HR 1592
March 27, 2007
GLAAD About Hate Speech
April 2, 2007

Shemale Documentary or Christian Hit Piece?

I recently was asked to review the movie “American Beauties” from Groove Films. The description that came with the email gives you a slight clue that something is amiss here.

“American Beauties (2005) is an award-winning documentary on Asian transgender immigrants. We enter the secretive, often misunderstood world of immigrant male to female transgenders. In a series of illuminating interviews, Amanda, Imani, Kimberly and Kosal I’ve revealing insights on the issues closest to their hearts: discrimination, prostitution, and sex reassignment surgery as well as their former lives, and their dreams for the future.”

I was very hopeful about this film, but after a few minutes I found some really disturbing content.

Amanda: “Men are like attracted to, you know, somebody transgender because they have best of both worlds. You know, they’re woman with something extra, which I was telling them when they ask me, you know. And, once you get cut off, then you’re not special anymore. You’re just another woman.

And I don’t know, some people, or most of the people I heard that has had sex change are not like happy. They are not happy. I mean, because you know, you can’t feel anything. This is like a hole there.

And yes, you know, your husband can be thinking that you’re a woman, and you know, everybody else thinks you’re a woman, but then, you know what was there, and you know, and you know it doesn’t feel like it used to or whatever. But then I hear that it doesn’t make you complete.

Imani: “Yeah, some people want it, some people don’t want it. Because you don’t have a feeling, you know, you don’t get the feeling, so a lot of people don’t want it, because what’s the use of it. A lot of people just like it because, you know, they get that, you know, they can…you know.”
[emphasis mine]

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-13365223372875502″ width=”400″ height=”326″/]

This is either a subtle hit piece by the religious right, or a fetish piece by a ladyboy chaser. Either way, it’s definitely a smack in the face of transsexuals and chocked full of misinformation.

Is there a grade worse than “F-“? If so, this movie gets it.

29 Comments

  1. Ashley says:

    it was very interesting to me

  2. Ashley says:

    it was very interesting to me

  3. I’m not going to comment any further, due to personal issues that I don’t want to corrupt this space. I stand by what I’ve written. Thanks for your comment.

  4. cigfran says:

    i should add, by the way, that i am much more concerned with the lasting impression left by films with wide distribution, like transamerica (ew), than with little items like this.

  5. cigfran says:

    ah, i see that you’ve fallen into the habit of casting all dissent as “silencing.” also of reducing all issues to the demands of your own identity.

    my girlfriend doesn’t in fact feel that it’s “just a hole.” so what? that’s her. it may even be you, once you finally get on with it. but i know more than one transwoman who does sort of feel that way, and it’s a common perception among people with less of the “tranny imperative” that we’ve become accustomed to in the US… the same imperative that demands a kind of reverse gender absolutism to that practiced by cisgendered essentialists.

    i’m surprised that you’d hype the orthodoxy, marti. it doesn’t sound like the radical old you. there are plenty of transwomen who don’t necessarily feel like “full women” (whatever the heck that means) and function quite nicely, thank you. just ask nexy.

    how do you know that the director molded their words? what do you have, other than the perceived threat to your own identity? a threat which you now project on me?

    it strikes me that the saddest thing is not the POV of the director, but the state of knowledge of the interviewees. but maybe it’s not their state of knowledge, but the state of their lives. the fact is that poor immigrants probably don’t have access to decent-quality surgical services, and a lot of them do wind up going to one of the hackers… they do exist, and what they leave behind really is “just a hole.”

  6. “i strongly recommend that white american trannies lose their self-protective orthodoxies when looking at transfolk from other cultures and subcultures… and actually listen to their experience, rather than twisting their panties over “stereotyping”,

    I should just shut up, and listen then? Maybe you should ask your girlfriend if she feels like it’s just “a hole and if she doesn’t feel like a “full woman anyway.”

    I have no issue at all with their individual “experience.” What I have issue with is that a director MOLDED their words into an overall experience of what Asian transwomen “are, feel like, and think. Do three transwomen picked up off the street represent your of what “American trannies” are?

    My issue isn’t about their cultural identity, but with the director’s molding of the content without any kind of reference to culture. It gives the look and feel of a hit piece.

  7. cigfran says:

    i strongly recommend that white american trannies lose their self-protective orthodoxies when looking at transfolk from other cultures and subcultures… and actually listen to their experience, rather than twisting their panties over “stereotyping”, etc. as jillian tried – apparently unsuccessfully – to get across, there is a wide variety of trans identity, and not much of it conforms well with our nice, neat little certainties.

    case in point by way of anecdote: i was invited, along with several other transfolks to meet with a student group at a local university, to try to give them an idea of “trans issues” and all that. one of my co-people was an established latina transactivist in the area. at one point, i did the inevitable “identity” spiel – complete with all the orthodox language – and then when i finished i turned to her and said “i mean… how do you feel about yourself?”

    she – and i do mean she… – turned to me and said “well, i always just figured i was a really flamboyant gay male. and transitioning seemed the right thing to do, given that.”

    i was, of course, floored for ten whole seconds. then the lightbulb went on.

    thai and other southeast asian trannies have a different worldview. some of them pick up on the western view, and adopt our language and identity-claims… but it’s pretty rare. i see nothing inauthentic in the quotes provided above.

  8. cigfran says:

    i strongly recommend that white american trannies lose their self-protective orthodoxies when looking at transfolk from other cultures and subcultures… and actually listen to their experience, rather than twisting their panties over “stereotyping”, etc. as jillian tried – apparently unsuccessfully – to get across, there is a wide variety of trans identity, and not much of it conforms well with our nice, neat little certainties.

    case in point by way of anecdote: i was invited, along with several other transfolks to meet with a student group at a local university, to try to give them an idea of “trans issues” and all that. one of my co-people was an established latina transactivist in the area. at one point, i did the inevitable “identity” spiel – complete with all the orthodox language – and then when i finished i turned to her and said “i mean… how do you feel about yourself?”

    she – and i do mean she… – turned to me and said “well, i always just figured i was a really flamboyant gay male. and transitioning seemed the right thing to do, given that.”

    i was, of course, floored for ten whole seconds. then the lightbulb went on.

    thai and other southeast asian trannies have a different worldview. some of them pick up on the western view, and adopt our language and identity-claims… but it’s pretty rare. i see nothing inauthentic in the quotes provided above.

  9. Jami Ward says:

    Haven’t seen the movie and have no intention of doing so – even in the mindset of “know thy enemy”. It simply sounds too much like a “look how bad MtF sex change is” piece of propaganda.

  10. Jami Ward says:

    Haven’t seen the movie and have no intention of doing so – even in the mindset of “know thy enemy”. It simply sounds too much like a “look how bad MtF sex change is” piece of propaganda.

  11. Is double-D a rating? 😉 Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Seriously, one would have to look at the audience to evaluate the message. If the audience was supposed to be westerners, then it would look like the message about transpeople was meant to be overtly sexual and inaccurate.

  12. Is double-D a rating? 😉 Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Seriously, one would have to look at the audience to evaluate the message. If the audience was supposed to be westerners, then it would look like the message about transpeople was meant to be overtly sexual and inaccurate.

  13. I have read Dr. Sam Winter’s “Language and Identity in Transgender: gender wars and the case of the Thai kathoey” and “Male Sexual Health: Kathoeys in the Lao PDR, South East Asia – Exploring a gender minority” by Serge Doussantousse and Bea Keovongchith. I do have some understanding of the cultural mindset. But they aren’t even using the terminology of their native lands. Transgender is a western term that they are obviously familiar with. Therefore, when they discuss surgery it comes off looking extremely bad, IMO.

  14. I have read Dr. Sam Winter’s “Language and Identity in Transgender: gender wars and the case of the Thai kathoey” and “Male Sexual Health: Kathoeys in the Lao PDR, South East Asia – Exploring a gender minority” by Serge Doussantousse and Bea Keovongchith. I do have some understanding of the cultural mindset. But they aren’t even using the terminology of their native lands. Transgender is a western term that they are obviously familiar with. Therefore, when they discuss surgery it comes off looking extremely bad, IMO.

  15. I think it’s a matter of cultural understanding. People in Asia, Africa and Latin America do not have the same background understanding of “gay” and “transgender” that North Americans do. It sounds like the filmmakers should have framed the movie by noting that not all transgender people have the same understanding of their identity, and that the portrayal is specific to this group. There are some great academic articles on the issue and the problem of cultural representations of identity. I thought I had a couple to hand, but then my computer failed me. If you want some references, give me a shout.

    Jillian

  16. I think it’s a matter of cultural understanding. People in Asia, Africa and Latin America do not have the same background understanding of “gay” and “transgender” that North Americans do. It sounds like the filmmakers should have framed the movie by noting that not all transgender people have the same understanding of their identity, and that the portrayal is specific to this group. There are some great academic articles on the issue and the problem of cultural representations of identity. I thought I had a couple to hand, but then my computer failed me. If you want some references, give me a shout.

    Jillian

  17. nexyjo says:

    sheesh. stereotype much?

  18. nexyjo says:

    sheesh. stereotype much?

  19. Samie D says:

    I wonder if the person making the film would have interviewed only prostitutes if he wanted to make a documentary about genetic women.

  20. Samie D says:

    I wonder if the person making the film would have interviewed only prostitutes if he wanted to make a documentary about genetic women.

  21. Is there a grade worse than “F-“? If so, this movie gets it.

    LOL!

    First of all, the opening segment of that clip made me feel like I was watching “Reno 911.” Secondly, Amanda: it’s woman, not “woman.” Thirdly, Imani: it’s vagina, not vergina.

    Ugh.

  22. Is there a grade worse than “F-“? If so, this movie gets it.

    LOL!

    First of all, the opening segment of that clip made me feel like I was watching “Reno 911.” Secondly, Amanda: it’s woman, not “woman.” Thirdly, Imani: it’s vagina, not vergina.

    Ugh.

  23. DonnaLee says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody who was m-to-f transgendered say such things. I’d really wonder where they got such a group of people.

  24. DonnaLee says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody who was m-to-f transgendered say such things. I’d really wonder where they got such a group of people.