Helen Boyd on the T’s with Knives Controversy

Helen Boyd, Author of MY HUSBAND BETTY and other works

Some of you know that GLADD has called for a boycott  of the film “Ticked Off Trannies with Knives,” slated for  screening at the Tribecca Film Festival.  It’s meant to be camp, I imagine, but the trailer acknowledges the  real-life murder of a number of trans women, including Angie Zapata.   The  filmmaker is a gay man who encourages everyone to relax–it’s all a big joke! Ha! Ha!  Still, many  folks have pointed out, reasonably enough, that the same festival might be unlikely to show a film called  ”Angry F—-’s With Uzi’s”, for instance.  GLAAD–and others– call for the film to be withdrawn.

I’ve been talking about the film–and the boycott movement–with friends recently. As a writer, it’s hard for me to get behind censorship, which is what pulling the film amounts to, I believe.  So I don’t join the movement to  pull the film– but I  do encourage folks to NOT go, to picket it (if they’re in NYC), and to generally try to call attention to the fact that trans people are kind of tired of being the punch line of  films and other works, especially ones  made by folks who don’t seem to really understand our community or its issues.

Helen Boyd, over at en/gender,  has posted a really smart screed  on this issue, which she’s given  me permission to cross-post here.  Take it away, HB:

ONGOING GLAAD BATTLE

I can’t say I’m surprised, but people are upset with GLAAD for starting a petition that asks Tribeca Film Fest not to show Ticked off Trannies With Knives. There are a couple of objections being made in various corners of the comments sections of the blogosphere:

1) The free speech argument: this is art, a film, and GLAAD shouldn’t be trying to censor it.
2) This is a camp film, and earnest people (trans or otherwise) obviously don’t get it.
3) Earnest trannies need to get over themselves.

So here’s my response.
1) Free speech goes both ways. One group has the right to make a film; the other has a right to protest it. I’m not big on censorship; in fact, I hate it. But there are days and times when the sheer violence committed against a community is enough to make you want to shut down one more bad joke calling itself art.
2) Camp is only funny when you’re making it about your own gang.
3) Fuck you. Honestly, does it ever work to tell someone that the real problem is their lack of a sense of humor? Um, no.

As I said elsewhere, when you work in the trans community, it is a relief to hear that someone you know has died of cancer because they didn’t die of violent means. That is the reality of trans life.

It’s true that not all trans people ‘get’ camp, just like all gay men don’t. It’s an acquired taste, like drag. Assuming that camp is readily understood and appreciated is a huge mistake to make. It is very apparent that the makers of this film don’t seem to know the difference between drag queens and trans women, or only know a subset who identify as both. While I agree that the title of the flick –Ticked Off Trannies With Knives – does signal camp, the trailer actually used images of actual trans people who have actually died of violent crimes. That is not camp. That’s not even bad taste. That’s exploitation – and not the cool, hipster variety – of others’ suffering. If that is only the fault of whoever made the trailer, then they need to fix that. But honestly, I doubt it’s just the trailer.

I have been working in and with the trans community for something like 10 years now. I am beginningto understand the incredible variety of lived trans identities. So if you think you’re hip to trans identities and trans lives, you probably aren’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t be an ally. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about the trans community. But what it might mean, and often does mean, is that when you have an entire community reeling in horror from a phrase (“hot tranny mess”) or a film (like this one), then maybe, just maybeyou need to shut up & listen & not pull this patriarchal bullshit. Being gay (or a member of whatever other oppressed group) does not give a person instant knowledge of and deep compassion with other people’s suffering. What it gives you is a chance to empathize — a chance that you will waste entirely if you always think you’re right.

It may be that people with friends who call each other tranny – and there’s plenty of trans people who do use the term tranny – doesn’t mean it’s acceptable in the public realm. It may be that your trans friends have already decided that you are so beyond the pale that there is no point in trying to explain. It may be that the trans people you know are simply exhausted from dealing with this bullshit ALL THE TIME.

I know I am. So maybe, for once, we can let the people who the joke is about decide if it’s funny or not. In this case: that joke isn’t funny anymore. (& Neither was Dan Savage, btw, of whom I expect far better, and who posted this piece, as if penance.)

Really, is it worth the joke? Is a movie like this really such great art that an entire community – a community that gets more than its fair share of violence, discrimination, and general shite – be reminded that even people who are their supposed allies don’t get it?

Sign the petition. And please, STFU about how unfair it all is.

A P.S. for my gender communities: some of the people who say transphobic shit are gay, and some of them aren’t. Some of them are cis, & some of them aren’t. Please try to avoid the sweeping generalizations about who is saying transphobic things, and instead name the actual people who are doing so, or call out actual comments that have been posted. Generalizing that “gay men / cis people are transphobic” is counter-productive and, oh, totally false.

Back to JFB:  And yeah, I was going to link to the trailer, which is available if you fish around on youtube, but after watching  exactly 35 seconds  of it I felt my brain beginning to explode.

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2 Comments

  1. Darlie Brewster
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree with you Jenny.

  2. Posted August 23, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    2) Camp is only funny when you’re making it about your own gang
    (I’m going to insert my own 3)
    3) Krystal Summers, Erica Andrews, Kelexis Davenport- the 3 women in the gang who are transsexuals. They made this movie what it is. So don’t be saying it’s not all in the fam, lady.

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