Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood

11
Mar
13

“She’s Got A D!%k” A TransComic Analysis

So, if you’re trans, by this point in the news and social media cycle, you will have heard about the Justin Timberlake starring trailer for a faux romantic comedy called “She’s Got A D!%k” on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. And you probably already have, or are trying to form, an opinion.

The first I heard about this sketch myself was just this evening, on a Facebook thread in which my opinion as a Second City trained Sketch Comic and Improviser was solicited. And I resisted reading any of the comments before I watched, so I could get a fresh take on it.

What I got was at least two good chuckles, one of which was a Eugene Levy reference, which, was really just spot-on. Also, a couple of “Awwws.” And the thought, that afterwards I read reflected in various comments, that, gosh, I’d really like to actually see this movie!! It would probably even become a guilty favourite.

There has already been at least one pretty insightful blog post by a transperson, written by Antonia D’orsay who is the Executive Director of This Is How. And though I don’t agree with everything Ms. D’orsay has to say about the subject, it is well worth a read for it’s pretty in-depth analysis of the deeper issues.

So, that being the case, I’ll stick with looking at the sketch from the point of view of a comedy professional who also happens to be trans.

I could break down the technical details of the sketch for hours, but basically what you need to know is, despite the title of the movie, it’s not really a sketch about trans people. Or rather more specifically, the subject of trans people is incidental to the main joke. That joke being, how formulaic romantic comedies are.

Take one “meet cute”. Flavour with any randomly contrived conflict (spin the magic wheel and it lands on…. “Woman with a penis”) that’s only ever really a matter of characters being honest with each other. Add a pinch of concerned authority figure (Eugene Levy!). Stir in a quirky friend (The magic wheel lands on…. “Funny black guy”). Separate the obviously meant to be together couple for a really unacceptably dumb reason (the aforementioned penis), that makes the audience want to scream at how dumb they’re being. Bake for 70 minutes or so and then let the characters finally get over the contrived conflict and get together.

Que the audience reacting with, “Awwwwwwwwwww, that was sooooooo cute!!”

Heck, if anything was offensive, my pick would be the borderline stereotyped black character. Not that I think anyone will complain. It worked and was funny. Which sounds simplistic, I know. But my experience with what people will or will not be offended by in comedy is that’s usually where the safe side of the line lies.

I'm ready for my close-up Mr. Michaels!

I’m ready for my close-up Mr. Michaels!

As for it being a cis woman playing trans . Yes, this usually bothers me in lots of other things. However, the requirements of sketch comedy are such that it is common for members of an ensemble to play all sorts of characters they quite clearly aren’t. And I thought that the lovely and talented Nasim Pedrad did an excellent and rather sympathetic job. So, while Lorne Michaels is more than welcome to call me anytime he needs an authentic trans person (Please call me Mr. Michaels!!! Please, please, pretty please with a token trans woman on top!!!), the only way I’d have a problem with this is if they actually made this movie for reals. In which case, it damned well better be a trans actress playing the part!

Finally, I have to say that I find it to be a fairly positive thing that mainstream comedy shows like SNL feel their audience is familiar enough with trans people to use us as a comedic reference in a way that isn’t just the old “hairy guy in a dress” trope that was already a standard when Milton Berle was using it (yeah, I’m looking at you Craig Ferguson!). This may not seem at first blush to be so significant or even positive, but I assure you it is. Comedy, especially sketch comedy, tends to play to the reference level of its audience. So, for a show as broadly appealing as SNL to produce a sketch with this level of sophistication in its reference to transgender people and our lives, it has to be assumed that the bulk of the unwashed masses will actually, “get it”.

So, there you go. I liked it. It was okay, not great, but well done and funny. And possibly even slightly positive!

Possibly. Maybe. I hope.

17
Nov
12

Santa Monica Boulevard Through Hollwood

As I sit  here in my room in Springfield, MA, typing these words, I have tears running down my face.  It’s the week when we observe the Transgender Day Of Remembrance and I’ve just read another news story about a transgender woman who was murdered.  Honestly, I read a lot of these types of stories.  Not just this week, but all year.  I’m an activist, a speaker on transgender issues and I write a regular column (and this blog) about transgender lives and people.  These stories are always sad to me, but some very specific stories always hit me particularly hard because they bring the horror so very close to home for me.

I wouldn’t say I’m jaded, I’m not.  But you read so many stories of horror and violence and even for someone constantly reminding others that we are human, other people with lives and loves; there is a distance to the stories that necessarily desensitizes them.  An intentional distance that makes it possible sometimes to simply get through the day and do the work that needs doing.

But every so often, like just now, I read a story of violence committed against a transgender woman in Hollywood.  Specifically the strip of Santa Monica from Crescent Heights Boulevard in West Hollywood to Vermont Avenue in East Hollywood.  And it tears my heart out.

Because this was my neighborhood.  90% of my life in Hollywood was lived out against the backdrop of this very strip.

I worked, played, performed and drank at The Improv and The Second City in West Hollywood and lived for several years, first by the intersection of Highland and Santa Monica, a block or so from, what some locals refer to as, “The Tranny Taco Stand” (and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center) where Transgender Sex Workers would often congregate at night.  Then by the intersection of Santa Monica and Normandie, which roughly bracketed the other end of the stroll informally/formally designated by the LAPD as the Trans Sex Worker Strip.

I was not an average Angeleno by a lot of respects.  For one thing, besides my ethnically Irish disdain for the sun, I lived in LA for 8 years without a car.  I walked, biked and took the bus everywhere I needed to go.  I was also very good at “scamming rides”, sometimes with virtual strangers.

I did not, as many Angelenos do, see the city as a blur through the car window.  I knew it from close up, the pavement under my feet.  The people I passed by, aware of me, as I was aware of them.  I closely interacted with the city, I knew it’s smells and patterns and the other denizens.  It is how I prefer to know the world.  I’m a writer and a storyteller, I live for and actively soak up the details.

And it was also during this period that the man I was still trying to be was actively ripping apart at the seams and I finally began my own transition.  It was where I went, in a very short span, from actively repressing my gender issues to occasional cross-dresser to part-time, transitioning transwoman to “Full-Time” Me.

And so very much of that journey was so intimately tied to this strip of geography.

For one thing, I have always been fascinated by the underbelly of The City.  The red-light, sex worker districts, the ghettoes and the decaying downtowns.  The City that lives when all the “good, decent folks” have gone home to their houses in the suburbs.  The City of Night, to borrow a phrase from John Rechy.

I’ve wandered the “Combat Zone” in Boston at the very end of it’s days.  Known the darkened streets of some of Chicago’s more ill-advised neighborhoods.  Lived in a dilapidated Movie Studio at the very boundaries of New Orleans Lower 9th Ward, after Katrina.

So it should be little surprise that I was drawn to Santa Monica Boulevard running through Hollywood, like a moth to a flame.  Even before I found myself living in that area, I would walk the strip from West Hollywood to Highland late at night.  Fascinated, wanting desperately to figure a way to talk to the transwomen I saw there.  To connect with them somehow.  Or as I later discovered, really to connect with myself.

I had the oblivious attitude of a very tall, white skinned person, used to being perceived as male.  And also, a definite disregard/active neglect for my safety.  I carried so much guilt for so very long, I think sometimes I wanted to be punished, to be hurt.  To commit a sort of a “soft-suicide”.

Let me be very clear, I do not/did not actively believe there was/is anything wrong or in need of “punishment” about being trans.  And I am extremely fortunate to have been able to come out the other side of these feelings to a bright new world, physically unhurt, if a little bruised and battered psychologically.  But intellectual belief and subconscious fucked-up-edness can be two totally different things.

As I passed through my own journey, finally accepting myself, deciding to do something about it and then breaking through my own self-imposed barriers of identity, Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood was my backdrop.

I went from being a furtive tourist to a part of the landscape.  Though I had little direct interaction with these transwomen who were also living out their lives in this same geography, when I began transitioning myself, I came to greatly value the little nods of recognition.  The eye contact we would make in passing that said, “I know”. 

As I began to recognize specific people, transwomen who lived in my neighborhood, who waited for the same bus with me, those little acknowledgements where the first time I began to feel myself part of a community.  Part of a family.  These were my sisters.

I don’t want to appear to place myself all that far apart from them either.  I was not merely a tourist.  I did my own small share of sex work.  Not much, as I was always skittish of sex work and extremely fortunate to have a network of support and people who took care of me.  I never had to work the street.  I did a little as a dominatrix and mostly as a dominatrix’s assistant.  But don’t let anyone’s semantics fool you, it was sex work nonetheless.

And though I had to work through a lot of repressively puritan issues myself (I am a Yankee Girl from Cape Cod…), I have neither regret, nor shame.  It was part of my own journey and I have many friends who are proud to be sex workers and own it as their profession of choice.

I also know that, while some actively choose it, sex work is often the last option left between starvation and survival for many women, especially transgender women.  It baffles me when I hear folks in my community expressing disdain for our sex worker sisters.  When I know they know as well as I do, the massively institutional discrimination we face.  How much harder it is for us to find employment, housing and support, just to live our lives.

And I well understand the fetishization of trans bodies .  The cold looks that turn us all into sex objects, that imagines there must be an access price for our sexuality, whether we have done/are doing sex work or not.  I will readily admit, I have been guilty of the same.

But these are our sisters.  These trans women I came to noddingly know, the community of the streets.  The trans women who lived and worked in and around my old neighborhood through Hollywood, on Santa Monica Boulevard were the first to acknowledge me as ME.  They accepted me far more readily and unquestioningly, on the basis of little more than a nod and a glance, than did many more “respectable” members of our community, by whom I often felt judged.

So, this is why, when I read these stories of violence, it is the ones from my old neighborhood, East to West Hollwood; Santa Monica Boulevard; South of Sunset and North of Melrose, that are the stories that tear me apart.

Every murdered trans woman I see on the news from that area, every time I hear about another attack, I look at the picture and I think, “Did I know her?”  “Was she the woman who would smile at me when I would ride the #4 bus home from work late at night?”

These are not just stories.  Not merely news items or statistics.  These are our sisters.

There, but for nothing more than blind good luck, go I.
Here is the post I was reading when I began this piece, from the excellent blog, Planetransgender:  “LAPD Task Force Looking For The Western Transgender Murderer

01
Feb
11

A Trans-Analysis of SNL (and some really blatant self-promotion)

Pageant Queen At Work!

Lorelei Erisis doing what I do best!!!

There are those moments when I think to myself, “Lorelei, keep you’re your trap shut”.  Sometimes I listen, sometimes I don’t.  This is clearly one of those moments where I don’t.

There was a sketch on SNL last weekend that’s got all kinds of folks up in arms this week.  It was one of SNL’s standard fare commercial parodies starring guest host Jesse Eisenberg and several other cast regulars.  The sketch was a commercial for a fictional product called, “Estro-Maxx”, an estrogen supplement for male to female transsexuals hoping to speed up and simplify their gender transition.

I haven’t watched SNL regularly in years, so I had no idea about this sketch until this morning when I opened up Facebook and saw several of my friends and acquaintances from the trans world expressing their horror and dismay over this particular sketch.  Some were even calling for a public apology from NBC as well as a removal of the offending sketch from all media and future broadcasts.  In short, it was a shit-storm.

So, trans-activist that I am, I clicked the link, ready to formulate my own facebooked expressions of dismay but also trying my best as a comedy person to keep an open mind.  One minute and 55 seconds later, my impressions were similarly divided.

As a transwoman, I was deeply unsettled by the depictions of a transwoman with a beard and one with a mustache.  I was also jarred as an activist by the sloppy pronoun usage in referring to these transwomen.

But as someone who has spent most of their life studying, performing and working in the comedy field, I couldn’t help but think maybe there was something there.  I’ll admit, I did laugh a couple of times.  Not a hearty laugh, but enough of a chuckle to count.  I still felt somehow offended, but there were details that kept nagging at me.

As it happened, I had to get to work and get on with the day to day of paying the rent and living life.  But I kept an eye on the opinion threads through the day, wanting to feel out how other people were reacting.

The more I thought about the sketch though, the less offended I was.  There were little details that made me have to think.  Inferences I made based upon what I know about comedy and from a lifetime of eagerly staying up late to hear Don Pardo say, “Live from New York!”

When I got home just a little while ago I watched it again and discussed it with my friend Widow Centauri, who I met while she was doing standup and I was running the show at The Hollywood Improv.  Here are the conclusions that I’ve come to.

(click the link  below to watch the actual sketch on NBC.com)

http://widget.nbc.com/videos/nbcshort_at.swf?CXNID=1000004.10045NXC&widID=4727a250e66f9723&clipID=1279560&showID=61

First, yes it is offensive.  It’s comedy though and sometimes comedy ain’t pretty and almost all comedy is offensive to someone.  Even “self-deprecating” comedy is simply making the comic themselves the butt of the joke.  They are offending themselves.  And before you shout, “What about Bill Cosby?!?” at me.  Just consider how his kids must feel about his jokes.  Or Noah?

The line between when people feel offended and when they laugh, tends to lie in direct proportion to how actually funny the joke was.  I’ve seen comedians get away with the most incredibly, outrageously, the-ACLU-should-be-alerted, offensive material, because the audience just couldn’t help but laugh!  Because it was super-friggin’ funny!!  Because it was delivered well and the timing was just so.

Now the folks at Saturday Night Live have to turn out a fresh show every seven days.  An hour and a half of material that people are going to reasonably expect to be funny.  But that isn’t always going to be gut-busting.  With that much pressure, some of it will be “merely” clever.  Kinda funny.  Hopefully at least smart.

So, back to the sketch.  It was kinda funny and the more I examined it, kinda smart too.  It works on a number of levels.  Transsexual folks are only one of them.  It’s a very effective skewering of all those commercials offering health products to women.  Menopausal women especially.  On that level, it’s a pretty note for note replication of one of those commercials.  For it to work as satire though, you need an unexpected element.  For that, in this context, transsexual women are perfect.

On deeper reflection, I am forced to believe that this was in no way meant to be a skewering of transwomen.  Though there are women-with-beards presented, it in no way resembles the standard “gender-panic” type joke that you usually see pointed at transpeople in the popular media.  It is nothing like Letterman’s tasteless joke when Amanda Simpson was appointed by President Obama last year.

In fact, given the very specific reference levels of the sketch, I would say that it was written and performed by folks who, while they may not be perfectly sensitive, are at least familiar with and surprisingly informed about transpeople in real life.  There were elements of the sketch that, while easy to miss in the first flush of reaction, were pretty trans-specific.  Like the idea that the initial stages of gender transition are never as quick or as dramatic as some of us would like it to be.  Or showing transwomen as respectable people living our daily lives, in positions of power even!

I also read a number of comments from transpeople around the internets who noted that for once, we were not portrayed as over-sexualized freaks.  Heck, most of the women portrayed in the sketch weren’t even in dresses.  They were mostly in casual pantsuits!  They were probably dressed the closest to how actual (or at least, white, middle-class) transwomen dress that I’ve yet seen on television.

The sketch really could have been quite a positive piece overall.  But then came the facial hair.  And you could almost hear a thousand transsexual and transgender people go “Booooo!!!  Hissssssss!!!!”  And honestly, if it had been me, an actual, honest to Gods, transgender woman, writing the sketch, I would not have gone there.  But it wasn’t me, it was a bunch of (as far as I know) young-ish, cisgender guys.

Folks whose job it is to come up with, write, perform and often produce themselves, fresh funny material in less than six days every week for several months a year.  And hopefully not offend anyone too badly.  A job I would kill for, but by no means an easy one.

I actually thought, upon examination, that the “Estro-Maxx” sketch had a lot in it that was specifically applicable to transpeople, potentially funny to us and not necessarily a lot of other people.  But SNL has a lot of other people watching who also need to be made to laugh.

So, beards on transwomen.  In comedy terms it’s an unexpected juxtaposition of elements.  One of the basic building blocks of comedy, put a couple of disparate things together and build the yucks.  It ain’t always pretty, but it’ll make the Coors Lite buying segment of the viewing public laugh and keep them tuned to an otherwise oddly specific sketch.

But wait!  It goes a little deeper than just that even.  When we first see the bearded transwoman, she’s going through an airport security scanner.  The bored looking guard overseeing this doesn’t even blip at the women with obvious facial hair going through the scanner until he sees the scan and the scene implies he’s seen her genitals, at which point he finally reacts.

I kept thinking about this and it seemed to me, the more I thought about it, that this was actually a pretty astute observation of how genitally obsessed people in our society can be.  I can tell you from personal experience that I encounter this sort of thing all the friggin’ time!!  People will be completely unfazed by the fact of a six foot four woman with a gameshow announcers voice towering over them, but they cannot let go of the idea that my genitals might not be the standard issue for most women!!

But then, the guard does not react with the boring old, standard issue comedy, shock and horror, total disgust face.  The guard actually seems interested and happy!  He even shows up in the final tableau!!

The mustache on the other hand, I can’t defend except to say that for some reason it was a hilarious mustache in and of itself.  Seriously, you could show me 30 seconds of just that ‘stache and I’d be laughing my fool head off.  But probably it wasn’t appropriate for the sketch.

All told, I did not think the “Estro-Maxx” commercial parody was the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages or even close to the funniest thing I’ve seen on SNL.  (“Wake Up And Smile” was.  Trust me, Google it.  It’s friggin’ twisted)  And I can well understand why many of my transsexual/transgender sisters and brothers are so offended.  But I have to say that I found it surprisingly smart and somewhat funny.

It’s never fun to be the butt of the joke, but I can tell you one thing.  When they’re making fun of you on Saturday Night Live, it means people are paying attention.  You are important enough to make reference to.

And transpeople are that!  We are finally beginning to be heard.  The media juggernaught has taken notice and the advertisers will not be far behind.  That is something SNL got dead right.

Now, the question is, what do we do with that spotlight?!?!

As far as SNL is concerned, I know what I’d like to see.  I’d like to see a transsexual/transgender host or even cast member!!  If Lorne Michaels and NBC want to make a gesture to the trans community I have a suggestion.

Let me host!!!

I’m a Second City trained improviser, actor, writer and sketch comic who has been doing comedy one way or another since I could first make words come out of my mouth!!  And I’m also a genuine Bona-Fide transsexual woman!  Heck, I’m even a transgender celebrity.  A columnist, an activist AND a pageant queen.  I was the very first Miss Trans New England!!!

How do you like them apples!??!?!

And if one transgender woman’s not enough for ya, I’ve even got funny friends!!  I’m sure my friend, stand-up comedy veteran and also genuine bona-fide, etc., etc., transwoman, Tammy Twotone could be convinced to join me!  You could get a Comedy Transwoman Two-fer!!

So whaddya say Mr. Michaels???  Will you let me host?

How about you internet friends?  My trans sisters and brothers and everyone else reading this???  Do you want to see a flesh and blood transsexual woman making the funny for you on national TV??  Do you want your voices represented?

Then make it so.  Time for us to grab control of that spotlight ourselves.

Get out there and tell SNL and NBC that you want Lorelei Erisis to deliver that famous line, “Live from New York!  It’s Saturday Night!!!”

"The Tranny Rat Pack"

Lorelei Erisis, Tammy Twotone & LezleeAnne Rios

Tell Lorne Michaels you want Lorelei Erisis to host SNL

Slainte!

19
Apr
10

Tribeca’s Controversy Kerfuffle

Here we go.  Good morning and good afternoon dear readers, I have a few somethings to say.  It’s possible, if you’re a regular follower of this blog that you read my recent post in support of the boycott of Ticked Off Trannies With Knives.  It’s also likely, if you are a follower of this blog that you are at least passingly familiar with my activism in support of transgender rights.

Now normally, I try to stick to the brass tacks real world, food, shelter and basic human rights kind of activism.  I wade into the contentious fray of language politics and media representation only with trepidation and care.  There are plenty of other folks who make a mission of being the watchdogs of our image as transgender/transsexual folks.

I care a great deal about these things myself, but I lived and worked in Hollywood for too long and know too much about the media machine in general, to often get behind that uphill-bound boulder.  I generally let Sisyphus handle that thankless task hirself.

But my friends, sometimes there are things about which I feel compelled to speak up.  Things that represent too much of a tipping point to ignore.

The whirlwind of controversy that has been surrounding TOTWK is one of those things.  If you’d like to read details of what I’ve had to say about the film itself, please see my previous post “Ticked-Off Trannies With Blogs”.  In summary though, after weighing the positives and negatives of the film and it’s presentation, I found it not to be “transploitation” so much as simply exploitative of trans people and the very real dangers we face.

I realize that I have based this assessment simply on the trailer that is available online and the commentary offered by those who have seen it or who were involved with the production.  That said, c’mon, we all have seen movie trailers that made us exclaim afterwards, “Well, guess I’ve seen the whole movie now!” or “D—n!!  I’m glad I didn’t waste 12 bucks and two hours on that piece of s—t!!”

And don’t tell me all you armchair Eberts out there haven’t said even worse on less info!  The simple fact is, we all do it all the time.  There is such a barrage of information and “entertainment” that we are bombarded with almost every minute of every day, that the only way to survive in this data cloud of a world is to make constant snap judgments about what we like and what we don’t like.

Quite enough is presented in the trailer for and the media representation of TOTWK for me to say with confidence that it is offensive to transfolks and insensitive to the issues we face everyday.  And besides all that, it’s really the media presentation of the film and the image that it is trying to project that are the basic problems for me.

If this movie was called “Dangerous Drag Divas With Daggers”, I’d probably even shell out my 12 bucks to see it!!  I like some cheesy-ass movies y’all!!  John Waters is an idol of mine!  And one of my all time favorite movies is “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka”!!  Not exactly high art.  And heck, I absolutely love Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” movies!  Raging gore fests and great fun!!!

But TOTWK tries to rep itself as a “fun” message movie.  A retro camp, “…homage to the exploitation films of the ’70s and ’80s….Inspired by the devastating increase in brutal hate crimes against people in the transgender community…” – Roya Rastegar in the Program Notes for the Tribeca Filmguide.

An argument could be made for the artistic merit of this movie as the much respected transgender actress Alexandra Billings has done on her blog, and reprinted on the website for TOTWK.  And I’m afraid she has the advantage on me of having actually screened a copy of the film.  Nonetheless, I must respectfully disagree with Ms. Billings.

As I said, I believe this film represents a dangerous tipping point in the public image of transgender people.  Simply by it’s inclusion in the Tribeca festival it has gained a notoriety that virtually guarantees it will be viewed by a great many potential allies who have never previously had any experience of an actual flesh-and-blood transgender person.  The image presented of transgender women in TOTWK will contribute to the shape of their impression of us as a whole.  And it is a false one.

If there were a wealth of positive images of transgender people out there already, this would not be such an issue.  But there is not.  Even now, I still often meet people whose primary knowledge of us comes from Jerry Springer.  Who assume that just because I tell them I am a performer that I must do a killer Judy Garland impression and have a wardrobe filled with rhinestones!  I’m a pretty fabulous woman mind you, but I don’t do Judy (or Streisand or Madonna or Marilyn…) and I have kindly requested that if any of my friends ever spot me in rhinestones that they simply shoot me on sight.

I have seen it asserted that at least 3 of the 5 lead roles in TOTWK are played by actual transgender women.  I have no reason to deny this or attempt to disparage the “authenticity” of these women.  In fact as an actor I congratulate them on getting a paying gig.

Just because they are authentic transgender women however does not mean this is an authentic representation of the transgender experience.  It does not necessarily lend credibility to the filmmaker or the whole cast and crew.  It simply means they got cast in the flick.  Which, okay, is big all on it’s own, but that’s another issue.  Just because an actor gets cast does not mean the film is going to be good or the roles respectfully written.

See, for example, almost every role written for African –American actors in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  Or check out the book “The Celluloid Closet” for a great history of the roles that were available for Gay and Lesbian actors for much of the history of cinema. Also it is worth noting that while these transgender women acted in the film, the words they speak belong to the writer.  A cisgender gay man.

I’m sure the actors had some artistic input, but the overall content sprang from the mind of Mr. Israel Luna.  I cannot fault them for or assign merit to the content based on these women’s presence in the film.  Gods know, I’ve done some stuff myself that I thank my lucky stars everyday has not yet seen an audience larger than would fit in a living room….  Those are the hazards of being an actor.

My impression of this movie is that despite the presence of 3 transgender actors, the parts they play are very much Drag Characters.  Again, no dis-respect to drag artists, it’s a perfectly legitimate art-form.  But it does not represent the actual experience of transgender women.  Drag Queens are fabulous, entertaining and bigger than life.  But they are generally based on caricatures of women.  And more often than not, they identify as men who are playing women.

Which brings me to Willam Belli.

In all the controversy swirling around this movie what I was finding missing was the voices of the actors actually playing these transgender women.  I read the comments from the filmmaker Israel Luna, himself a proud gay man.  But what I wanted to know, as an actor and a transgender woman myself, was what these actors who represented TOTWKs sole claim to community authenticity had to say.

The first comment I came across was a fairly reasonable statement in the New York Times by Krystal Summers who identifies as a transgender woman and is one of the lead actors in the film.  I found her portrayal of GLAAD’s involvement with the film to be somewhat misleading, but sympathized with her point in asking people simply to see the film before passing judgment.

Again, I sympathize, but do not necessarily agree.  Still, it was nice to read her point of view.

After that, my own life went back into high gear and I lost day-to-day track of the controversy.  I do a great deal of outreach and activism in and for the trans community.  I serve on the boards of a couple of non-profit orgs.  I perform whenever I can.  I write a regular column in an honest-to-gods printed on paper LGBT newspaper that distributes throughout New England.  I have a day job to pay the bills.  And I also make appearances as Miss Trans New England.  Plus all the business of friends and family and just life as a transwoman trying to get through the day in an often hostile world.

Basically I keep pretty busy.

So the next time any of this came back into my consciousness, aside from the odd facebook update, was when it was pointed out to me by a regular reader of my blog that I might take a look at this Willam Belli guy and the things he’s been saying all over the interwebs.

Willam Belli it turns out is one of the actors in TOTWK.  You might also know him from his star-raising performance in Nip/Tuck.  He is not a transgender woman, as you may have guessed by the sudden appearance of male pronouns associated with his name.

I was curious, so I started surfing links.  He’s got a pretty solid website and the IMDB page of a hard working actor doing everything he can to break out and up.  Some pretty decent roles in stage and film, a lot of gay male characters and Drag Queens.  I liked his reel.  I remembered his performance on Nip/Tuck as being pretty good.  It certainly f—ked me up when I watched it.

From there he seems to have made a big push to play more transgender characters, continuing to develop a very drag queen-esque persona.

I’ll be honest with you friends, as I poked around his work and personal website, I was kinda starting to like the guy.  This, despite the fact that I had been told he was attacking friends of mine in the community.  I even kind of enjoyed some of his work.  A clip of his cabaret act called “Choose your Own Adventure” was cute and funny.  Additionally, he seems to be well-liked by several transwomen whom I greatly respect.

Then I watched the trailer for a show pilot called “Tranny McGuyver”, that is described on YouTube as being “conceived by Willam Belli … & Patty Wortham.”  On his IMDB page he is listed as Writer (Creator) and Executive Producer.

However in the comments section of the YouTube page, apparently as part of a discussion of the word “tranny”, under the screenname “noextrai” he has this to say: “maybe that’s why it never made it to series. i didn’t write it or come_ up with it. just acted and improved in it. Tranny is derived from the word TRANSVESTITE (which most drag queens are), not Transsexual. it’s not meant to offend anyone”

This flatly contradicts the description below the video, which was also apparently uploaded by “noextrai” so presumably he should fix that if it is indeed false.  But since it also contradicts almost everything else I found about “Tranny McGuyver” I’m guessing his statement was simply “creative reality”.

As for his statement that, “Tranny is derived from the word TRANSVESTITE … not Transsexual.”  Really?!?!!?  I’m kind of a word geek myself, I used to read the dictionary for fun when I was a kid and to this day cannot look up a word without becoming fascinatedly side-tracked.  And just to be safe I did a quick Google search for “tranny etymology” and got not one single definition that agreed with this statement.  In fact few of them completely agreed with the others either.  Most defined the word as coming from transsexual, transgender and/or transvestite.  But I digress.

Getting back to “Tranny McGuyver”.  I’ll let the dialogue from the opening of the trailer speak for itself:

Female uniformed officer speaking to a distraught woman: “Ma’am, can you please describe the assailant?”

Woman: “He was tall.  Athletic…”

Officer Mac (Belli’s character): “He sounds cute!”  (Woman begins to sob)

Officer Mac to Woman: “Pull it together Rapey!” (Then speaking to the female officer) “She’s a girl, you talk to her.”

“Rapey”!!?!?  Really?!?!?!  I’m not exactly the PC Police myself, but in what universe is that okay or even funny?????  I think even Lenny Bruce would have frowned on that.  If a line like that was delivered onstage in a live show, I’m sure the audience would do that quiet look around awkwardly and shuffle in their seats thing I’ve seen happen during uncomfortably offensive moments.

The rest of the trailer left me simply nonplussed.  Even if it had been absolute genius, I doubt I’d have enjoyed it after an opening like that.

From there I went link surfing, looking up all the things Mr. Belli had to say in regards and response to the controversy surrounding TOTWK and the conversations going on around it.  What I found was quite a bit of ugliness.  Belli is quite prolific in his commentary.  He seems to have taken up the torch of Defender of TOTWK and manages to comment on just about every mention of the movie I have found.

As I started pouring through all the rants, discussions and diatribes, I tried to remember to put myself in Belli’s shoes.  This seems to be his highest billed role to date.  In a film that is being featured in Robert friggin’ DeNiro’s much respected and influential Tribeca film festival no less!!  I know I’d be excited!

And now his big break is suddenly being threatened with criticism coming from all directions.  Is it any wonder that he’s a little defensive?  He’s backed into a corner.

To be quite honest, speaking not as activist Lorelei but as Lorelei the actor, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have done the movie myself if I had had the opportunity.

I felt like he was being a little bit of a bully in his commentary though and the more I read, the more I thought this.  There wasn’t any one instance where I could say he was completely out of line.  He seems savvy enough to avoid that.  But overall, the tone and tactics of his comments did not paint a pretty picture.  More often than not, he shuts down his opponents with sarcasm and bitchiness rather than intelligent argument.  I could quote any number of comments, but nothing I could quote is really specifically damning.  It’s more of an overall tone to his remarks that got under my skin.  I encourage you dear reader to fire up Google and check it out for yourself, his comments are easy to find.

Still, I was having difficulty deciding whether to say anything.  I had begun writing this piece, but was stalled.  I have little desire to find myself in the middle of all the nastiness and name calling flying around.  I also don’t want to appear as if I am attacking anyone myself.  Willam Belli did go after a number of my friends and associates pretty viciously I thought.  But on the other hand, they did put themselves in the line of fire.

Further, I myself have defended the use of the word tranny.  I use it myself and I like it.  I believe in the repurposing of words that have been used against us.  However I also know that many other people find it offensive and I think it’s important to respect that.  I actually got a question during a live Q and A I did last week about whether “tranny” was okay to use or not.  My answer boiled down to, “When in doubt ask.  And then use it accordingly.”

I do not believe that the film TOTWK, the filmmaker Israel Luna, or Willam Belli has followed this guide themselves.  Metaphorically speaking, they have never asked whether “tranny” was okay.  They have dictated terms themselves.  They have said, essentially, we are using this word whether you like it or not.  Rather than respect the experience of transgender people and the realities of our day-to-day existence, they have proclaimed themselves grand arbiters!  They will control the horizontal and the vertical, so get in line or get off the boat!!  At least that’s how it seems to me.

By this evening I had pretty much talked myself out of finishing this blog posting.  There are simply so many variables.  I have supported the boycott, and feel that there is good reason to do so.  But I’m not totally comfortable with having not seen the film myself.  I could be totally wrong about it.  I’ve been wrong about things before and I’m likely to be again.  Maybe it’s actually awesome and empowering or at least too much fun to seriously protest.  I doubt it, but it’s possible.

But then tonight I read a particularly well thought out and insightful negative critique of TOTWK on Advocate.com by transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox, star of “Transform Me” on VH1.  She makes some great points.  And apparently she’s seen the movie too!

Then, low and behold, right down at the bottom in the comments section is a remark from Willam Belli, following just the same pattern as his other comments.  It was time for me to say something.  Thanks for the push Willam!

Finally, I want to encourage you dear friends and loyal readers to check out the available information about this movie yourself.  Watch the recently re-edited trailer (thank you Mr. Luna).  Examine the opinions so dynamically expressed on both sides of this issue.  Most of all, Think for yourselves.

If after doing that, you find this film and the arguments supporting it to be lacking, join the protest.  Write your own blogs.  Tell your friends.  And if you can, go to NYC on April 23rd and join the Opening Night Education Rally being organized by trans-advocacy group MAGNET!!

And then follow the best advice I have seen from people on both sides of this issue.  Get out there and make your own movies about transgender people!  Make art about the trans experience!!  Write or produce TV shows about all things trans!!  Just go do it!

If you need an actor, you know where to find me!!!

Slainte!

01
Apr
09

This Is My America

I wrote this shortly after I moved to Los Angeles.
I was living in a closet in North Hollywood in the apartment of an old friend of mine named Dug.  I knew Dug from my time as a club kid in Boston.  We both worked at Venus DeMilo on Landsdowne Street.  He was a DJ, one of the best that I have ever known.  I ran the lights. We were both Cage Dancers.
He also lived on my floor for a while and we had some crazy adventures.  Most of which I am not currently drunk and/or foolish enough to relate.
We had stayed in touch over the years and when he movcd to L.A. to pursue a standup comedy career, he decided to repay my friendship by moving me out there and giving me a place to stay.  Literally, in a closet under the stairs.  Like Harry Potter.
I had no job, knew no one in L.A. besides Dug and his girlfriend, and had very little money.
So very often the highlight of my day was to scrape enough change together to buy a cup of bottomless coffee and maybe a piece of apple pie at the 24-hour greasy spoon down the street, where I would sit for as long as I could get away with and write or read a cheap, used book.  This piece was written on one of those long, lonely nights.

This is my America!
24 hour NoHo diner.
too impatient to sugar my coffee.
I want to write
and feel
And feel
and write.
A thousand miles from anywhere.
Everybody’s here.
This is what I know.
Chicken Fried Steak
and Mashed Potatoes.
A bottomless cup
out of a steel pot.
This is what I know.
This is who I am.
Today.
Yesterday.
I think of late Chicago nights.
Too high to order.
Trying not to laugh.
Too hard.
Borrowing money from M—.
G—— borrows too.
“I’ll pay you back on Saturday…”
elaborate,
unnecessary,
explanations of debt.
Midnight Whately Diner,
in that other valley.
“Showers are three dollars.”
Or was it five?
Stainless steel,
jet-fuel coffee.
Weirdo kids
and hunkered truckers.
The swirling cream
catches my attention.
Always does.
I take a second to stir too long.
Remember that line,
stirring up memories.
I remember M—.
She liked it too.
P—— telling me,
in another greasy spoon.
Lunchtime breakup.
Biked home crying.
I just couldn’t do
a Gothic picket fence.
Settled down with a kid named Vlad,
and a dog named Cujo.
Fucking terrier, small dog.
So I got married.
Just to contradict myself.
This is my America.
In Cambridge, after Man-Ray.
It was slices of greasy pizza
then the long drunk walk home.
Up Mass. Ave.
To Porter Square.
Another time,
in the same place.
The Tasty,
Closet Cafeteria.
With N—-,
On Acid.
After dancing.
Met Magic Eye inventor,
bummy old man millionaire.
Absolutely true.
Middle of the night N—-
screaming.
“Get the fuck off of me!!!”
When I wasn’t.
Startled awake.
Scared as hell.
Sleeping in the crevice,
between the wall and
the bed.
Another time.
J—-, drunk too much.
“Who are you?” really not knowing.
Her husband.
She should know.
I’m disturbed that she doesn’t.
Garrett’s in the other room.
With a woman and a sunset.
She keeps trying to look.
I pull the door closed.
This is my America.
Never able to say no
to another cup of coffee.
IHOP in Hyannis.
Matt’s a bastard, again.
We fight about a woman.
She wasn’t even worth it really.
So many midnight diners.
And all night greasy spoons.
Chicago New Years Eve.
Another Golden Something Diner.
Happier times.
Bittersweet.
M— and G—— and J—-
and J— and Me.
And M— and J—-.
And Me.
At the start of a new century.
And the end of a Mistaken Marriage.
I remember so many nights.
And so much coffee.
This is my America.




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