In a recent post of mine on Thought Catalog, I gave a brief list of examples of transphobia in mainstream media. After further thought, I realized that I failed to mention two examples of transphobia in the media that planted seeds of self-doubt just strong enough to delay my transition.
In 1994, a movie called Ace Ventura: Pet Detective came out. Being 8 years old at the time, my parents were hesitant to let me see a movie that seemed to be so raunchy (for those unfamiliar, here‘s the trailer). A year or two passed without seeing it, and my desire to see the movie all the kids in school were quoting (“aaaaaaaaaalllllll righty-then!”) had waned.
In 1996, my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family gave my parents a small pile of VHS cassettes. On these cassettes were movies he’d taped off of HBO or Showtime or Cinemax. In the pile were some questionably kid friendly movies (“The Mask”) as well as some obviously not-kid friendly movies (“Showgirls”). There, in the collection was “Ace Ventura,” a movie I had more-or-less forgotten about.
My brother and I put it on. We laughed at the goofy slapstick acts, we groaned at the more sappy romance parts, but our reactions were different during the climax of the movie. My brother laughed; I felt embarrassed.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie (do I still need to say “Spoiler Alert” if the movie is 19 years old?), the climax of the movie is as follows:
- Lt. Lois Einhorn is helping Ace track down at-large criminal and former football player Ray Finkle.
- The audience finds out that Einhorn, who was presumably cisgender, is actually a transgender woman (formerly Ray FInkle)!
- Ace yells out, “Einhorn is Finkle! Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a man! Einhorn is a man?!”
- Ace then vomits, remembering that earlier in the movie he had kissed Einhorn, even saying “your gun is digging into my hip.” (foreshadowing! Also, heh, heh, penis-joke)
- Ace then burns his clothes (trans people are just THAT disgusting), crying.
- Just for good measure, the theme from the movie “The Crying Game” played in the background.
At 10 years old, as I was just starting to realize that something was different about me compared to the other boys in my class, I was taught an important lesson: “transgender people are freaks to be laughed at; disgusting human beings.”
After all, everyone at school loved that movie. This must be how everyone feels. This was the first time I can recall feeling shame, even though I didn’t understand what gender dysphoria was yet. I immediately knew that these feelings weren’t “normal,” and I needed to hide them.
A more in-depth write up of transphobia in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” can be found here.
More recently, in 2010/2011, I began watching the show “Nip/Tuck“. I wasn’t yet out as trans to myself or anyone else, but the feelings that had haunted me throughout adolescence were still there, suppressed underneath the surface.
The show, created by gay icon/”Glee” creator Ryan Murphy, includes several extremely transphobic story arcs. Among them:
Nip/Tuck (FX), which featured a storyline about a transgender woman who regretted her transition, a transgender sex worker being beaten, and an entire season about a psychopathic trans woman depicted as a baby-stealing sexual predator who sleeps with her own son. (source: GLAAD)
The “psychopathic trans woman depicted as a baby-stealing sexual predator who sleeps with her own son,” is a character named Ava Moore. She’s portrayed by a cisgender woman (Famke Janssen). Here’s how the Wikipedia article for the character reads:
Ava Moore was originally Avery Tanner, a gay man who worked as a professional escort to wealthy older women. Avery was in love with Dr. Barrett Moore (Alec Baldwin), and used his charisma to convince his wealthy female dates to finance Moore’s medical research.
However, to Avery’s growing disappointment, Barrett Moore was a confirmed heterosexual and refused to advance his friendship with Avery to a romantic relationship. Avery fell into a deep depression and, determined to have Moore’s love at any cost, asked the doctor to perform sex reassignment surgery on him. Intrigued, Moore agreed and personally undertook the mission of transforming Avery into Ava. Moore’s skill as a surgeon allowed him to turn Avery into what Christian Troy would later describe as “The Hope Diamond of transsexuals; completely flawless in every way.” Ava was happy with her new form and the two married. But problems quickly popped up, as Moore could never truly accept Ava as being a woman and instead treated her like his prized creation. Ava sank further and further into depression. Moore arranged for one of his female employees to become pregnant with his child so Ava could become a mother and hopefully pull the three together as a family.
Ava grew increasingly distant from her husband and ultimately took their child and left in the middle of the night — right before the final surgery was to be performed to make her artificial vagina deep enough to pass as biologically natural. She then began taking young lovers, since Ava believed that younger, sexually inexperienced boys would not be able to tell that her genitals were different from those of most women.
So…. yeah. Wow. Basically, after seeing that, and after seeing how the gay community seemed indifferent about the show’s transphobic content because, after all, “Glee”, I again hung my head in shame, working even harder to suppress my feelings. (GLAAD listed “Nip/Tuck” on their “What to watch” list every week during its run.
In the end, I couldn’t hide how I felt anymore. Exposure to transphobic media content led me to deny who I was, delaying transition. It’s a real problem. Readers of my Thought Catalog article seemed fixated on the idea that I just shouldn’t feel offended, that I should ignore it. That’s not how it works, though. If you take someone who is fragile and unsure of who they really are, and expose them to content that demonizes trans people, you’re going to end up driving individuals to a state of denial or even self-harm.