Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Trans Forming Media PSA Against TOTWK & Transphobia

Pictures montage from April 6th Protest @ Tribeca Cinemas to demand Tribeca Film Festival remove "Ticked Off Tra**ies With Knives" (other photos are also included) The movie makes light of violence and rape against trans women, exploits the high-profile murder of teenager Angie Zapata, includes the pejorative term trannies in its title, inaccurately depicts trans womens identities as drag queen performers and caricatures and misrepresents the lives of an extremely disenfranchised group who suffer violence at alarming rates.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"An Image I'd Rather Forget" - My Synopsis & Critique Of TOTWK

Note: If you'd like to read my more detailed/longer synopsis of the film, email me at magnet_right_now@yahoo.com

The film “Ticked Off Tra**ies With Knives” spreads a fear, misogyny and hate stemmed ideology. I have seen the film and it’s very upsetting that people unfamiliar with transsexual and transgender women will walk away from the film with a stigmatizing perception of trans women. This film is dangerous propaganda, whether intentional or not. TOTWK leaves the viewer with the false impression that transsexual and transgender women are unauthentic in their gender identity and really “gay men in drag.” The film portrays all trans women as hypersexualized, jokes, murderous and/or unstable. This is not only inaccurate, it's offensive and incites further misunderstanding and violence.

A student of oppression in the media, I’m an organizer with a trans anti-defamation group named MAGNET-Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Trans People. MAGNET supports the thousands of people who signed GLAAD’s petition urging Tribeca to remove this film or joined the Boycott TOTWK Group. They’re warranted in their protest/boycott of this film whether or not they saw the entire movie. The clips available to the public were reason enough to take action.

  • Use of the dehumanizing pejorative and anti-trans slur “tra**ie” in the title.
  • Insensitively mentioning real trans victim’s of hate crimes names in the trailer (A reedited trailer removes the victim’s names).
  • Exploiting, devaluing and making light of the crisis of violence against trans women.
  • Director Israel Luna’s misrepresentation that the film’s about “transgender women”, but often insinuates that the characters are not women- but rather men drag performers, “caricatures” & “impersonators.”

While we have great respect and admiration for some of the actors in the film, we have great concerns with the director misrepresenting oppressed minorities for entertainment, and with Tribeca’s irresponsible decision to showcase this film. In GLAAD’s analysis of the film, they say, “Because of its positioning as a transgender film, viewers unfamiliar with the lives of transgender women will likely leave this film with the impression that transgender women are ridiculous caricatures of ’real women.’ It demeans actual transgender women who struggle for acceptance and respect in their day-to-day lives and to be valued for their contributions to our society.”

Many stand with GLAAD’s statement. Trans women are just that: women. They’re fighting to pass ENDA, gain APA/GID reform and health care rights, and establish acceptance in society. TOTWK threatens that acceptance immensely. The unhealthy stigma that this film encourages generates misunderstanding and resistance against trans Americans in a country that seriously lacks education, rights and acceptance of trans people.

Tribeca would never present a film with a title having the “N” word, an anti-Semitic slur, the misogynistic “c” word, or many other pejoratives. Tribeca considers the content of films they give a platform to. It’s disappointing that the humanity and safety of trans women was devalued by Tribeca’s programming department. It’s a sad sign of the times that our concerns about depiction and wellbeing are not considered on par with other minorities. Trans people need the same anti-defamation protections other oppressed minorities receive from Tribeca. We are exercising our freedom of speech by boycotting this film. “Cries of censorship” are just a diversion to take attention off the true issues, which are responsibility, accountability, humanity and oppression.

I find it biased and unethical that many male journalists/bloggers have failed to address the feminist side of this debate. The violence, objectification and dehumanization of women in this film are also being protested. It’s disappointing that this film’s controversy has spotlighted the issues of ignorance, transphobia and misogyny internalized within some in the gay men’s community who have opposed our protest, as well as society at large.

Characters in the film, performers in a drag queen show, describe themselves as “We have female qualities and characteristics….straight male personalities.” That description isn’t the definition of a transgender woman, and provokes prejudice. This is one of the roots of anti-trans sentiment: the falsehood that trans women’s gender identity is “fake”. This propaganda is the same that the religious right has been preaching in their campaign to slander trans Americans, denying them equal rights (see their "Do you want men in dresses teaching your children?" campaign), and now this film is doing their job for them! This isn’t a “women’s clothes fetish movement” for crying out loud! It’s about “internal” gender. Luna would have had fewer problems if he would have named his film “Ticked Off “Drag Queens” With Knives” (yet there would still be issues). Inaccurately, he decided to market the film saying it was about transgender “women”, yet portrayed them as over-the-top “impersonators” – actually mocking femininity. It stands to reason that transsexual and transgender feminists feel slighted, their identities misrepresented and attacked.

Merriam Webster defines a drag queen as “a male homosexual who dresses as a woman especially for comic or theatrical effect”. Completely different, a woman of transsexual experience is “a woman in which the sex-related structures of the brain that define gender identity are exactly opposite the physical sex organs of the body. Put even more simply, a transsexual woman has a mind that is literally, physically, trapped in a body of the opposite sex.” A person from the “transgender umbrella” is “someone whose personal idea of gender does not correlate with his or her assigned gender role.” The social political identity umbrella term “transgender” is good for gaining legislation to protect the broad community, yet the diversity of sub groups (who are equal, but different) within the broad community cannot be ignored. Certainly diversity is the spice of life!

Much of the dialog in the film is not only offensive, but effectively teaches the viewer an inaccurate perception of transgender individuals. At one point the performers allege that when God created Adam and Eve, he allegedly “created a third creature named Ava”. Most trans women I know identify as “Eve’s daughter”, or “woman gender”, not a “3rd gender”, or as Luna writes, “a 3rd creature”. Depicting trans women as “others”, “neither, ors” “creatures” and “impersonators” is influential in adding to the segregation and misrepresentation of trans women. While some people identify as “gender queer and 3rd gender,” none would wish to be characterized as a non-human creature. The film even introduces a new term - “tran-imal” (trans person = animal = not human) – which may be the newest trend slur of the season!

One of the characters expresses that sexual assault "turns her on.” This is sickly morbid and disturbingly insensitive, especially given the high rate of sexual attacks and violence against trans women. In another scene a nurse is sexually inappropriate with another character who is recuperating in the hospital after surviving a hate crime attack. In this way Luna’s script trivializes the crisis of violence against trans women which is horrifying and disempowering to all women.

Some of the characters have a “trans face” act that is comparable to “black face” of decades past, when white men painted their faces and depicted black people as “minstrels and subhuman”. Likewise, “trans face” is just as dehumanizing and offensive to actual trans WOMEN. Their “trans face” act is “hypersexualized, vile talking, flamboyant, gay man with women’s clothes on. “

By the end of the film, most of the characters are dead or brutalized. The film ends with a drag diva asking the others “Do you know what the difference is between us and them (the dead men on the ground)?” The answer expressed: “I don’t know,” “Me either”- film ends. So there you have it folks, “transgender women” are no different than “murdered men”.

And that last sentence pretty much sums up the message of the film.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Some Luna-tics (supporters of Luna’s film “TOTWK”) are attacking the demonstration that was held on April 6th in front of Tribeca Cinemas to protest the film by saying that our “smiles” and “laughter” was “proof” that we “didn’t know what we were protesting about”. Yes, we the protesters were "smiling and laughing". Sorry if we are not the "tortured souls" the media depicts us as. I am full of joy, faith and life. All the people there were full of life! And the quality of our lives and our pursuit of happiness is worth organizing and mobilizing against films like this one. Being with 30 people in one spot who all believed in trans liberation was reason to celebrate! It was very inspirational for all of us to be taking action for what we believe in our hearts is the right thing to do, and it made us feel good.

Personally, it was very unfolding for me to speaking out against transphobia. I felt like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon, leaving the safe shelters of anonymity behind, taking a risk, and marching with my trans brothers and sisters over obstacles such as defamation and dehumanizing stigma. Fear had always told me not to be too public that I’m a member of an oppressed community, because doors would slam in my face, people would throw stones and some people would distance themselves from me. So when my faith and hope overpowered the fear within me, and I decided that I did want to tell my side of the story, publically, it did cause me to smile. It’s like I had waited my whole life to come out of the cage society had marginalized me into. Standing there with that sign “Our humanity is not a joke” made me feel elated! We were not protesting because we are “bitter, scorned, angry women with nothing better to do”. We were protesting because we see a future where trans people are not depicted as the way they are in “TOTWK”. Since we are the local trans community near Tribeca, we felt a responsibility to the rest of the trans people all over the country to express our collective plight. We protested to draw attention to many issues, and to put pressure on Tribeca, and all film festivals, not to show this film. And we also rallied because we want better representations of trans people in all media. We also don’t want our trans youth, and those after them, to feel like we as a community stood by, with closed mouths, and let cis (non-trans) people make a mockery of our lives without protesting. I reject the role society has given transwomen’s image as a "subhuman, punch line, hyper sexualized, nut case, impersonator". I see thousands of others are rejecting that role too by protesting and boycotting this film.

During the vigil portion of the demonstration our tone of course changed, tears spilled and victims of hate crimes were remembered. We all went around in a circle and said names of LGBT people we knew personally whose lives were cut short due to oppression. The tears that came to my eyes were for seven trans women I knew personally from southern California who died at a young age simply for being themselves: WOMEN of trans experience.

We are NOT advocating "censorship"; we are advocating "anti-defamation protections" and exercising our "freedom of speech". The dignity, humanity, safety and proper education about trans women means more to me than some gay man's "right" to exploit an oppressed community for a few harmful laughs and financial profit. The media is very influential in the well being of people's lives; therefore this toxic film has to be called out for what it is, and what it most certainly is not!

Though this protest is a fight against oppression in which we will partake in the entire way home, it is also a celebration that an whole community is coming together to express our desire for change!

Lourdes Hunter, the only transgender board member of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, and who gave a powerful speech at the rally, says it best, “SMILE IN THE FACE OF OPPRESSION”. Humanity always wins in the end.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Protest Tomorrow @ Tribeca Center to Combat Transphobia! (press release)

Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Trans People (MAGNET)

Press Release: For immediate release April 4, 2010

“Protest/rally Against Tribeca’s Decision to Premiere Transphobic Film “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”

What: A protest/rally demanding that Tribeca Film Festival remove the transphobic film “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives (TOTWK)”. Melissa Sklarz (Director of NY Trans Rights Organization),Ashley Love (Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Trans People),Denise Le Claire (Exec. Director of International Foundation of Gender Education) celebrities, elected officials & LGBT activists will be speaking. A candle light vigil for trans victims of hate crimes will also be held.

When/Where: Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 6:30-8:00pm @ Tribeca Cinemas @ 54 Varick Street, NYC

Why: The movie makes light of violence and rape against trans women, exploits the high-profile murder of teenager Angie Zapata, includes the pejorative term “trannies” in its title, inaccurately depicts trans women’s identities as drag queen “performers” and “caricatures” and misrepresents the lives of an extremely disenfranchised group who suffer violence at alarming rates.

Kim Pearson, Executive Director of TransYouth Family Allies, says "Negative and stereotyped media portrayals of transgender people hurt the community because Americans still need more education on transgender issues. The images in this film (TOTWK) make a mockery of their lives. I want more for my child and all transgender people.”

“The transsexual and transgender communities are all too often the victims of violence, marginalization and discrimination as a result of insensitive media depictions like this film, which is offensive, dehumanizing and misogynistic and causes further misunderstanding and harm to an already dangerously oppressed minority group”, states Ashley Love, Organizer of Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Trans People (MAGNET).

MAGNET had a meeting with staff at Tribeca Center on Friday, March 26, educating them about why this film is extremely problematic and dehumanizing. They refused to remove the film or make a statement that they don’t endorse the oppression of transsexual and transgender women, so MAGNET is now organizing a protest/rally, in association with Families United Against Hate, International Foundation For Gender Education, New York Trans Rights Organization, and Remembering Our Dead, to demand that they remove the film, and to draw attention to injustices trans people face in everyday life and in the media. Many trans advocates, trans organizations, women’s groups and allies voiced their concerns to GLAAD, expressing they needed aggressive action. GLAAD issued an uncompromising and strong petition & call to action demanding that Tribeca remove the film: http://www.glaad.org/calltoaction/032510

To support or endorse protest on Tuesday, receive information about issues raised or press questions, or become involved in anti-defamation/media work for the transsexual and transgender communities:
CONTACT: Organizer of MAGNET: Ashley Love- Email: magnet_right_now@yahoo.com

Join the “Boycott TOTWK” Facebook page & find more info/articles on the story: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=103500239687288&ref=mf#!/group.php?gid=106926329329724

For info/articles on issues raised: Ashley Love’s blog: http://www.transformingmedia.blogspot.com/

Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Trans People (MAGNET) is an anti-defamation organization dedicated to educating the media about transsexual and transgender issues, as well as pushing for more authentic and positive portrayals of trans people in the media.