Your Name (spoilers)

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Based on the novel by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name finally came to my local theater after raking up over 300,000,000 dollars at box offices around the world.   The story centers around two teen-agers, a city boy and a country girl, who begin to swap bodies during the night.

The characters do not, initially, know each other, but as they spend time in each other’s bodies and living each other’s lives, they naturally start to get an understanding of each other, communicating by leaving journal entries, and their lives become intertwined as they bicker, commiserate and become inter-twined with each other’s friends and families.

What emerges is a unique and tearful love story with a bunch of plot twists and reversals that challenge the characters and make the audience suffer as we wait to see how, if ever, these characters will get together.

I found Your Name to be one of the most beautiful animated films I have ever seen, including numerous still shots that inform and fill out the world of these characters, as well as stunning scenes of natural beauty.

Despite my warning, I don’t want to reveal much of the plot of the movie.  I will say this is a film that does not spend a lot of time exploring gender.   Aside from one or two moments, especially when they first wake in bodies of the opposite sex, each character just adapts to the life of the body that they wear.   There is a fascinating story line about the girl’s town that is gradually revealed as the story progresses, and a kind of hazy magic to the proceedings, as we discover that in the girl’s town, body swapping is not all that unusual, and it is taken as a matter of course.

I loved every minute of this film, and I will be buying it on DVD to watch again and again.  It is a very moving and traditional story about love, with very non-traditional sci- fi flurishes.

Bring the tissues!

Misfile First Day

Related imageRelated imageMisfile on Amazon

So, the other day I am searching around through Amazon, when their mind-reading algorithm suggests I might be interested in a short film based on the comic book Misfile. Might?  I ordered it and watched it immediately.

For those unfamiliar with Misfile, it’s a comic featuring a pair of characters who, due to a celestial filing error, have been changed.  One, Ash, has been turned into a girl, while the other, Emily, is now two years younger, which in her case is an epic headache as she was a high-school senior on her way to Harvard.

The comic has a devoted following among TG readers, as you might imagine, since it explores a sudden sex-change where the male character remembers his life as a male, but everyone else thinks he was born and has always been a girl.

So, what of the short film?  Well, the best word in this case would be promising.  There were things I liked and things that left me– not liking.  To start with the stuff I liked– the chemistry between Ash and Emily really started to come along as the pilot progressed.  Early on, it seemed the actors were a little uncomfortable with their characters and maybe each other, but by the end there was a very nice scene where we could see them opening up to each other, and it made me interested to see more.  I am always most interested in TG stories that deal with relationships and feature character development.

How much does it really explore the gender-angle?  Not as much as I would like.  Like any straight high-school male, Ash is appalled to find himself female, and the change in status alone is enough to freak him out. He doesn’t even need to interact with the world to be horrified to be one of them now, and there is a nice moment in his early hysteria where Emily tells him maybe he should feel proud to have been upgraded to female.  The rest of what could have been interesting happens off screen– he tells us how he lost a drag race due to his now tiny feet, mentions some guys consoled him but ended up trying to get in his pants– and he is clearly mortified to have been the object of this kind of male attention– but it would have been so much more fun to see it happening and watch his reaction when he realized guys were trying to get in his pants.

Based on the research I have done, this is a pilot for a hoped for series, and in the making of video it clearly shows they put together a crew and brought in some legit equipment, so there is a commitment to making something awesome.  However, it feels like there was a certain amount of “still figuring this out” happening, which is okay given that this is a pilot.  Some of the shots seem poorly planned, the lighting off, the acting is sometimes tentative.  But, again, this is a pilot, so we can forgive.  Go back and watch the pilot for Seinfeld, and you will be surprised at how unready for prime time that show seemed at first.

As the pilot went along, I felt the chemistry between Ash and Emily got stronger, and I would be interested to see more of these characters as they continue their journeys and Ash finds himself having to be female in groups of people, especially at school, where his sense of identity is sure to be challenged more fully. I feel these actors will be really fun to watch as they develop these roles!

I am a huge fan of DIY projects, and I think it is awesome these creators have had the courage to go out and make it happen!

Misfile on Amazon

Tangerine: Spoilers

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The film Tangerine explores the lives of two transgender friends living in Los Angeles, features transgender performers in the lead roles, and explores and celebrates their lives and struggles without ever being self-consciously a statement about transgender issues.

What I mean is that this film is a film about people.   And in the same way a similar movie might have been about two friends who happened to be straight, or two friends who happened to be doctors, or any two people who happened to be other things, this one explores the lives of two people who happen to be TG, but who are not limited by that aspect of their identities, and who are neither valorized or mocked because of it.  There is no sense that the audience has any obligation to pay special attention to the fact that they are TG, or to view the film like a movie in a sociology class where the subtext is, “This is how TG people put on their shoes!”   They are people like other people, and that is among the film’s triumphs.

And what do these people want?  The same things as everyone else: they want to be valued, loved, understood, and it is their pursuit of these universal human needs to drives the drama of the film and almost brought me to tears on several occasions.

Alexandra has planned a big concert and invited all of her friends as well as everyone else in the neighborhood.  She loves to sing and hopes for a special evening sharing her love with her friends, who have all enthusiastically promised to come see her.   When she gets to the venue, not even one person has shown up, and she stands outside arguing with the manager, insisting that people are on the way, refusing to believe that not even a single person cared enough to make it to the show.  I ached for her both because she had been abandoned, and because she refused to believe she had been abandoned.  I know that feeling.   When I was a kid, the last time my mother tried to throw a birthday party for me no one came.  No one.   And I could see the pain and shame she felt as much as I felt my own.  I didn’t even realize no one liked me until I was sitting there in our dirty little house, watching my mother calling neighbors and listening to their excuses.  I know that feeling and experience is shared by many people who are not “normal.”

Finally, one person does show up, Sin-Dee, who has brought along a woman she is kidnapping–  see the movie– and Alexandra performs for her friend and the other lonely people who spend their Christmas Eves at seedy bars.

Sin-Dee is the more temperamental of the two, and her quest on this Christmas Eve has been to find the woman who has been sleeping with her boyfriend and confront them.   During this confrontation, she learns that her boyfriend has cheated on her not only with the one girl, but also with her best friend, Alexandra, whose concert she alone cared enough to see.

The second betrayal breaks her heart.   She is devastated, and she wanders off into the night to turn some tricks, looking for some way to get out of herself, to stop feeling what she is feeling, only to have a car full of frat boys throw a bottle of piss in her face.

The movie does, in scenes like the one above, show some of the abusive behavior with a transgender person might face, some of the disgusting acts that happen.  These women are as far from Kaitlin Jenner and the Victoria’s Secret fashion show as you can get, and their lives are full of hardships, not magazine covers celebrating them for their courage.

So, when Sin-Dee is horrified, despairing, broken, who comes to the rescue?  Alexandra.   She comes over and helps her friend, and the two of them at least have each other.  They are not along on Christmas Eve, and they are not defeated.   They each seem determined to keep on living, to get up and make it another day.

There is a third character searching for connection in the movie, an Armenian cab driver.  He is married and has a child, and he loves men, and particularly Sin-Dee.   The last we see of him he is alone in his living room, standing in front of a Christmas tree, with a lost and lonely look on his face as he faces maintaining his marriage, keeping up his obligations, continuing to live in the closet.  How much worse to be alone in the presence of others?  To be a stranger to yourself?

The film could, I suppose, be accused of typing transgender characters in the sense that they are sex workers.  One of the criticism of the portrayal of TG people in the past is that they tend to be criminals or prostitutes, drug addicts.

But, see the movie. It doesn’t have that feel of otherness about it.  In fact, it brings attentions to harsh realities:

Ms. Taylor (Alexandra) now finds herself in a position similar to Ms. Cox, (Orange is the New Black) as a spokeswoman for transgender people, appreciative of the increased visibility yet dismayed at the soaring rates of homicide, suicide attempts and unemployment that plague this world. “Visibility is very important, but it’s not changing the day-to-day lives of everyday trans people,” Ms. Cox said. “We need another culture shift.”

They are people.  They may be poor. They may be TG.  They may be or do a lot of things good and bad– but what we see in this movie is that they are people who just want to be loved and live their lives, and that is a wonderful thing to see.

It’s available for streaming!  Tangerine On Netflix

 

 

 

 

The Hit Girl (Spoilers)

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Status.  Much of life, and much of TG fiction, revolves around the issue of status.  Who gets to be on top and why?  How much of that is related to gender identity, and what would happen to an alpha male type if he were to find himself in a beta-girl body?

The Hit Girl playfully explores all these ideas.  The main character starts the film as a hit man, a big, burly dude who kills people without remorse, but only people who have it coming. Nevertheless, he lives in a world where he does what he wants, solves problems with violence and never feels threatened.   Then, one day while visiting his niece, who he constantly refers to as ‘shorty’ despite the fact she hates it he dismisses her complaints about life in high-school by saying, “I would love to have a teen-age girl’s problems.”

He wakes up in the morning to find himself transformed into a petite teen-age girl, and one with a body more like a middle-school girl at that.  His niece finds great pleasure in seeing him now reduced in stature, both physically and socially, as she is now both taller and stronger than him. In addition, he finds himself facing the value system that society preaches in terms of male and female value.

Early on, he challenges his niece to tell him one good thing about the fact that he is now a teen-age girl.  She shrugs and says, “You’re really pretty?”

The plot of the film then moves along Freaky Friday, Turnabout tracks.  The former man  learns all about what it means to be a girl as he gets used to wearing a bra, deals with mean girl bullies  and has to even turn himself into a sex-object, dressing up as a slutty Catholic school girl and doing some awkward pole dancing as he tries to complete his mission and rescue a kidnapped friend.

A great deal of the humor of the movie involves seeing the character forced to experience life as a female, including being pressed into wearing girl’s clothes and carry around an extremely feminine backpack.  Yet, at the same time, it seeks to ultimate invert or at least challenge the male is better biases of society as the main character increasingly finds himself getting comfortable with and even enjoying aspects of being a girl.  Of course, most pointedly, he learns to reject the idea that he is now helpless and despite his small size and lack of physical strength, he takes on the challenge of taking out the scumbag kidnapper who is planning on trafficking in young women to pay off his debts.

The character, at the end of the film at least, remains female and seems to have accepted his new life.  He gets involved in drama, living his life as Jessica, with talk of his sister adopting him and raising him as her own daughter.    Maybe someday that movie will get made.

This film hits a lot of buttons found in classic TG literature, and I feel does an interesting job exploring the challenges to identity and also the notions of status inherently tied up in gender, age and sex.  It seems to me that the story ultimately suggests that a lot of it has more to do with people’s own attitudes than with anything else.  It’s only embarrassing to be a girl because he feels that being a girl is inferior, but once he lets go of that assumption its just a life, and perhaps a better life than the one he had.  It turns out, having the problems of a teen-age girl really was just what he needed to become a better person.

His status in the eyes of the world may have diminished with his loss in stature, but his happiness is positively bullish.

Available on Amazon

Tomboy: Forced Fem Goes Mainstream

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Hollywood Reporter

News hit today that A-List superstar Michelle Rodriguez (Fast and Furious, Avatar) will join Sigourney Weaver in what they call a “gender reassignment thriller.”  According to reports, Rodriguez will play a male assassin who is betrayed and turned over to a mysterious woman called only The Doctor, who forces him to have a sex-change against his will.

Now a woman, he seeks revenge against those who betrayed him.

Naturally, controversy has already arisen as Glaad has condemned the film, or rather the plot of the film as reported in The Guardian

I will get back to Glaad and their concerns in a minute, but as someone who has written more than one man forced into a woman’s body and seeks revenge story, I have high hopes for this film and for the excellent team being put in place.

One of my stories featured a mafia don who is turned into a woman and a stripper at one of his own strip clubs and then seeks revenge discovering, in the process, that he is just as fearless as a woman as he ever was as a man.  He learns to let go of all his prejudices against women, and to confront his own misogyny.

But then why seek revenge?  Isn’t he seeking revenge because being turned into a woman is a disgrace, something that makes him less than?  Nope.  He seeks revenge because his code of honor requires he seek revenge, and it is the disrespectful way he is treated as a woman that finally gives him the motivation to do what he should have done in the first place.  Now, speaking as a writer, I also like to put my characters into plot-driven action stories, so having something like this revenge plot also lets me get this man, now in a busty woman’s body, out into the world facing trials and obstacles as a woman, growing and changing along the way as a result of the obstacles he has to overcome.

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La Vendetta

I suspect and hope that Tomboy will allow the authors to explore similar themes and ideas as the main character is forced to confront some of his own biases against women, and what it means to be one.  A lot of interesting ideas about gender and identity can be explored in a film like this, and have been explored in non-mainstream media for years, and I have high hopes it will foster discussion and acceptance.  By putting the story within the framework of a Payback-style thriller the creators can draw in action movie fans and lure them into thinking about gender and identity, whereas many of these viewers might not even consider watching a show like Transparent which they know is about TG issues from the outset.

Now, as for Glaad, here is the central quote from the article: “We haven’t read the script, but it’s disappointing to see film-makers turning what is a life-saving medical procedure for transgender people into a sensationalistic plot device,” the organisation’s director of programs for transgender media, Nick Adams, told The Hollywood Reporter. “We are at a crucial moment in the public’s understanding of transgender issues, and stories like these have the potential to undermine the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve.”

I need more, Nick Adams.  “Stories like these have the potential to undermine the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve.”  Really?  Here is the deal.  Any movie that features anything to do with transgender issues or a transgender actor or any genderfluid issues or people has the potential to undermine progress.   The audience can always choose to react however they want, and even if a film is designed to cast the procedure as a life saving and affirmative procedure, which it is, any given viewer can still reject that portrayal and recoil against the message.

The last time I saw Kinky Boots on Broadway, there is a scene where a character finally comes to respect and accept Lola, the cross-dressing performer who designs the Kinky Boots.  While most of the audience applauded, one of the people sitting in front of me mumbled, “What a homo.”

Now, for anyone who has not seen Kinky Boots, the show emphasizes. among other themes, a message of acceptance including a chant at the end of “Be who you wanna be.  Never let them tell you who you ought to be.”  But this audience member had no interest in that and was so angered he felt the need to express his homophobia verbally.

Any media anyone creates risks setting back progress, so unless we want to return to a world where no one ever talks about it, or we use phrases like, “the love that dare not speak its name” we will have to always risk putting something out there that could have an unintended impact.

We’ll have to see what happens, but given that Michelle Rodriguez has come out as bi-sexual I am confident she would not have signed onto the project if it were in any way derogatory.   In fact, I suspect this film will allow her to explore and express her own glorious genderfluidity, and I am looking forward to it!

Let’s not hide out love away.  Let’s not live in fear.  Let’s all live out loud everyday all the time. Let’s express ourselves and let others have the freedom to do the same.  Is there a risk some people might take it the wrong way?  Yes.  In fact, it is a certainty, but a lot of people might take it the right way as well, and the world can become a better place.