I recall reading “Myra Breckinridge” when I was barely 16, and being more than a little freaked out by it. The transsexual woman as insane, murderous rapist is an old and absurd storyline, particularly with the ending that has Myra "recovering" from her insanity to return to life as Myron. I can now understand why Gore Vidal might chose to use this as the core of his satire.
But at age 16, the thought that this was a satire didn’t remove the thought, the fears really, that if I were somehow able to come out and live as myself, would I somehow risk becoming the insane and dangerous person that Myra became? The thing about these fictional characters is that if we don’t have a reference, if there is not a real world contrast we experience to point out the absurd bits in the character, that we may accept far more of the character as being ‘real’ than we should.
When I was eventually caught and put into treatment to correct my errant behavior of being an unacceptable human, a young person with an obviously feminine gender identity against assigned sex, this novel played a part in my eventual cooperation with treatment. I believed what I was told about my existence being a perversion, and I feared becoming another “Myra.” This cost me dearly, and I believe led to considerable harm to others once I thought I was “cured” and tried to live in a male role for decades.
I’m better now.
I bring this up because the film “Disclosure”, now on Netflix, chronicles Hollywood's profoundly disturbing portrayals of transgender persons and their relationships with others. These portrayals are interleaved with commentary of the impact of visibility, and the persistent myths and mockery in the way that visibility is portrayed.
In television and film, transgender persons are the sex workers, the murder victims, the patients ironically dying of some disease associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender women are the ones portrayed by a cisgender male actor, inducing vomiting in their dates on disclosure, perhaps before being murdered or beaten, perhaps being publicly humiliated.
“Disclosure” brings all this to the table. Actors and producers are interviewed, along with behind-the-scenes folks, the writers, the historian, the folks working with real world issues every day, to comment on the tremendous difference between the on-screen portrayals, the real history, and the real experiences of everyday life.
In this film, we see the connections from the history of media portrayals to the construction of bigotry, centered on the myth of the transgender deceit trope, existence as a ‘trick.’ We see the reactions of physical revulsion to trans bodies that are considered to be comedy. We also see the grace and dignity, the forbearance displayed by transgender people in the face of the indignities foisted upon them in the media and real life.
Producer Janet Cox does explain that even the most misguided portrayals can provide a starting point for dialogue to improve the understanding of others, and offers hope that the future may not be as ugly as the past.
This is a positive, if difficult film. I strongly recommend it for those why would like to consider themselves as allies, and a useful tool and reminder for those transgender folks who are out, strong and secure in their identities, and interested in the issues involved.
I would proceed with caution in viewing this film for someone young, or someone not out or perhaps early in coming out, without guidance to help in better understanding the information presented and the unrealistic nature of the various media tropes presented. I mention this because of my own early experience with these tropes and the poor choices that this influenced.