International Day of Transgender Visibility was started just last year as a much-needed counterpart to the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which focused more on memorializing those lost rather than celebrating everything the trans community is doing today. Ironically, a recent controversy over the Tribeca Film Festival features problematic representations of trans women, and the ensuing discussion only further marginalized the trans community. And it all started with a little cis-directed flick called Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives. Yeah, you read that right.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that a film directed by someone outside the trans community called Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, is well, pissing people off-- especially since it's screening as one of the "LGBT-friendly" movies at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Rooted in the revenge/exploitation genre, the film is about five trans women (
portrayed by gay men, with with one exception three played by trans women) who take revenge on an attacker and rapist.
If the name wasn't bad enough (if you don't know why "tranny" is not okay to use, read this), the trailer is worse. Director Israel Luna sets up this "comedy" with text describing the very real (and obscenely recent) murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado. Although Luna has said that the film is about upsetting the narrative of violence against trans women, the message falls flat when it's titled and promoted this way, especially after outcry from his local trans community.
Trigger warning, trailer contains graphic violence and is NSFW:
Even more troubling is the pornographic description of their deaths. Do cis people not realize how incredibly triggering and damaging it can be having to read the detailed description of how a trans person was murdered? And then the sickening punch of realizing it was done in the aim of promoting a comedy?
Actress Alexandra Billings, the first trans woman to play a trans woman character on TV, shared that she hates the word "tranny," and was livid after seeing the trailer. But revenge films walk the line between exploitation and empowerment, and after watching the film Billings found some of the latter:
In Israel Luna's film, these women may be crass, they may be uncomplicated, they may be verbose, but coming from that community, I actually know people that actually behave, sound, and act that way. And let's face it, when you have a Trans person playing a Trans person, it just makes more sense. We don't have to act it. We ARE it.
As a working actress in Hollywood I know the box and I know how it fits and after 35 years in show business, I know what it's like to bust it open. I'm sick and tired of our community being portrayed as victims, or hookers, or having Hollywood actresses take voice lessons so they can sound more like a man pretending to be a woman. That's more dehumanizing than anything in this film.
In "Building A Culture Instead of Letting Others Portray Us," Suzan from Women Born Transsexual advocated promoting trans-made art instead, saying:
I'm bothered by this film "Ticked off…". But rather than censoring it or putting all this energy into protesting it I would rather see our energy poured into supporting our own and their art.
We actually have sisters who are musical artists. We probably have enough to put on a festival of our own. We have poets....Instead of just protesting the negative, even though it needs to be done, perhaps we should put the same amount of energy into supporting the positive.
These are just some of the opinions from the trans community voiced over the film, and eventually GLAAD issued a statement to the Tribeca Film Festival asking them to pull the film (Billings' post was an open letter to GLAAD). However, further coverage of the controversy, from the NY Time's Artsbeat to Movieline, has simply framed the debate as being between GLAAD and Tribeca or Luna, further ignoring the community that rose up in protest in the first place (and who prompted GLAAD to respond). Not only are the voices of trans people being overlooked (misrepresenting the community a second time), but now conversations about the film get derailed from its problematic transphobic aspects to debating the efficacy of GLAAD's intentions or worse, encouraging more transphobic responses (i.e. "LGBT" blog Back2Stonewall saying "After this is all over the filmmaker should create a sequel about GLAAD called 'Ticked-off Bored PC Old Queens With Press Releases'").
As Marti Abernathey wrote at the Transadvocate:
The portrayal of GLAAD as causing the fracture in this community instead of the film itself, is stunning. Many transgender people put out a call to action from GLAAD and they responded. GLAAD in this case has truly been a G-L-B-T organization with this call to action.
And although just this week Israel Luna issued a press release saying he will release a new trailer that does not include the murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado in the trailer, this doesn't change the fact that the movie's offensive title and set-up remain.
Cis media consumers (myself included), must constantly remember (International Day of Transgender Visibility or not) that they're only getting half the story when they don't seek out the voices that have been intentionally marginalized and ignored. Whether it's a transphobic news story or disgust over a film festival selection, trans voices are present and loud – it's just that many don't bother to listen. Read more about IDTV here, and share what you've been reading below.
GLAAD's Ineffective Campaign and Doing the Right Thing Even if It Isn't Easy [Trans Group Blog.]