Where Hollywood Draws The Line: The Transgender Love Story

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There is an urban legend wherein, allegedly, the adult film industry has patently refused to create one type of pornography. Now, this is a market that does x-rated spoofs of everything from “The Simpsons” to O.J. Simpson with explicit, unapologetic satire. There’s pretty much no stone left unturned in the genre of porn; unless you consider the myth that is “Gay Little Person Porn.” (I find the word m*dget degrading to those of who suffers any number of conditions, usually from birth, that halt the expected growth process.) Some medical journals classify it as “Dwarfism,” which is, presumably more acceptable in our elevated politically correct climate than calling a person a “M*dget.” But, I digress.

Porn, specifically gay porn featuring male little people does not exist. Lesbian and straight porn featuring little people exists in volumes. The fact that no studio has produced porn starring gay men of this ilk is so well know that, that it’s become a famous euphemism. It’s like the Unicorn of porn.

Mainstream Hollywood has it’s own Unicorn parallel. The Transgender love story. To clarify further; A film in which one or both protagonists are Transgender, where the story arc does not involve a struggle with accepting ones Trans status, or feature a self loathing Trans character, or a Trans character that is not a prostitute or a serial killer or a comedic prop. It has never happened.

There are films featuring Trans characters, like “Boys Don’t Cry,” where the protagonist is hiding their status and ends up murdered. There is “Soldier’s Girl,” where a heterosexual Soldier falls in love with a showgirl, but is murdered. There’s “The Danish Girl” who struggles to embrace her transgender status and inevitably dies from having the surgery. Let’s not forget “The Crying Game” where there’s almost a love story until the instance of sex occurs, and then the cishetero would-be partner of the Trans woman vomits in reaction to her body… and then hits her. The fact that transgender characters in film are a rarity to begin with makes the absence of affection they’re shown even more pronounced.

Why won’t Hollywood let a Transwoman or Transman be loved?

Where are the films featuring Trans characters where their gender alone isn’t the plot twist, comedic punchline or primary conflict? I mean, if a cis person wants to jump the line of actors waiting for an Oscar, all they have to do is play a withering, tragic Transgender character. Eddie Redmayne did it. Jared Leto did it. So did Hillary Swank, Felicity Hoffman, Jeffery Tambor and Matt Bomer, too. The list continues to grow, even today, where cis filmmakers play us out like some Shakespearean tragedy. It’s not edgy anymore. It’s lost it cool factor and shock value.

If you want to truly do something truly revolutionary in Hollywood, produce a film in which a Trans person, who is not a sex worker, falls in love instead of dies and has that love reciprocated. I know that’s a lot, so take a deep breath and just let it process. It will shake the foundation of everything you think you know and have documented on celluloid about us.

I mean, romantic comedies aren’t hard to come by. The formula is pretty much the same across the board. Everyone from Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz and even Reese Witherspoon have shoveled hyper romanticized, weakly plotted feel-good films down the throats of lovelorn audiences for ages. Even older cis people do it on film, Shirley Maclaine, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Robert DeNiro still fall in love and walk off into the sunset at the end of their films in the romance genre, proving age is nothing but a number. While the pickings are considerably slimmer for gay and lesbian love stories, they exist, most recently with the heavily buzzed indie “Love, Simon.”

When it comes to lovable Trans characters, it’s a territory no studio has been willing cross the threshold of. It’s a veritable No-Trans-Land.

I speak from experience here. As a screenwriter, back in 2000, my film “Far, Far Away,” was a finalist at the Outfest International Film Festival. It was a fantasy similar to “The Shape of Water” except the immortal character wasn’t a fish, he was a cupid. The woman he falls in love with and risks everything to be with wasn’t mute, she was Transgender. My film possesses eerie similarities to The Shape of Water, including the old, wise neighbor; The urgency of rescuing someone who isn’t biologically acclimated to our environment- even the ending- a beautiful, if not sappy ending for the couple we’ve spent two hours championing.

Back then, I was told by John Ferraro at Paramount that my film could get made if I re-wrote my Trans character as a “Biological woman” and pitched it as the next “City of Angels,” the 1998 fantasy/romance blockbuster that starred Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan. I refused.

Over the years that would follow, I became the writing rebel. I was so incensed at the rebuffing of every idea that included a Trans or gender diverse person that I kept writing those characters despite knowing the stories would never be told. I wrote Trans people, not as dying, drug addicted sex workers, but as everyday people who live, laugh and love. That persistence even cost me my agent at the time, who dubbed my work “Unmarketable” because of the “Transgender thing.”

That was almost 20 years ago, I was a young ingenue, just about 19 at the time who wouldn't negotiate or sell myself out. I’m older and wiser now, and they say hindsight is 20/20. Indeed it is, and I can say with confidence I wouldn’t do anything differently, regardless of the career it cost me.

What’s disturbing is that it’s still problematic. Trans characters who are thriving and happy people on film are missing entirely, and it’s been a major factor in society’s refusal to normalize us in mainstream entertainment. We have no positive representation, and middle America still thinks we all hate ourselves, work street corners or are men and women with a dirty, taboo secret to be revealed in the third act.

Even the film “A Fantastic Woman,” the 2017 Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Language film- the first nominated film to actually feature a Transgender woman playing a Trans character- exploited the Trans factor. It focused less on the predicament at hand, and more on her exclusion from a lover’s funeral and the accusations that follow his death because of her gender identity.

The fact that a Transgender character is simply Trans needs to stop being a plot point. For us to evolve and audiences to accept us onscreen, we must be normalized instead of the implications of our genitalia taking priority in the story, or being a subject of such suffering it that first distracts and then prevents all other characters inhabiting that universe from interacting with us as human beings. We’re Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, Friends and even a potential love interest.

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Written by

Actor, Filmmaker, LGBTQ+ & Women’s Rights Activist All work copyright phaylens@gmail.com https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co

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