is struck throughout the film, make Silverlake Life one of its kind. Even though the movie highlights some of the most gruesome moments of living with (and dying from) AIDS, the film still comes across as more of a tragic romance than a romantic tragedy. That is to say, that, despite the focus on the disease that is slowly taking both of their lives, the film also (inherently) centres the relationship between the two of them, and the love and dedication that makes this possible. In doing so, Tom and Mark, once again, stand as proof-positive that gay men are capable and willing to commit to such long-term, devotional relationships, a fact that (despite frequent confirmation) still comes into question today.

Further, because the film makes it a point to address the dedication and (assumed) monogamy of Mark and Tom, the film also helps to break down preconceptions about the strength of the relationship between HIV/AIDS and promiscuity. While frequent casual sex does put one at increased risk for contracting the disease, promiscuity is not an essential part of this process. It is quite possible to contract HIV from a single session of unsafe sexual activity or from a variety of other sources; a fact that is commonly ignored in a rush to cast blame for the illness onto the actions of others. So, in spelling this out yet again, Mark and Tom remove some the loaded assumptions about, and relieve some of the stresses on, all the people who unfortunately follow in their footsteps.

Overall, Silverlake Life: The View From Here provides the viewer with an excellent, yet disturbing, introduction to the ravages of AIDS on the gay community. While the movie does little to address the far reaching nature of the epidemic in this era, the film easily and appropriately personalizes this deadly, painful, and incapacitating disease; something not to be taken lightly. However, in leaving this film, it is still possible for one to feel as though AIDS is a fate for the unlucky or unwise and not the population destroying menace that it actually was. Because of this, I feel that Silverlake Life should commonly and consistently be paired with the other side of this coin, so that those watching it can more fully comprehend, not only the physical and emotional tole of the disease, but the population and community scale tole as well.

Gendered Homophobia: A comparison of Cruising (1980) and Windows (1980)

Hello again, everyone.

It is time for another reaction paper, and thus, time for another blog. I was hoping to get something more up between the last reaction paper and this one, but a lot has happened since then (which you can read about on my personal blog). For this reaction paper, I have been tasked with watching, comparing, and responding to Cruising (1980) and Windows (1980).

A bit of background: Windows is a movie that centres around Emily, a young woman who is caught in the gaze of a predatory, psychotic lesbian: her “friend” Andrea. Early in the movie, we see Emily getting attacked and sexually assaulted as she enters her apartment. Later, it is revealed that Andrea had this arranged simply to get the chance to hear Emily moan (something the rapist forces her to do at knifepoint). As Emily does what she needs to deal with the trauma of being sexually assaulted in her own home (namely, moving to a new apartment), Andrea takes advantage of her friend’s choice to start watching her from across the river (with help of a high powered telescope). As Andrea grows more and more devoted to Emily, she starts killing anyone that gets between her and her love interest. Finally, (after killing Emily’s cat, Emily’s neighbour, and her own psychologist) Andrea corners Emily. As Emily finds out about Andrea’s plan and involvement with her rape, she develops as a character and slaps Andrea hard enough to jar her from her murderous, manipulative ways.

Cruising, on the other hand, is a very dark film in which Steve Burns, a straight rookie cop, goes undercover to investigate a series of murders claiming the lives of gay men in the leather scene. As soon as he steps into the role of a gay leather daddy, the sexuality around him is ramped up to 11. As he slowly integrates into the scene, he starts to find himself “affected” by the role that he is asked to play. While it isn’t ever made explicit, it is implied that his involvement with the leather gay community is driving him towards a penchant for violence, sex, and possibly murder. In the end, he finds his killer (not before fingering the wrong guy and watching him get beat down by the cops). However, as the murderer lays in hospital recovering from his run-in with Steve, another body turns up, this time Steve’s neighbour from his stake-out location. It is dismissed as a lover’s quarrel, but was it really?

Considering these two movies, if you are looking for a decent queer-as-murderer movie for your Halloween night, I suggest that you try Windows first.

Although the crime dramas Cruising (1980) and Windows (1980) are two films that follow in the “Queer-as-murderer” tradition of Hollywood film-making, they are about as different as gay men and lesbian women; Or, at least, as different as they are assumed to be. While the differences between these two movies may be striking and the similarities may be worrying, one thing sticks out more than anything else: gendered homophobia.

Much like other forms of intersectional oppression, gendered homophobia is a Gestalt conceptualization of homonegativity as it happens within a patriarchal system. In this, sexism and homonegativity are inseparably connected in such a way that the whole is greater, or more oppressive, than the sum of its parts. In relation to the films, both can easily be said to be homonegative in concept, setting up the murderer as a psychotic queer; However, in taking the films as parts of the same historical reference point, the gendered homophobia starts to come into focus. While neither film explicitly endorses the stratification of gays and lesbians by gendered class, the two films, taken together, very much do. 

Unlike earlier films that seem to conflate sexuality with gender, effectively making one’s gender secondary to one’s sexual orientation, these two films do much the opposite. As such, Cruising, rather than showing gay men as one-dimensionally effeminate because of their sexual orientation, shows gay men, particularly those in the leather community, as the peak of hypermasculinity. While this retelling of the social narrative offers a new dimension to the social conceptualization of the gay male, it also seems to re-entrench notions of masculinity and expectations of men. In doing so, and doing so in such a uni-dimensional way, Cruising lends support to the creation and perpetuation of a new stereotype, one which writes gay men into the role of oversexed hypermasculinity, almost as an overcompensation for past transgressions of their gendered expectations.

In Cruising, this means that the friendships and emotional connections of the past are gone. Instead, almost every interaction between gay men includes some sort of sexual advance or sexual activity. Being that the setting for this movie is before the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s, this may, in fact, closely resemble the reality of the leather community of the time. However, as the leather community is merely one aspect of the larger gay community, the singular focus on it only serves to exaggerate the promiscuity of gay men and the prevalence of the gay leather scene. On its own, this would not be a problem as there is nothing wrong with either casual sex or the gay leather scene; however, as the general public is constantly looking for one narrative that describes all gay men, this narrative does far more harm than good.

Similar to the way that Cruising supports the foundations of a hypermasculine ideal, Windows offers support for many of the sexist assumptions about women. The most striking example of which comes again from the realm of sexuality. In this film, although Andrea (the murderous lesbian character) can be said to be taking a predatory role in the “relationship” between herself and Emily, Andrea still goes about this as passively as possible. In conversations with her psychiatrist, Andrea is urged more than once to open herself up to her love interest, to tell her how she feels. Despite this, she fails to do so right up until her very last interaction with Emily. Instead, Andrea takes a psychotic twist on a standard female archetype by killing anyone who appears to come between the two of them.

This deadly, one-sided fascination starts even before the movie does and continues right up until the final scene. From this, the viewer gets a sense that, despite her psychopathy, Andrea is naturally monogamous: a trait commonly ascribed to women. Further, even within her intense obsession, the role of Andrea’s sexual desire is surprisingly unclear. Despite the fact that Andrea contracts someone to rape Emily at knifepoint (simply to obtain a recording of her moaning), Andrea seems to make nothing of the night she has Emily trapped in her apartment. After all, Emily claims that, throughout the night, Andrea simply professed her love for her over and over again. In leaving this to the last possible moment, a passive aggressive tone is struck under all of Andrea’s actions, as though Andrea has been hinting for Emily to make the first move all along. Along with the terrible communication skills that this implies, this disposition away from overt expressions of sexual interest in favour of a manipulative passive aggression is yet another (charming) stereotyped feminine trait.

Common to both movies is the theme of psychopathy causing murderousness. In Cruising, it is implied that the psychopathy of the killer arises from the disapproval of his father. Whether this is a jab at father’s who reject their gay sons or an attempt to address the etymology of the sexual orientation, the fact remains that ‘daddy issues’ are inexorably connected to stereotypes of gay men. In Windows, on the other hand, the psychopathy seems to be a sort of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. However, in both cases, the film-makers do nothing to challenge the conflation of this psychopathy with the character’s status as a sexual minority. This glaring oversight in two different movies of the same time period suggests a systemic problem with the conflation of these two concepts, a problem that still exists in an altered way today.

Overall, both films act as relics from the not-too-distant past, as well as reminders of the stereotypes that continue to impact gay and lesbian communities today. However, it would be unfair to claim that the films are equally bad, in quality or oppressive undertones. In both of these regards, Cruising comes out as the clear winner. Despite the fact that Windows’ only lesbian character is a psychotic mass murder, the sensitization of the sexuality and the extreme othering of the leather community in Cruising were far worse. Further, with the extremely weak psychological twist ending in Cruising, it is hard to believe that this film was more of a success than Windows.

The Rape of Alice: An Exploration of the Abuse in The Killing of Sister George

* * * TRIGGER WARNING :: Depictions of Abuse, Stalking, Rape, and Homonegativity * * *

Hello again!

For one of the courses that I am taking at University, I have been tasked with writing 6  reaction papers over the course of the semester. Many of these take the form of psuedo- film reviews, where my reaction is to a film that we watched in class. The first of these was to the film Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). This was not published here as, well, I didn’t think about it at the time. This, the second reaction paper is in reference to The Killing of Sister George (1968). However, before I begin with my write-up, I just want to point out again that there is a trigger warning on this post, as well as on the movie being referred to, for depictions of rape, stalking, abuse, and homonegativity and discussions thereof. Please tread carefully and remember self-care.

[Image] A person with painted nails holding up a card saying "It's NO until I say YES without coercion"The Killing of Sister George (1968) contained quite a few problematic elements. Ranging from conflation of femininity with infantilism to the complete inability to resolve the plot, the movie seemed quite content to make wild, unfounded generalizations and then leave the audience hanging. However, perhaps the most problematic elements of the movie did not lay in the mechanics of plot development or basic storytelling, but instead with the depiction, and implicit normalization, of manipulation, abuse, and rape within lesbian communities of the time.

These themes were almost omnipresent throughout the film, but were mostly tied to those who took an interest in Alice ‘Childie’ McNaught. From the very first scene, it is shown that the relationship between June ‘George’ Buckeridge and Alice is one marked by alcohol, control, and abuse. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, June is aggressively questioning Alice about who she has been drinking with, as if an empty glass on the table is an indication of sexual indiscretion. Despite this concern being quickly dispelled, June follows up by once again accusing Alice of sexual impropriety, this time with her boss at work. This leads into one of the most awkward and blatantly abusive exchanges in the movie when June screams at Alice “If that’s what he’s like, then why hasn’t he had a go at you?” This is quickly followed up by June exasperatingly adding “No one ever tells me anything” to Alice’s assertions that she is being honest, forthright, and true.

This seemingly confused behaviour on the part of June seeks to throw Alice off balance and pressure her into a certain pattern of responding. This is shown more clearly later in the film when June unexpectedly shows up at Alice’s work to find that her boss is not the sexy, suave, lady-killer that she was expecting, but rather an older, married, Jewish man. In this scene, June insists that Alice lied to her about the sexual appeal of her boss; However, Alice did no such thing. Rather, she gets pressured into responding in the affirmative simply to defuse the anger that was being directed her way by June. This pattern of denial, followed by continued abuse, and finally complete surrender is one that repeats itself throughout the film, and a truism of long-term abusive relationships: learned helplessness.

Alice isn’t the only person to be a recipient of June’s abusive behaviour, however. Rather, this list includes a pair of random nuns in the back of a taxi, as well as the entire cast and crew of the BBC soap opera June was working on. In both of these cases, alcohol fueled her exploits, leading June to act inappropriately. With her peers on the set of her soap opera, June simply hurled abusive barbs at those members of the cast she didn’t appreciate. However, with the nuns earlier in the film, it is suggested that June sexually assaults either one or both of these women, a fact that she uses to taunt Alice later on.

As with many abusers, June also shows a history of abusive, consent violating behaviour. In a scene detailing how June first met Alice, June recounts the story of how she stalked Alice, violated many of her personal boundaries, and even took a piece of her property as a souvenir, all prior to even speaking a word to Alice herself.

June: That takes me back years. When I first met you…

Alice: That awful boarding house.

June: You know, for weeks I watched you come and go, and I never spoke a word to you. Every morning, you set off for work punctually *giggle* at 10 past 9. You were always in such a rush.

Alice: I had no idea you were watching me.

June: Then, one night I went into the bathroom just after you had had a bath, and the mirror was all steamed up and the bathmat was all wet and glistening where you’d be standing on it. And, there was a smell of bath crystals and talcum powder. It was like an enchanted wood. And I stood quite still on the bathmat in your footprints and then I noticed that you’d left your comb behind, it was a pink plastic comb and it had your hairs in it and I kept that comb as a souvenir. And all that time, I’d never spoken a word to you.

This extreme example very much mimics the way that abusers and rapists choose their victims. They often violate social norms and minor personal boundaries as a way of testing whether the victim would be likely to rebuff their advance or challenge their presumed power. If these small invasions are successful, the abuser moves to larger boundary breaches and more controlling behaviours. Often, by the time the victim realizes what is actually going on, the abuser is far too close or far too connected to push them from their place of power and control. [Dick pictures as minor boundary breaches]

This entrapped nature of abuse, and the random, often unpredictable nature of the abuser pushes the victim in to a state of learned helplessness, much like that exhibited by Alice. In this, the victim often surrenders to the abuse, even when it is over things that aren’t factual or believable, simply because they know that correcting the abuser will only make matters worse. With this in mind, the sex scene at the end of the movie begins to look less like a failed attempt at romanticism and more like a new abuser using the learned helplessness of Alice to take a place of control and power. At the beginning of this scene, Mercy Croft places her hand on Alice’s breast, Alice pushes her hand away, not once, but twice, Mercy continues to push Alice’s limits until, finally, Alice gives up, “allowing” Mercy to do as she wills.

This pattern of learned helplessness does not imply consent; However, in the many years since the films release there is little to no discussion about how the sex scene at the end of the movie may actually be an act of rape. This may be because of general perceptions of rape as a wholly violent act, against a thrashing, fighting, completely unwilling victim. Patterns such as the one described with Alice are often not only discounted from rape discourse, but actively eroticized by generations of romantic comedies. This, along with the passing reference to a sadomasochistic relationship between June and Alice, offers real life people who act like June and Mercy social license to operate. This allows them to use the benefit of the doubt created by “gray rape” romantic comedies, and other aspects of rape culture, to continue their track record of manipulation, abuse, and rape.

Considering that Alice, June, and Mercy are the only developed lesbian characters, and given that not one of the three of them is a positive, strong role model (to say the least), it is safe to say that this film, much like Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) is highly homonegative. Further, since many of the major character flaws present within Alice, June, and Mercy can be tracked back to stereotypes and beliefs about the butch/femme dynamic of lesbian relationships (butch as sexual and physical aggressor, femme as childish, innocent, and passive), the film actively supported the hatred, fear, and misunderstanding that surrounded lesbian women and gay men at the time.