Forsooth, a TG Opera from the 1700s!

 

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(Photo: Discovery of Achilles on Skyros)

Achilles, the mighty warrior, pretending to be a girl and fighting off the manly advances of a king?  Finding himself pestered on all sides by people determined he should become a bride?  This and more all happens in John Gay’s 1700s opera, Achilles in Petticoats.

The story of Achilles and how his mother, the nymph Thetis, convinced him to live as a girl dates back to ancient times and has been the subject of paintings, sculptures, epic poems and operas in French, Spanish and, happily for me, English!  For a listing of the many depictions of this event, check out the Achilles on Skyros Wikipedia page.

The Opera itself, Achilles in Petticoats, can also be read online and features some scenes that, unfortunately, could have come right out of 21st century TG fiction.  I say unfortunately because it shows how little has changed in terms of women being sexually harassed.  Here, we see a man subjected to these kinds of sexist treatments, and that is what this opera explores, with songs such as this, a duet between Achilles and Lycomedes as the king is trying to pressure Achilles into sex, leading to a threatened rape.  This is the lead in and then the duet.  Notice how Lycomedes assumes Achilles is only pretending (s)he’s not interested:

 

Lycomedes:  Since your obstinate behavior then makes violence necessary–

Achilles: You make self-preservation, sir, a necessity–

Lycomedes:  I won’t be refused!

Air IX

 

Lycomedes:  Why this affectation?

Achilles: Why this provocation?

Lycomedes: Must I bear resistance still?

Achilles: Check your inclination.

Lycomedes: Dare you then deny me?

Achilles: You too far may try me

Lycomedes: Must I then against your will?

Achilles: Force will never ply me!

(Achilles pushes Lycomedes from him with great force and throws him down).

One of the more interesting twists in most versions of the story is that Achilles agrees to learn to walk and talk and live as a girl because he is in love with Deidamia, one of the king’s daughters, and the only way he can get close to her is if he pretends to be a girl.  So, it is full of gender role bending fun as it is his desire for a woman that makes Achilles willing to live as one.  There is also an interesting aspect in most version in that is is  his mother, Thetis, trains him to “graceful gait and modest tongue.”  It’s an interesting dynamic, a mother being the one who takes her manly and macho son and feminizes him– all to protect him from the early death it has been foretold awaits him at Troy.  But could there be more to it?  Could there be some other factors driving Thetis to this unusual plan?

I feel like a modern re-telling exploring all these relationships and issues is past due, and so I am starting to write one now, and I am having great fun in exploring these decisions by Thetis for her son, and Achilles for himself.  Of course, in my version, there will be a physical change!

 

 

The Assignment (Spoilers)

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First of all, let me say this movie is not so bad.  I have seen the word terrible attached to it many times, but to me I would rate it average as a film in the revenge/payback film noir genre.

The main characters is betrayed.  He then systematically hunts down his betrayer.   Most of that hunting down involves him walking around shooting people without ever being remotely threatened himself or even challenged.  He walks in and shoots.  People die.  There is tension and no struggle.  He shoots.  They die.

There is very little here for fans of TG fiction, especially if you are interested in media that really explores gender identity.  The character is given a forced sex-change, and after initially freaking out when he wakes up to his new face and female body, he just goes right back to acting and dressing the same way as he always did.  He doesn’t seem to really even care all that much, but just throws on some guy clothes and goes back to being a thug.

A few times, he is spoken to in demeaning ways based on his new sex– someone calling him babe or sweetheart, but it seems to have no impact on him at all.   He just shrugs it off like it didn’t happen.  Likewise when he, for no clear reason, decides to dress up in a sexy women’s clothing and heels, even donning a blonde wig.  He acts just like he’d put on his usual leather jacket and hoodie, and doesn’t seem to care at all about how he looks or what it might mean in terms of how he is treated.

In addition, the movie features a framing story where Sigourney Weaver, the doctor who performed the surgery, is being interviewed by Tony Shaloub.  This is mostly just an exercise in lazy writing, with lots of opportunities for exposition dumps and a pointless cat and mouse game where nothing really seems to be at stake.

The motivation for the sex-change is thin and unconvincing, and in the end the biggest problem for me is that I didn’t care about any of the characters.   If anything, the villain Honest John  was more charismatic and likeable than the hero, Frank Kitchen, so I didn’t much care whether he got his or not.

Still and all, I would say it’s an okay movie, the kind you watch on a rainy day.   It’s okay, but just okay.

The Best TG on TV (Spoilers)

 

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(Tip in Boy Form)

For fans of TG fiction, the best place to find it right now is on Emerald City embody in the character of Tip and watchable on Hulu and NBC.   Now, everything that follows is a spoiler, so you may want to just go and watch!  But, if you read on, just know I will be revealing a lot of Tip’s journey.

Thematically, one of the reasons I love this character is that he discovers he can only gain power by embracing his female self.  It is a nice twist on traditional gender roles, and when I say embrace his female self it comes down to him accepting that he is a princess and magically dressing himself in a fairy tale dress, earrings, a fancy dress and an elaborate updo in order to command the loyalty of a group of witches.

Now, to back up, when we first meet Tip he is being held captive by a witch, who feeds him special medicine everyday and tells him she is protecting him from the dangers of the outside world.  Right off, the situation is deliciously twisted, as Tip is being held in a tower sealed by brambles, and he is hoping that a male friend named Peter will rescue him from his captivity.  Sounds like a traditional damsel in distress, right?

Well, Dorothy comes along– this is an Oz-based TV show– and she frees Tip, who runs off with his friend Peter to be free and explore the world.  There’s only one problem: the next, Tip wakes up to discover he has turned into a girl.  He hides from his friend and is appalled and embarrassed to have a girl’s shape, so he and Peter set out to find someone to make more of the medicine the witch had been feeding him.

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(Tip in girl form)

All along, we get nice little crumbs of Tip’s struggle with his identity.  At one point he is in a restaurant, his boobs exposed in his too small shirt, and a waitress tells him that unless he’s planning on making some money off his boobs he should probably cover them up.  He is shocked and humiliated to realize men have been ogling him.  He freaks out when he needs to use a restroom and can’t decide which one to use (very timely), and then he gets the greatest shock of all when he and Peter find a chemist to analyze and make more medicine.

The chemist returns and tells Tip he can’t make him the medicine because it is black magic and will turn him into a boy.   “I am a boy,” Tip says, and the man says, “No.  You aren’t.  You were born a girl.”

This knowledge unnerves Tip, who is totally disoriented by the idea that he was born female.   He refuses to believe it.   This situation gets worse when his equally confused friend, Peter, tries to kiss him.

The journey continues on with Tip trying to join the army, but instead ends up at an all-girl orphanage run by Glinda, who wants him to be a nun.   Then, the Witch of the West arrives and offers to let him join her and learn to be a slut, which causes him to say, “So, as a girl my choices are to be a virgin or a slut?”

He chooses to go with West, but only find himself forced to wear dresses and work as her serving girl, making her tea and performing other menial tasks.

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(Tip as serving girl)

Now, this is all doled out very slowly over several episodes.   Finally, he discovers that not only was he born a girl, but a princess, which is just the worst form of girl in his mind, but then Witch of the West asks him a question.  “Do you want to be a boy who has nothing and no one, or a girl who is destined to rule Oz?”

This, to me, is where it starts to kick into high gear because he begins to understand his path to power only comes if he embraces his girlhood.  It takes a couple of episodes, and he briefly even manages to regain male form, but then he is once again powerless, and it is only by going full on princess that he can advance and have any power and future.

The actress who plays Tip, Jordan Loughran, is extremely talented and does a almost too good job portraying his confusion and alienation as he struggles to figure out who he is and what he can be in the world.

I am looking forward to see what happens, and eagerly watching the ratings to see if there will be a second season.  This is very cool stuff for a network TV show to explore.

Check it out!

 

 

 

 

Changers Report: Spoilers

Changers Book One: Drew by [Cooper, T, Glock-Cooper, Allison]

 

I love the genius premise of Changers: each year of high-school, the main character turns into a completely different person.  In the case of the main character in Changers: Book One, 13 year old skater dude Ethan Wakes up to discover he has become a blonde girl!

Now, I am always most interested in gender changes, and especially of the unwilling variety, and for Ethan it is most certainly an unwilling change.  He actually had been shy around girls and uncomfortable with them, but had set down as one of his goals for his freshman year to get a girlfriend.  Now, he suddenly finds he is a girl, and he has no idea how to be HER.

Now, I call it a genius premise because many young people do go through different identities during their high-school years, sometimes willfully and sometimes, like Ethan, now called Drew, in a way that feels unwilling and haphazard.  So, I feel that Ethan’s seemingly supernatural experience neatly parallels and explores the real life experiences of young people, especially now that they are more free to explore their gender identity.

In the first part of the book, we get to see Drew as she adjusts to the expectations of girl teen culture, becomes a junior varsity cheerleader and explores relationships with other girls and boys.  It’s fun and contains many of the beats we expect, while at the same time offering grounded characters who seem psychologically real.

In addition to her learning how to be a high-school girl, she also has to deal with the fact that she is part of a secret society of kids who are all changing identities just like her, and that this society has a LOT of rules, along with a lot of ominous threats about what will happen if she breaks them.

Which brings me to one thing I didn’t love: I felt the rules of the Changers world were too complicated and limiting, and that too much time was spent dwelling on them.  I didn’t find the Changers’ culture believable.  For example, all of the changers are sworn to keep their nature a secret, and yet they are then given a tattoo on their butt which makes it easy to identify them.  It makes little sense.  The character also has to attend an incredibly dull and boring seminar which I found agonizing to read about, and which ended with a huge party for all the changers where they were encouraged to mingle even though they were forbidden from having relationships with each other.  So, those section did not shine, especially compared to the other stuff, which was all really great.

I like the book and recommend it.  There is even talk of a series, so this could be a really fun TV show one day!  Check it out!!!!

Changers Book One

New York Times Feature on the Authors

T Cooper’s Website

Sam: Gender Fluid Movie

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Directed by Mel Brooks’ son, Nicholas Brooks, Sam tells the story of a sexist womanizer who wakes one day to find he has been turned into a pretty, petite woman with a voice, as he says, like a chipmunk.  How will he react?  What will life be like for a man like that who suddenly finds himself dealing with a sexist boss, who can’t go to a bar without getting hit on by sleezy guys?  Who is now small and pretty and has to look up at just about every adult he meets?

Most interesting to me– is biology destiny?  Will a straight man who disrespected women, given a straight woman’s body, find himself thinking like and wanting all the things that straight women want– or at least that society says they should want?  That is, will be become all about marriage and babies and wanting to be a wifey and a mommy?

The movie maker put some money and time into the film– it looks good, and features performances by some well-known and accomplished actors such as Morgan Fairchild, Stacey Keach and Brian Batt. Natalie Knepp is excellent as Sam in his female form, being able to play it butch without being cartoony.

The story, both in terms of the plot and tone, very much feels like an old-school Fictionmania story, with a distinct resemblance to a Spell R Us tale, right down to a mysterious wizardly character who turns on the magic to give our misogynistic male his own boobs.

Now, here is the thing.  It ends much better than it starts.  The early scenes go through beats you would expect in a story of this genre– the sexist male character making derogatory comments about women, hitting on women in the office, mocking his friend who is getting married to a “ball buster” and bonding with his sexist boss over the shared belief that the best part of a woman is her ass.  However, much of this early dialogue sounds unnatural, with strange turns of phrases and contrived scenes that all serve a purpose but which often seem forced.   I felt as I watched that the actors were struggling with commitment in some of these scenes, as they sounded more like they were reciting lines at a read through.

Then, the change happens.  The sex change, that is.  The early stages of the change are all you’ve seen it before moments– if you read a lot of this kind of TG Fiction– and they follow a pattern that is familiar in many stories but which have often struck me as a little absurd– these include the character trying to persuade his best bro that he has been turned into a woman, the character just being allowed to show up at his old job by claiming to be his own cousin– because, of course, every business will employ any random woman who comes along as long as she provides no proof she is related to an employee who has mysteriously vanished.

Of course, I understand why these scenes exist, and I am even willing to accept them as part of the genre, but there was not a lot of jazz to the scenes for me.  They just felt like perfunctory scenes, and I always want more tension, emotional stakes and even psychological realism.

Once all that is out of the way, though, I found myself liking the movie much more, and I feel it is very much worth watching once we get down to the business of this guy, now a girl, and how he responds to his new sex.   After initially dressing in masculine style clothes and doing nothing with his long hair, he decides that in order to be successful in as his new sex, he needs to learn how to dress and act like a girl.   Therefore, he hires a coach, Brian Batt, who teaches him to dress and act more ladylike.  Sam is clearly terrified of going down this path, even as he needs it, and tries to run away at the last minuite, then gets in a battle of wills with his fem coach, played by Brian Batt.  Batt is great, though the character is a stock gay character, and the scenes are fun as we see the sexist male slipping into a leotard, stockings, heels, and learning to do his makeup and to sit and gesture like a woman.

There is a seen where he expresses his bewilderment as his sex change, asking his friend, “How do you think I feel seeing this face in the mirror?  Hearing myself talking in this voice?”  I would have loved more of that– even in a comedy– but often he seems to be moving through the world as if the change has made very little difference.

The film hits its best moments when it morphs into a romantic comedy, with Sam, now called Samantha, falling in love with his best male friend.  He is shocked to realize it, and even makes a booty call, where he confesses that he is having lusty and romantic feelings for his bro, who freaks out at the thought.   And once Sam has allowed himself to luxuriate in the male musk of his friend he becomes obsessed with cuddling and then even begins to have a sudden new interest in what it would be like to have a baby.  In this film, he not only adapts to society’s expectations by dressing like a woman, but he starts to think and act as a traditional woman as well, experiencing all the needs and feelings.

Given the genre, it will be no surprise that our character is eventually given a choice– to stay as a woman or go back to being a man.   I won’t give away the ending.   I am glad I watched the film, and there are some fun, interesting scenes.  This film falls on the side of biology, suggesting that Sam, given ovaries, will become a straight woman.  For him, biology is destiny, and as long as he has a female shape he will be forced to accept a traditional female life of man, marriage and babies.  Or maybe he is just fulfilling his own sexist beliefs about what women want?

Now out on Itunes, Amazon, Vudu and everywhere!  Here is the Amazon Link:

Sam on Amazon

Official Website

 

Transparent (Spoilers)

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So, I finally watched Transparent, mainlining the two existing seasons over the course of a weekend.

And I don’t know what to say.

I liked the show.  I found it very watchable, and I feel it won on all fronts from a creative perspective: great writing, acting, directing, music.  However, The Pfeffermans are horrible people.  Unbridled narcissists, they crash into the lives of much nicer, more caring people and remorselessly shred their psyches and then cast these people aside like outgrown toys, occasionally popping back in to see if they can inflict new pain upon their victims.

Transparent feels very much like a soap opera, where a lot of the drama is driven by the lurid pleasure that comes from watching these people lure one victim after another into their web of lies and then wait for the moment when the poor person realizes that they are just another victim of a very sick family.

What makes Transparent different from Falcon Crest, however, is that many of the characters, not just the father, find themselves exploring their identities, sexual and gender.  The father, Maura, has come out as transgender and expressed her desire to live as a woman.   Sarah leaves her husband to rekindle a lesbian relationship she had in college.  Gaby pursues both a trans man and later a lesbian relationship with an old friend and one of her brother’s former conquests, and Shelly, the mother of the family, explores a lesbian relationship with her former husband.  So, with the exception of the son, so far, they are all what I would call genderfluid, open to exploring their own sexualities if not always very accepting of others.

But they are all assholes! Narcissists. They are a prevalent stereotype of LGBT people as people who love only themselves and do not seem to care at all how their actions impact others.  They are always me, me, me, and they lie and abuse people with impunity. So, isn’t it a problem that this show, being lauded as a ground-breaking step forward for LGBT people, portrays LGBT as horrible, selfish parasites?

No, and for this reason; because it is just like Falcon Crest. Or Dallas.  Or countless other shows where rich, entitled turds go around being selfish and abusive toward others. Transparent is not a documentary or an after-school special. It is a soap opera, and nice people are boring, so naturally these characters need to be flawed and terrible, because that is what viewers find entertaining.  No one is going to tune in to watch a well-adjusted family work out their problems like mature adults.  No one.  No one is going to tune in to watch a happily married couple go on an uneventful vacation.

There needs to be conflict.  Disaster.  Bad thinking.

In addition, among the victims suffering for the misfortune of getting involved with any of the human misery machines known as the Pfeffermans, are straight and LGBT characters alike.   We see that in the world there are good and bad people, and some of them are straight and some of them are not, and it is a good thing that this show can portray a balance.

If I were going to fault anything it would be the classification of this show as a comedy.   It seemed very clearly a drama to me.  There are some funny moments, but they emerge out of dramatic situations and are far less frequent than more dramatic moments.  It seems to me that the only reason that anyone would find this to be a comedy is if they are an immature person who thinks anything with non-traditional gender roles is automatically funny.  There is a scene, for example, where Maura has decided to perform at a LGBT talent show, and as she comes out and begins to sing all of her children begin laughing uncontrollably and then flee the room in the middle of her performance.

When Maura first emerged onto the stage, I was thinking– yes!  Do it!  Live your life!  I didn’t find it hilariously funny that she would have the courage to get up there and do it. Not at all.  Nor did I find it hilarious that her children would burst out laughing and then run out of the room.

But then I am one of those kind-hearted folks that people like the Pfeffermans would prey upon, so maybe that is why I found it sad people would be so hateful toward their own parent.

Transparent is a soap opera, and I would say a good one.  Season Two got more and more into gender identity, and I found it more and more interesting.  I am looking forward to the third season.  To me, I would call is Falcon Crest in transition.

If you are looking for a show about good people who are interested in growing and becoming better people– for real, not just for fashion– this probably isn’t the show for you.  But if you want to see horrible people being horrible, check it out.

Free on Amazon Prime