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Transamerica (and celluloid depictions of trans people in general)

 
 
Ganesh
03:10 / 02.04.06
Me and Xoc went to see Transamerica today, as part of the 20th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (although it's on open release now in the UK, and played in the US, ooh, aaages ago). Apologies if it's already been discussed on Barbelith: a cursory search doesn't bring it up.

I really enjoyed it, and thought it was a good middle-of-the-road portrayal of a flawed but essentially sympathetic trans protagonist and her journey across America with the teenage son she only recently discovered she had. Considering it had to tread a fairly fine line between mainstream(ish) comedy and halfway-accurately reflecting the reality of life for many transwomen, I thought the script wasn't bad at all. There were a few minor plot holes (how come Bree was still taking procoagulant oestrogens the week before major surgery?) but, generally speaking, Transamerica managed to be funny, emotionally engaging and also reasonably 'true'.

One major weakness, for me, was the central premise: Bree is a week away from reassignment surgery when her (to a Brit, incongruously touchy-feely) therapist insists that, unless she travels to New York to hook up with her long-lost son, the operation won't go ahead. If reassignment surgery were contingent on dodgily directive therapeutic ideas of 'closure' with regard to all matters of family, I don't suppose anyone would be okayed to go ahead. And, considering she's dumped this huge condition on Bree at the last minute (talk about gatekeeping!), the therapist doesn't exactly bust a gut to ensure Bree's succeeded in her task; she doesn't even ask Bree about it until she's post-operative.

Still... Felicity Huffman is, IMHO, superbly believable as a somewhat neurotic 'stealth' transwoman - and, to her credit, she hasn't succumbed (at least in the interviews I've read so far) to the tendency of certain male actors playing gay roles, to play up the "it was sooo hard for me to play a character so alien" angle.

Anyway. I'd be interested to hear what other Barbeloids thought of the film - and perhaps use Transamerica as jumping off point for a more general discussion of cinematic portrayals of trans people.
 
 
matthew.
03:43 / 02.04.06
I believe your major problem with the movie (this contrived reason for visiting hir son) is why the film failed to be the big critical darling (as opposed to Brokeback and Crash); the main thread of the plot is Hollywood-ish. To me, the film felt like that Whoopi Goldberg film Boys on the Side.

Certainly films on trans people have come a long way from The Crying Game, in which has the most blatantly ruined twist ending for everybody who heard of the movie after the Oscars. Not that The Crying Game is a poor film; I was just disappointed in the use of "OMG! She's a he!" as a shock, as a perversion, essentially. Almost as if being trans is such a step from "the norm" that it has become a horror trope in The Crying Game
(Does this film have a transgendered individual or a transexual individual? My memory is hazy)

[Disclaimer. I have not read all of the big trans thread. Maybe about half. So apologies if my ideas on trans people seem... amateur. I am learning.]
 
 
Disco is My Class War
07:17 / 02.04.06
I'm sort of avoiding going to see Transmerica. I think I'm probably gonna hate it. In the meantime, some commentary:

Piny from Feministe: "It was like watching a madcap romantic comedy about a transman’s hilariously ill-starred attempts to get to the post office and retrieve his mail-order penis in time for his wedding."

I also have a slight issue with the way that Huffman had to be so visually coded as transsexual. (This is one thing I noticed from the trailers.) If she had looked just like herself, without the prosthetic jaw, the deliberately 'clumsy' make-up and the henna'd hair that looked a lot like a wig (all, for me, screaming 'fake'), I think the film would have been more politically transgressive and more threatening to its mainstream audience. But of course, you can't have Felicity Huffman looking like a normal actor playing a transperson. You have to make their transness visible -- which comes across, often, as ugly clumsiness.

I've been ranting at length about Max on Season Three of The L Word on my blog. Briefly, there's a new character in Season Three -- Jenny's new partner -- who begins as Moira but decides he's trans and that his name is Max halfway through the season. I'd avoided talking about it here because most of the L Word fans on Barbelith won't see it for a while, being in the UK. But you should take a look, if you want. I'm very torn about the L Word's scripting of Max as a character. It raises all kinds of personal triggers for me about trans masculinity, the 'truth' of what happens in transition, and how to represent that faithfully, without erring on the side of bland 'feel good' positivity or transphobia. Some of the basic factual plot about Max's transition is just plain wrong, which I find pretty indefensible. Then again, it's a soap opera. Reality isn't really the main game.
 
 
Ex
18:33 / 02.04.06
I'm hoping to see Transamerica soon.

Did anyone see Different For Girls? 1996 British film, in which Kim (Steven Mackintosh) meets old schoolchum, Paul (Rupert Graves). Paul is initially a bit shit and confused because he last saw Kim at school, as Karl, who he used to protect from homophobic bullying - there's one line where Kim has to say to him forcefully: 'I'm a woman. Karl was a girl.'
I remember quite liking it, as the central relationship was engaging; Paul has terrible impulse-control and screws up a lot initially, but tries hard to understand Kim because of their past friendship. He attempts to revive her interest in punk and bond over it.

I was also very jumpy about good/bad representation and what I wanted from the film, so I might like it more or less on returning to it.

SPOILERS FOR PLOT BELOW (in case it wasn't predictable)



Bits I liked less: Kim, is phenomenally timid and conflict-avoidant - one of the narrative arcs of the film is her gaining confidence, becoming 'visible' and confident, and getting a kick-ass set of motorbike leathers and a bright red frock (iirc). But this does mean she spends the first half of the film a bit lacking in character, spark, feist... This, again, is probably more about what I wanted from a trans character than a film failing.

And then the whole romance - particularly the sex - seemed oddly framed by the physical biology of her transition. Her not-quite-yet boyfriend Paul hears her describe the breasty effects of taking hormones, gets turned on, freaks out and starts waving his nob around in public, which triggers a whole string of events. Then the consumation of their relationship is framed by Paul asking to see what she looks like naked, so he can get his head round it... Maybe they both know that's just a convenient line for him, maybe they're both not sure what's going on but they're willing to go along with whatever it is. But 'I'm a bit freaked out by your gender identity, can I peer at your woo-wah' seems like the worst chat-up line in the world.
And I was sufficiently disgruntled about that for the amazement and relief of Paul when they succesfully have penetrative sex to be a mixed amusement. I can remember a similar moments of 'Blimey, it works, tee hee' when having sex for the first time - on the other, hand, it again seemed like a strange framing device.

I've just read a fan review which actually like these bits best, so I think you can read it the other way too - that Kim wants to forget all about her pre-transition past, and so pursuing a relationship with an old schoolfriend, and acknowledging her transition and talking about it is a vulnerable and progressive thing for her.
I suppose I would have been equally perturbed if her past had been swept under the carpet in the romance - 'real' chap making a liminal lady into a 'real' woman by the power of heterosex... Blergh. I'm fussy.

What do people reckon to the implications of the actor's gender (eg Steven Mackintosh and Huffman both playing women)? I'm interested that Huffman initially thought she couldn't do the role as they should go with a chap actor, but was talked round.
 
 
elene
16:53 / 09.04.06
Well, I haven't been to see this yet. It's started showing here (in Germany, dubbed) but it feels like such a duty.

I have seen Different For Girls though. Well, Ian Dury was in it - how could I not? I thought Paul was gorgeous and totally normal, though really not able to settle into adulthood, and Kim was ... neurotic, totally neurotic. She was almost unbelievable, almost a parody of a woman. Unfortunately I do know women like her. She's got all the guilt and worrying and the insecurity and the desire for security, and then she's got it all again. I don't know what he's supposed to see in her. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it - I wish life was more like that. Maybe it is if you're Kim? By the way it is the romance and the sex with Paul that lets Kim break out of her shell, unless I'm very mistaken.

Irrelevantly, other films with trans themes I really enjoyed were Wild Side and Yellow Hair II. I enjoyed The Crying Game tremendously too, and even though I first saw it years after it came out. I didn't see any horror in it at all, well, except for the horror of kidnapping and terrorism. That's just a straight guy, a rather nice one, not being able to cope with this right away. It's set in the '80s, you know?

Getting back to Transamerica, I think I'll go late to avoid this nonsense with her therapist at the start. Once she's really trying to handle the situation it sounds like it'll get better. Is her makeup really as weird as they all say it is?
 
 
Our Lady Has Left the Building
17:24 / 10.04.06
Or there's Boys Don't Cry, where I seem to remember that Hilary Swank did start talking about how difficult it was to play the part and how she was a real girly, though I may be misremembering.

I did like Different For Girls, though more for Steven Macintosh playing Kim, and seem to remember a few good put-downs on her part.

Apparently there were some nasty words said about TransAmerica at the Oscars, Jon Stewart said something and so did Reese Witherspoon? But I didn't watch the ceremony, so don't know exactly what was said.
 
 
elene
19:23 / 10.04.06
You mean the "real woman" comments from Witherspoon and "ladies, gentlemen, and Felicity" from Stewart? Well, I didn't see it either, but people seemed to think that "real" wasn't a reference to to some transsexual unreality, but rather referred to being really there, really alive, and the Stewart thing is obviously just a gag – I mean Felicity is so obviously a “real”, real woman, really.
 
 
sibyline, beating Qalyn to a Q
21:24 / 12.04.06
I saw Transamerica a few weeks ago and found it to be a political improvement over films like Boys Don't Cry and The Crying Game, though less interesting as a movie. I think that it's progressive to have a movie about a trans woman without the entire plot resting solely on the fact of her transness, so I found the whole mother-son aspect of the movie more satisfying at a political level, though I found the execution pretty static and unconvincing.

I didn't necessarily have trouble with Felicity Huffman being coded as trans in the way that she was, just because I was imagining that a typical Caucasian person born male who undergoes such a transition would look and behave like her. I mean, I think it would be interesting to have a movie with a trans character who doesn't necessarily have to be so obviously coded as trans, but it would have to be a different movie.

I found Felicity Huffman's performance convincing but I didn't really think it was such a big deal. I'm not as interested in people playing characters that they're not as what people do to inhabit those characters. I didn't really think this role provided her with the opportunity to demonstrate a range and depth of emotion that would warrant a performance worthy of great admiration.

I've heard about that movie "Normal" with Colm Wilkinson and Jessica Lange, but I haven't seen it. I did see "Different for Girls" and enjoyed it a lot, moreso I think that TransAmerica.
 
 
*
22:51 / 12.04.06
I didn't necessarily have trouble with Felicity Huffman being coded as trans in the way that she was, just because I was imagining that a typical Caucasian person born male who undergoes such a transition would look and behave like her.

And there you have it in a nutshell— my whole problem with films which try to represent trans people.

Not like this?
Or like this?
Or like this?
Or like this?
Or like this?

I don't go to see "trans movies" as a rule unless people who are trans were involved with making them in a really meaningful way, so I am afraid I don't have a lot to say about this one.
 
 
sibyline, beating Qalyn to a Q
01:01 / 13.04.06
no, i mean more like

this

within the particular narrative parameters of the movie, huffman's character identified as a straight man who was reasonably successful at attracting straight women, which typically means that his physical qualities back when he was a man were ones that straight women found generally attractive. these are the same physical qualities that make it more difficult for her to be coded as a non-trans female post-transition.

calpernia addams was a drag performer who identified as a gay man (as far as i know; i remember reading an article in the new york times) prior to transitioning, and was attractive to straight-identified men even before she officially identified as a woman. her cultural position is quite different from the character that huffman portrays in the movie.
 
 
*
20:45 / 13.04.06
Okay, how about Betty Boyd, who is very attractive in both male and female presentations, and who is also an actor who could have played the part herself, without the need for a prosthetic jawline?

I'm not digging at you, sibyline; after I posted I realized I hadn't made that clear. Part of my problem is that many many people will see TransAmerica and/or at least the press about it, and instead of thinking as you do: "well, this is a Caucasian trans woman who was attractive in a way coded as masculine before transition, is transitioning as an adult, etc." they will think: "most trannies look and act like this." It's not really the movie's fault, it's the fault of its position in history. Trans people right now don't often get to represent ourselves in mainstream media, which means that all the easily-accessible representations of trans people approach blackface minstrels in terms of their accuracy. Many of them do the same minstrel show shtick of "it's funny because it's a tranny!" which some viewers said to me they felt in the "reveal" scene in TransAmerica, where Bree is standing to pee. They all rely on the distancing of the object being viewed from the outside for their humor. And frankly it's not conducive to us being equals in society if all the accessible representations of us treat us as objects.

More than the idea that trans women will all look like Bree, the idea that they will all act like Bree bothers me. Some viewers have described Bree's behavior to me in ways which sound neurotic and contrived. Many people are neurotic in some ways, yeah. Being trans in a world which is hostile to that experience is not really conducive to a completely undamaged state of mental health. But the idea that the "typical" trans woman behaves that way irks me. There's no typical way for anyone to behave.

TransAmerica is probably a step in the right direction, and I'm probably being overly cynical. (I'm glad they had a woman play Bree instead of a man.) But I can't take the subject-object distance. I hope you'll excuse me for trying to talk about trans people as an object of cinema without 1) any expertise in cinema, 2) having seen this film in particular.

(And speaking of that, would you please refer to trans people— including fictional ones— with their chosen pronouns wherever that's clear? I don't like the invalidation of gender identity implied when the nonpreferred pronouns are used, and I feel less safe posting here when that happens and goes unchallenged.)
 
 
sibyline, beating Qalyn to a Q
22:12 / 13.04.06
i didn't take it as a dig on me at all. no problem there. i just wanted to be clear about my position on the movie as well.

i don't know betty boyd and her name is common enough that i couldn't find proper references to her while doing google searches. i'm also not going to venture to make any generalization about how accurate bree's psychological depiction is. however, at a physical level, i've done enough research, taken enough biology classes, and met enough individuals who are transitioning from male to female to know that a clear majority of them are often coded as non-trans at the point in transition that bree was at in the movie.

i don't see the purpose, either narratively or politically, to depict transitioning mtf individuals as looking exactly like the majoirty of individuals who are chromosomally female. for me, this basically amounts to sweeping the serious issue of physical transition under the rug. watching the movie, i didn't perceive that bree was depicted as being distortedly masculine. she was just given certain masculine features (broader shoulders, stronger jaw, etc.) that i've observed to be reasonably typical of the people i've known who've undergone or are undergoing gender transition.

also, please note that i used "he" in describing bree's state and actions at a time when she identified as a man, and otherwise used she, in reference to both her character and calpernia addams. i don't know what bree would have preferred, but i've certainly known people who prefer to be described using the male gendered pronooun when talking about actions they performed at a time when they identified as men.
 
 
elene
23:59 / 13.04.06
Well, now I've seen this film, and I enjoyed it a lot. OK, the one week deadline is unrealistic and contrived and Bree is way, way out there, and a liar and a coward. How does she manage to get all this done in such a state? But her therapist is right to send her after her son.

Bree is weird, but apparently many trans women are like Bree. I must assume she's fairly representative, and though she's an object at first, true enough, that's not how it ends.
 
 
*
01:54 / 14.04.06
Bree is weird, but apparently many trans women are like Bree. I must assume she's fairly representative

Why must you assume that? Did the writers strike you as having done more research than you have yourself?
 
 
Ria
07:19 / 14.04.06
(id)entity, you included Gordene MacKenzie of Gendertalk (a natal woman) in your parade of trannyists.
 
 
*
09:11 / 14.04.06
You're absolutely right. I was after Nancy. I haven't listened to the show in so long I couldn't recall which was which, and it was sheer sloppiness that I picked out the wrong one. I apologize for the error, and I've put in to mod the post.
 
 
miss wonderstarr
12:06 / 14.04.06
I'm afraid I keep opting to see other things (like "Firewall") when I could be seeing this movie. So the one comment I can make at this point is that it does feel like a duty. A friend I ran into last week, who used to come out with me to trans places, made the knowing remark "I've just seen a film I think you'd like", and of course I knew which one he meant even though our outings were several years ago. So I have some vague feeling that I should, I don't know, "support the team", or at least have an opinion on this flick. But apart from the trans stuff, it just seems like a coming-of-age, mildly touching, comedy-of-embarrassment, odd-couple road movie: the sort of thing I wouldn't really bother with.
 
 
elene
12:13 / 14.04.06
I can’t claim to know whether Bree is typically or not, id. I don't know many trans women. I know hardly any in fact. My psychiatrist seems to think me atypical – though I live as a woman, I've been taking estrogen for years and she has diagnosed me transsexual – and I have the impression a typical transsexual would be more like Bree ("even my gynaecologist won’t be able to tell"). That might be a misunderstanding on my part however. Genesh comments that Huffman as Bree is "superbly believable as a somewhat neurotic 'stealth' transwoman." I think Ganesh must know (as must Dr. P.).

On the down side, her make-up is just silly and unrealistic. As she’s acquired just about every feminine signifier in existence, making such a botch of something so obvious is unbelievable. I also think they distorted her facial structure more than they needed to, and more importantly, not in accord with how Stanley looks in the photograph.

Bree is meant to be a transsexual of a particular sort about the time of her surgery. She clearly relaxes after SRS, and this encounter with reality, in the form of her son, has already started to change her before it. She becomes more and more human as the film progresses, and that’s not a bad thing. One can’t simply declare something strange to be familiar, one must lead one’s audience to understand how it is familiar, in spite of appearances. I think this film does that.
 
 
miss wonderstarr
20:14 / 14.04.06
I missed the showing of "Inside Man" so I did get to see this film today and support team trans, which as I said is kind of how it felt. It was an interesting experience for me to feel I was seeing a flick as a trans girl, which is not a side I often find... "spoken to," irl. And as such, I found it interesting in myself that I felt this film was "representing" for me, and therefore had some obligations, and could disappoint me in that respect. Not something I would feel were I identifying as a straight man seeing "Firewall"; for the obvious reason that there are a great many straight white men in mainstream pictures, other than Harrison Ford, and so big-screen representation of straight white guys doesn't rest solely on Ford's shoulders. As there are far fewer trans women on screen, Bree has to do more... "work". It's obvious and perhaps banal but it was interesting to me anyhow.

As a story, as a road-trip, buddy-movie and kind-of-comedy, I found the film about as dull as I'd expected for about two-thirds of the way: maybe until Calvin, and the peyote guy, and then Bree's parents. I didn't find it funny or novel, or moving. And actually I was getting kind of disappointed and pissed off with the representation of a trans woman, seeing as there aren't that many on screen and this one seemed to fit the standard type. It was annoying me that the big suspense was about the "reveal", the fact that Bree had a penis. It was annoying that she'd presumably lived as female for some time but had such awful dress sense and awkward movement, and seemed to sweat pancake make-up off in every scene, whereas female characters like the therapist weren't coded in anything like the same way. And it was annoying that she had to be so prissy and uptight, as if this was the only way she could figure out to act like a "woman": to be schoolmarmish and prim.

Actually, it did perk up for me a little with the tranny Caribbean cruise fund-raiser drinks night, which offered a sense of more variety within transsexuality - and some wit, play and banter, in contrast to Bree's stick-up-the-ass. I also dug the peyote thief's riff on transsexuals being a higher state of being, and Bree's anthropological information about people of inbetween gender being treated as high-status in certain communities. That was an interesting perspective, and it did make me think it'd be a change to see a transsexual in a film in that light, as transcendent in a good way, gender-euphoric, and fucking glamorous too, rather than the nervous, pill-popping nannyish-nightgowned apology that Bree was still pinned down to.

One thing I enjoyed by the end was the sense that different lifestyles, including the ultra-straight, had been problematised and shown as equally constructed or fucked-up, or built on secrets and lies. Bree's mom, for instance, was obviously screwed up about sex, seeing a dog's tail as a queasy reminder of a penis in the home; she was taking hormones and always wore a mask of make-up, except at night when she seemed to have some anti-ageing pads stuck under her eyes. So, just as much a masquerade as Bree.

It also satisfied me a little that Bree's prissy rendition of "femininity" seemed to relax after her operation; she never would have drooled before, or opened a bottle with her fist. It's understandable that living in stealth would make you antsy and over-compensate, and it makes sense, pleasingly, if she'd let that drop a little when she no longer had anything to hide.
 
 
miss wonderstarr
22:22 / 14.04.06
A couple of further observations. I wonder whether (my vague idea confirmed by a couple of reviews) there were other cultural stereotypes at work there - the gentle, wise Native American, the garish, ridiculous Texan. Maybe also the kindly, mothering, African-American lady?

And I didn't quite "get" the point where Bree refuses a pink, fluffy showgirl outfit, saying she's a transsexual, not a transvestite. I'm never sure if I'm correctly navigating the technicalities, but a transsexual is a transvestite in that they dress in the clothes of the opposite sex - not just a tv, but that too. And the implication seemed to be here that transvestite = over-the-top, tasteless drag... which could just have been Bree's mistaken understanding of it, but it didn't click for me.
 
 
*
00:11 / 15.04.06
You're right in that Bree is engaging in stereotyping transvestites there, and that upsets me because I think it's symptomatic of the way trans people are sometimes willing to divide ourselves up into good trannies and bad trannies in order that those of us who are more privileged can get rights we'll deny to others.

But a transsexual is not automatically transsexual plus transvestite. I'm not a transvestite when I wear men's clothes, because I am a man. I'm practicing transvestism only when I put on a skirt to go to a goth club, because I'm a man. To say I'm a transvestite as well as a transsexual is to say that my identity as a man is not valid, and to me, accepting my identity as valid is fundamental to according me my rights as a person. A transvestite, by contrast, does not self-identify as the gender they put on with their clothes, generally speaking. If there's a persistent identification which goes further than taking on a different gender role in a playful manner, IMO, there's something else going on than just transvestism. If a person identifies as a woman and lives as a woman, then wearing a dress is not transvestism because they are dressing in gender appropriate clothing.

(This is leaving aside the fact that among many US trans people, 'transvestite' has the specific meaning of one who crossdresses for sexual pleasure, while 'crossdresser' is a more general term. I think that's something the writers might have been vaguely conscious of, in the sense that 'transvestite' in the US carries connotations of fetishism.)
 
 
miss wonderstarr
01:34 / 15.04.06
But a transsexual is not automatically transsexual plus transvestite. I'm not a transvestite when I wear men's clothes, because I am a man. I'm practicing transvestism only when I put on a skirt to go to a goth club, because I'm a man. To say I'm a transvestite as well as a transsexual is to say that my identity as a man is not valid, and to me, accepting my identity as valid is fundamental to according me my rights as a person.

You're right of course; I didn't think that through, sorry.

A transvestite, by contrast, does not self-identify as the gender they put on with their clothes, generally speaking. If there's a persistent identification which goes further than taking on a different gender role in a playful manner, IMO, there's something else going on than just transvestism. If a person identifies as a woman and lives as a woman, then wearing a dress is not transvestism because they are dressing in gender appropriate clothing.

This makes sense but I would want to explore it a little. I can't really speak as any authority on transvestism, but it was certainly my impression that transvestites - I would have used cross-dresser pretty synonymously - put on a gender identity with those clothes. I don't think that's necessarily playful. Play could (should?) come into it, like it comes into any kind of dressing up and going out, but as I've said on another thread, if you are going out in public, "dressed", on the way to some safe-space club, and if you're not presenting as a joke in obvious comical drag, then you're doing something you have to feel very serious about or you wouldn't bother psyching yourself up for something risky to your sense of identity and I suppose also your physical well-being.

But perhaps in your terms, if passing or at least not being "read" and ridiculed is important to who you are and your sense of self, then you're not a transvestite but a kind of transsexual.

You certainly seem to be suggesting that transsexual is if you're "more than" transvestite, if you're transvestite but it matters, it's not a game. (Again, I would add the proviso that I think all sexuality should ideally involve some playfulness). Maybe I agree with that but just hadn't really thought about it enough.

What if you live as a woman just for the evenings when you're out (or in) dressed? Does that make you something "else", other than a transvestite? I really don't know... perhaps you're absolutely right. I suppose I had always disliked the term transvestite because of its association with dressing as a straight sexual fetish, rather than inhabiting of a different persona; which is the distinction you suggested with "cross-dresser".

Anyway... a bit off-topic there, sorry.

I watched "Some Like It Hot" as a Bank Holiday treat today, and not only does it include the same joke about booze putting hair on your chest, which suggests how corny some of "Transamerica"'s gags are; it seems a remarkably gay- and perhaps trans-friendly movie for the period.
 
 
*
04:51 / 15.04.06
I don't want to take up any more of the thread with this, but:

You certainly seem to be suggesting that transsexual is if you're "more than" transvestite, if you're transvestite but it matters, it's not a game.

Oops, not quite; I was expressing myself really badly. This is a really complicated subject and not one that has been adequately explored, by anyone, for me to present myself as an authority on. I think transsexuals in general experience a persistence of their (cross-gender) identity which generally differs from transvestites, but there's obviously both more and less going on than that.
 
 
elene
11:59 / 15.04.06
I don't think that's a gag at all, miss wonderstarr. Two characters are making a point about where they stand. The man says, jokingly, "this'll make a man out of you" and the woman replies, appropriately, "… hope not." Additionally, I think their meeting Calvin has to do with Toby romanticising Native Americans, rather than the film doing so. Calvin’s being nice also has to do with Bree's becoming aware of herself as a woman in a certain sense, of course, but that's got nothing do with his being Native American.
 
 
miss wonderstarr
12:27 / 15.04.06
I don't think that's a gag at all, miss wonderstarr. Two characters are making a point about where they stand. The man says, jokingly, "this'll make a man out of you" and the woman replies, appropriately, "… hope not."

Weeell... as I said, the actual line in both cases is about hair on your chest, not making a man out of you. But I'm not sure which movie you're referring to above.

Here are the situations:
Some Like It Hot

Sugar: What's the surprise?
Daphne: Uh, unh. Not yet.
Sugar: When?
Daphne: Better have a drink first.
Sugar: That'll put hair on your chest.
Daphne: No fair guessing.

Transamerica:


Calvin: That'll put hair on your chest.
Bree [hands briefly in prayer]: Hope not.

In both cases, I think it's a joke for the audience, who knows that the second character is in some kind of "disguise" and has a "secret" based on gender that the other character doesn't realise. Bree, at this point (as I understand it) is worried because she's lost her make-up and hormones, and thinks she's going to look less feminine.

Of course, Daphne is a straight man cross-dressing to hide from criminals, although I think there is a lot of suggestion in the movie that s/he grows into the role and enjoys being a girl; whereas Bree is (arguably) a woman.

But I don't think the situation would be the same if Calvin said that to Bree's sister, Sydney, who was born female. The line would make sense, but I can't see it eliciting (affectionate) laughter in the audience - based on us and Bree knowing something Calvin doesn't - and I think it was meant to get that response.
 
 
miss wonderstarr
12:36 / 15.04.06
Here's a curious comment in Linda Ruth Williams' Sight & Sound review:

"Spookily, even though we know she's a glamorous Hollywood star, she doesn't make a particularly convincing woman in Transamerica. Given the realism of the prosthetic penis incident, I'm sure that some viewers will assume Bree is played by a man. Perhaps trans-gender performance will become the next staple in Hollywood's 'uglying-up' vogue."

For all the author's apparent pleasure in "Hollywood's latest attempt at queering the heartlands of conservative America", this seems an unfortunate turn of phrase. To call Bree's identity "metrosexual" also seems dumb.

here
 
 
elene
12:55 / 15.04.06
You’re right, that sounds quite plausible, miss wonderstarr. I think I did see a different film in that sense. I don’t think anyone who identified with Bree could have interpreted that situation in that way, but the audience certainly might so that may well be what was intended. From my point of view the dialogue meant exactly what I said.
 
 
miss wonderstarr
13:10 / 15.04.06
That's an interesting point, elene; I think the film certainly encourages us to identify with Bree, but perhaps I didn't identify with her in the same way as you. (Though I felt, you know, appropriately moved or threatened or amused from her point of view at various points in the story, aspects about her character irritated me and I was, for some of the film, thinking of her as a representation of transsexuality played by Felicity Huffman with a fake jaw.)

However. I'm not entirely sure whether Bree saw herself as a full and complete woman, before her surgery. Do you feel that she did?
 
 
elene
13:53 / 15.04.06
I'm not entirely sure whether Bree saw herself as a full and complete woman, before her surgery. Do you feel that she did?

No, she certainly didn't, but I think this is one of the crucial moments where Bree actually realises she is a woman and responds accordingly - rather than hoping her surgeon will transform her into one if she ever makes it back to California in time. She reaches the nadir, a state of complete insecurity, just before she meets Calvin, but he nevertheless sees a woman in her, and she, perhaps to her surprise, is attracted to him. When she goes out to him while he's playing guitar on the porch she's definitely going as Bree, a woman. I think.
 
 
miss wonderstarr
14:23 / 15.04.06
Yes, I see what you're saying there. Though there may well be a joke intended for the audience, you see Bree as responding "hope not" as a woman, just as her mother or Sydney might have said "hope not".

So there's still a joke in it (treating the expression "hair on your chest" literally), which is why Calvin is able to smile at it instead of thinking "wtf" - but in your reading, she doesn't see any irony at that point (ie. she used to have hair on her chest; hair on her chest would be a give-away signifier of the masculinity she left behind; &c until what joke there is becomes entirely unfunny).
 
 
nixwilliams
12:06 / 07.09.06
i'm thinking a lot about trans (and trans-ish) road movies, because there are quite a number of them out there ("transamerica", "priscilla", "to wong foo", etc), and i recently saw "breakfast on pluto" which i've heard described as being a derivative of the road movie genre, but i'm not quite so sure. has anyone else here seen it? or read the book? what did you think? i felt the major theme was storytelling, and identity construction through lanugage. travel in the film is really tied up with ideas of nationality/border crossing and situating gender through external signifiers, whereas the road movie genre typically uses the journey metaphor to highlight internal realisations etc about gender.

(note: i see the protagonist of "pluto" as trans/ish, but i'm aware that others have a different take. i tend to refer to kitten using feminine pronouns, but i may occasionally use gender-neutral or masculine pronouns when discussing earlier moments in the film)
 
  
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