Do transsexuals eat women ?????
BA(Hons), LLB(Hons), MA. Lecturer in Law at Manchester Metropolitan University.
In the meantime there is a place in which to look at the ways in which transsexuality and other aspects of cross-dressing behaviour are portrayed, and to attempt critical ethnographic analyses from the standpoint of the transgendered participant observer. Transgendered people as writers and speakers used to have to be; firstly: apologists, secondly: explanatorists, thirdly: educators. However the time has come when we are seeing a new form of transgendered performativity and text giving: now they have become theorizers about the idea/word/signifier gender. In this role the transgendered person may (or rather; should) have something to offer to Queer Theory, they are after all the embodiment of the "gender fuck".
This paper is written towards that theorising, it merely attempts to look at a transgendered issue from a transgendered viewpoint.
Kate Bornstein in her book Gender Outlaw talks about the way the defenders of gender (by which she means those people who support a binary notion of gender) use humiliation - people can laugh at the transgendered person, but they also use fear as three of the films that I discuss in this paper do.
The recent iconography of the transvestite/ transsexual (in particular) as questioners of the enlightenment construction of gender, and as questioners of our own self knowledge was clearly expressed in the success of the extremely successful 1993 film The Crying Game. Apparently a positive portrayal of the male crossdresser, it is however, I would contend a direct follow on the story that has been interpreted in Hitchcock's Psycho, De Palma's Dressed to Kill and The Silence of the Lambs.
It is to as what exactly that story is (and I would contend that it is little more than an extension of a children's fairytale) that I would like to discuss here.
The word transvestite was originally a scientific term derived from the Latin by Magnus Hirschfeld, and first used in his book Die Transvestiten in 1910. It remained in the scientific areas of language usage until the late 1950's, when it began to be used by those transvestites who began to socialise together, and had read in order to understand their predilection to wear clothes of the opposite gender. Even then, it was not until Virginia Prince founded the magazine Transvestia in 1960, and the associated Foundation for Full Personality Expression that the word became the 'official' descriptive form for transvestites themselves.
It was also in 1960 that Alfred Hitchcock released the original slasher movie, Psycho (1960), which started a cinema genre that has continued to this day. Psycho also happened to give to the world an expressive image of the "transvestite" at home and work. That image was of a complex multi-influenced serial killer, who was defined authoritatively to the viewers as being a transvestite by a 'Psychiatrist' at the film's end. Virginia Prince, and the members of the FPE, which was designed as a respectable self-help social group for transvestites (equivalent to the Beaumont Society) were undoubtedly outraged at the portrayal of their harmless activities, just as transsexuals were to be later outraged at a similar portrayal of themselves in Brian De Palma's film Dressed To Kill (1980).
Other films prior and since Psycho have addressed transvestism as a life style. Female cross dressing has been a popular source of film story, since the conception of the film industry. It appears to have less threatening connotations perhaps due to the long and well documented history of women who cross dressed in order to go to war, or to sea. Many such stories relate the woman's cross dressing as a disguise in order to search for a husband or lover (Hargreaves 1930), so they do not threaten the social norms.
On film, invariably the woman who cross dresses only does it as a temporary step in order to achieve their acceptance in the world as an adult rather than a child, reverting to their female role when that transition is achieved and they are accepted by the 'real' adults (that is the men). In such films as: Two Girls Wanted (1927), The Hoodlum (1919), She loves me not (1934), Beggars of Life (1926), The Magician (1959), and Yentle (1983), we see women who use male disguise in order to find a place in a man's world and then to learn and understand the world of men, once accepted they revert to living as women, though it is accepted that they have some special knowledge and are as a result "better" women to the men they know.
Much less frequent are films about female cross dressers in which the women cross dress as a way of life: Queen Christina (1933), Sylvia Scarlett (1936) and A Song to Remember (1945) - all portray women who are recognised as such, but wear men's clothes because they prefer to, the activity even then is not associated with any form of sexual activity.
Cross dressing as male activity has also been used a cinematic artifice throughout the industry's history, most often as a form of disguise and evasion or as a comic ruse, often concurrently. It is difficult though to accept the view that
Akroyd himself cites it as being used as a portrayal of "Incest and Psychosis" - Psycho, an "intense and sinister force" - Performance (1967), and a "narcissistic and quasi-homosexual activity" - The Damned (1969). It is difficult to find a film which portrays male transvestism as a serious activity, that is to see a man who prefers to wear women's clothes, as opposed to using them for disguise or comedy, which does not end in the ruin or undoing in some form of the male transvestite.
Unlike films about female cross dressers, male cross dressing in film, particularly of the slasher genre, has sexual overtones, and is often used as a portrayal of a Freudian Oedipal complex suffered by the cross dresser which influences his life style, and life story.
Unlike the films in which the female cross dresser enters the adult world via disguise which enables a rite of passage to be taken, the male cross dresser obliterates the rights of adulthood that they could have obtained - because it has been soiled by their transvestism, or their transvestism is a symptom of that rite of passage being spoiled by some external force.
It is this second type of spoiling of the move from childhood to adulthood of the male that Psycho uses as the modus operandi of Norman Bates, the killer in the film. Norman has such tremendous desire for his mother, that he recreates her for himself by his cross dressing. It is this damaged development of the adult male, the enactment of Norman's oedipal complex, that the 'psychiatrist' in the film, explains to the audience at the time of Norman's undoing.
Dressed To Kill (1980) and most recently The Silence of the Lambs (1991) both have a great deal in common with Psycho, but they are not the only films which use cross dressing/ gender confusion as the derivation of the 'slasher' story, others have been A Reflection of Fear (1971), Deadly Blessing (1981), Sleepaway Camp (and sequels) (1983), all of which focus on the male cross dresser, and there is a film which uses a female cross dresser (a girl who had been brought up as a boy) as the killer; Homicidal (1961) - but that is a rarity, though the killer in Friday the 13th (1980) is throughout the film implied to be male, though she turns out to be a woman - a mother avenging her son's death, which can be seen to have parallels with the enactment of Oedipal desire in Psycho.
The three films this paper concentrates on: Psycho, Dressed to Kill, and The Silence of the Lambs, have all been major blockbusters bringing in large takings for the studios who made them, that means they have been seen by more of the general populace than most films and hence are more likely to have influenced the viewer's understanding of cross dressing.
The killers in these three films, are all cross dressers of different intent and extent, the common factor though, and I would argue the main contention within the films' stories, is that women cause their own deaths, and/or the deaths of other women at the hands of the cross dresser. The cross dresser in none of these films 'causes' the deaths of women, they are merely tools of women. Women might as well wield the knife upon themselves. The three films also have a textual underlay about the power of `Law', both the formal bearers of justice - the police, and the informal bearers of justice - who in all three films are women.
Carol Glover (in James 1989 p.91-135) writes on what she sees as the role of the "Final Girl" in slasher films, a category into which these three films can be placed. She makes the point that in many slasher films, the final girl, who escapes the killer and/or avenges the deaths of other victims, is portrayed as 'boyish'. She is seen as resourceful, intelligent, a virgin, and is even named as such having a name such as Stevie, Laurie, Marti or Terry. In The Crying Game the final girl who avenges the deaths perpetrated by Jude, turns out actually to be a boy - Dil.
The three films of this paper, do not appear to fall into this pattern. Their final girls are apparently not boy's or pseudo boys and on that level the films seem distinguished, but Liz in Dressed to Kill, Lila in Psycho, and Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs are all avengers of death by becoming representatives of the law - they become 'law men' - once again we cannot leave the message the films give us.
In order to understand the messages that the films give to the viewer, I will detail the films and aspects of their stories. However in the words of Tania Modleski, one has to bear in mind that throughout this paper
"I have never really not been discussing Psycho - to my mind the quintessential horror film"
It is worth examining what exactly was the story in Hitchcock's film and how it influenced the general perception of the transvestite for over 30 years. It is impossible to participate in a discussion of these three films, without a constant reference point being bourn in mind, that is Psycho itself, and its influence cannot be negated in the description of the other two films. But first lets look at the truth which led ultimately to the films.
The True Story
Psycho is a screenplay taken from the novel 'Psycho' written by Robert Bloch, published in 1959, less than 2 years after the events which had inspired the story to its author.
Plainsfield, with its population of third and fourth generation French and German dairy farming families, was small, around 700 people. It was nowhere where nothing happened. But in November 1957, a local storekeeper Bernice Worden disappeared. It was remembered that a 51 year old odd-jobs-and-errands man Ed Gein had been asking after her so the local police visited the 160 acre derelict farm in which he lived. They found the remains of Bernice in the smoking shed next to the house. Throughout the house they found parts of other human bodies. These were not just collected for their own purposes, but the skins and bones were made into items of furniture, bowls etc. and a drum. The skins of female faces were 'made up' and used as wall decorations. The freezer was well stocked with carefully wrapped human organs. All in all, Gein had tortured and murdered at least ten women since 1955. Also since 1945, when his last relative his mother had died, he and a friend had exhumed the graves of over 40 female bodies.
Apart from the cannibalism, the grave robbing, the torture and murder, he also made himself partial suits from the skins and hair of his victims, or the cadavers he exhumed. These female torso skins, masks and 'wigs' he strapped to his body whilst he wandered around his farm.
Though most of the farm and house had been allowed to run to ruin, Gein's mother's bedroom and parlour had been maintained in pristine order. Bloch was to use these details for his novel rather than the more gruesome aspects of the crimes (which have themselves been immortalised in the films The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II).
Psycho the screenplay was taken directly from Bloch's novel. The person who created the transvestite killer of the story, Norman Bates, was Bloch. Bloch actually created many of the visual and linguistic puns which were to be later credited by commentators to Hitchcock. The names of his main characters are intentional in meaning. Norman is the nor(mal)man and Mary Crane (the name was changed in the film to Marion) can be constructed as the virginal bird (Rebello, 1990, p.11).
Psycho: Marion Crane:
Mary (from which the name is derived) means Virgin, a Crane is a bird -. She comes from Phoenix, which is named after a mythological bird which was regularly consumed in flames, and then rose anew from them. Marion is the 'bird' that Norman wishes to 'stuff'. Though not a virgin, she prepares to regain her virginity symbolically by showering, then just like the mythological phoenix she will return to her town a new and cleansed bird. Surprisingly for the apparent central figure of a film, she is killed off near the beginning.
Dressed to Kill: Kate Miller:
Kate originates from Catherine who was a virgin martyr of the third century. De Palma has deliberately modelled his victim on Marion Crane, for the first third of the film she is the central figure, and then is killed. Her death at the hands of the killer, is also by an apparent woman and takes place in a lift, shadowing the confined space of the shower in which Marion Crane is killed.
Silence of the Lambs: Catherine Baker Martin:
Again the name comes from the origin of the virgin martyr. Baker could be construed as a development of Kate's surname in Dressed to Kill, Miller. A martin is again a type of bird. Catherine again is kept in an old well, a confined space.
The victim's crime.
Marion commits 2 crimes. First of all she is seen as having a 'lunchtime' affair with a Sam. It takes place in a sleazy hotel. Secondly she steals $40,000 dollars from her employer's client.
It is because she is seductive and sexually attractive that she becomes a victim. It is because she arouses Norman, that he finds it necessary to kill her.
Dressed to Kill:
Kate's crime is also about sex, particularly about wanting sex. There is the initial scene in which she masturbates in the shower (again reflecting the shower scene in Psycho), accompanied by a fantasy in which her husband violently assaults her, Secondly she makes a pick-up in a gallery, a stranger. She then has sex in a taxi with him, then goes to his apartment and sleeps with him. This is shown in the film, to be 'bad' sex, to which emphasis is given when she discovers when preparing to leave his apartment, that he has a venereal disease. It is because she arouses Dr. Elliot that she becomes a victim.
Silence of the Lambs:
Catherine's main crime is eating too much. She becomes a victim as a result of being a 'Big girl'. However in the novel, she is also shown to have actively taken part in sex games with a boyfriend, and photo's are found of these activities. It is her size though which attracts the killer, Jame Gumb to her. He is going to kill her because he desires her flesh - just as Norman and Dr Elliot desire the flesh of their victims, though in another way.
Psycho: Norman Bates:
The nor(mal)man. His father died when he was a child, then he took the role of the patriarch in the family. He has killed his mother and her lover in his youth, because of his intense jealousy of her lover, this reflects the story of Oedipus killing his father and possessing his mother. His hobby is "stuffing birds" (taxidermy) - an allusion to the process of having sex, instead he stuffs birds. He has also 'stuffed his mother' in order to possess her as in the Oedipus story. Actually exhuming her corpse, and embalming her. He keeps this in the house, in her beautifully kept bedroom (as Ed Gein kept his mother's room).
In order to kill his victim, he is dressed as his mother, in one of her dresses and a wig. He then kills using an appropriately phallic knife.
Dressed to Kill: Robert Elliot:
A psychiatrist - hence he should know what the normal and abnormal man is. He is dressing some of the time as a woman, and he has requested sex reassignment surgery approval from a fellow psychiatrist. He kills by using a razor, (which was the original instrument of death in the novel Psycho) whilst dressed as 'Bobby', his female alter ego. Just as Norman in Psycho, does not seem to be aware that it is he who is doing the killings, he thinks it is his mother, Dr Elliot does not seem to be aware that he is also Bobby, he leaves messages for himself, and goes and discusses Bobby, as the killer, in the third person with a fellow doctor.
Silence of the Lambs: Jame Gum
An ex-psychiatric inmate who preys on large women, to satisfy his need to make a female suit out of their skins. Having seen a moth appear from a pupae became obsessed with them and the process of change. He abducts young women, whom he kills by hanging or shooting in order to flay them and use their skins. He is making himself a skin in which he thinks he will resemble/change into his mother, whom he apparently adores through two small pieces of film he has of her. Just as Norman recreates his mother, Jame is trying to recreate his mother through himself. This is the only one of the films that uses the original crimes of Ed Gein.
The formal law - the police:
As Marion is flying from Phoenix with the money she has stolen, she is found sleeping in her car by a highway patrolman. This man wears dark sunglasses through which we cannot see his eyes. He knows something is wrong with Marion, and he follows her to try and find out what is going on - but he cannot find anything wrong, particularly when she is selling her car. As a representative of the police he is blind - he represents the blindness of justice as it stands. He can see, but can't really see.
Dressed to Kill:
Represented by a detective, we see him investigating a crime, in which he cannot get to see the evidence he wants. He thinks that the murderer is one of Elliot's patients, but because of the rules of medical confidentiality, he cannot get to see those records. He recruits a prostitute, Liz, who witnessed the crime to find a way of getting into Elliot's office to see his appointment book. Again the law is blind, it can see that something is wrong - but cannot see what it is. Both physically, and metaphorically.
Whilst in the office, Peter (Kate's son cannot see what is happening because of the rain - as a man he cannot see what is wrong).
Silence of the Lambs.
Are in this case represented by Clarice Starling, (note another bird!). A trainee FBI agent, she sees through the sight of a convicted murderer, Hannibal Lector. There is much play on Hannibal's use of his senses apart from sight. Hannibal sees for her. Clarice very rarely sees for herself but when she does ie. when she realises the killer sews himself suits, it is when she has finally been willing to risk her FBI career. She resumes her role as an FBI agent when she confronts Jame Gumb, but once again she cannot see. He has infra-red glasses through which he can see as he pursues her through the cellar of his house. She is blinded by the darkness, and like Lector she eventually sees by using her other senses - in this case she hears the cocking of the gun.
Women as the law.
Marion Crane decides during supper in the Bates Motel that she is going to return to Phoenix and face the consequences of her theft. she goes to cleanse herself symbolically of her sin, by showering - which is when she is killed. One metaphor in the film we see, is that when she is in the hotel with her lover Sam, she is wearing a white slip and bra. When she decides to steal the money, we see her change into black slip and bra. She literally leaves behind her light side, and changes into her dark side. We see her disrobe from this black underwear before she enters the shower to cleanse herself.
The other women who projects the law, is Marion's sister Lila. She is the one who insists that the motel is visited once more. It is she who first sees the embalmed body of Norman's mother, and who confronts Norman as his mother. Lila is a clean girl, a college girl and there is no mention of any boyfriend, we can presume she does not have sex.
Dressed to Kill:
A high class prostitute, Liz, is the seeker out of the truth about Elliot. In homage to Hitchcock, De Palma has given his heroine the name Elizabeth, which Lila is a derivative off.
Liz sees the end of the killing of Kate. (Kate is killed in a lift, which again is a homage to Hitchcock's shower scene). The police use Liz. By threatening that they will charge her with the crime, she is forced into becoming their eyes. It is by using her sight (to look through the appointment cards), that the killer is seen and recognised. It is her who sees that Elliot has metamorphosed into 'Bobby' the woman who slashes.
Liz tries to seduce Elliot, in order to get access to the office with the records, and who on her return confronts him when he has become Bobby. Liz is another woman who has had 'bad' sex. It is after 'turning a trick' that she witnesses Kate's death. Once again 'bad' sex leads to trouble for the woman involved. The woman who finally shoots Elliot is a police woman - again the law only sees when female. Liz is cleansed by this act. Peter, Kate's son, moves in with her, but we see her sleeping alone in her bed.
Silence of the Lambs:
Clarice Starling both represents the formal law which is blind, and the law of women that demands justice.
It is her insistence on pursuing the case, and risking her career prospects in the FBI, that ensures that Jame Gumb is caught.
She is like Lila in Psycho, in that she is the college girl. She doesn't have a boyfriend, and we can assume she doesn't have sex - it is only as the case draws to a close, that she can show an interest in a man - the biologist that names the pupae that are found in the throats of the victims. Unlike Liz she is clean already.
The woman who kills.
Each time we see the killer, we see the figure of a woman. we do not know it is Norman dressed in his mothers clothes, but discover this in the final scenes.
Norman's mother is described by the 'psychiatrist' as a "clinging demanding woman," who threw Norman over for a lover. Norman in order to live with the unbearable crime of matricide that he committed, becomes his mother. it is his mother side that kills. Norman is never all Norman, at times he could be both his mother and Norman, but at other times his mother took over completely and that was when the killing took place. It is the mother who kills, both to the viewer and to Norman - and at the end it is her who has so controlled Norman, that even though we might say he kills, he only kills on her behalf, but it is Norman who will be punished.
Dressed to Kill.
The figure that we see slashing Kate appears to be a woman. It is the same woman, who we later see trying to slash Liz on the subway. in this case, Elliot is described by the 'psychiatrist' as "a transsexual about to make the final step, but his male side couldn't let him do it. . . . there was Dr. Elliot and there was Bobby". Bobby is Elliot's female side, the woman within him - or as he puts it in a telephone call, the girl trapped inside.
It is Bobby who kills the women who cause sexual arousal in Dr Elliot, because they prevent Bobby from being released from the trap she is in. Elliot is the person who is punished for the killings, but again even though we might say Elliot kills, he only does so, because he shares a body with Bobby.
Silence of the Lambs:
Unfortunately the film The Silence of the Lambs does not go into the detail that the original novel does. In the novel, there is more emphasis on the fact that Jame wishes to change. He is fixated by moths, and places a pupae in the throat of his victims. The term for the when a moth or butterfly leaves the pupae is that it then becomes an imago. An imago is "an image of the parent buried in the unconscious from infancy and bound with infantile effect" - the oedipus story once again. Jame, looks at two short film sequences regularly, one is of his mother when in a bathing beauty contest, the other is of a woman he imagines is his mother in a swimming pool. He wishes to change into his mother, unlike Norman has already become his mother. The suit of skins that he is making is a suit to make him become his mother, just as Norman did. Thus his mother by having rejected him, makes him a killer.
The consumption of the female: DO transsexuals eat women ?????
In Psycho there are many references to eating. Norman's 'mother' is heard shouting of Marion that "she won't fill her ugly appetite with my food or my son". Later when Marion is eating her supper, Norman says "You eat like a bird. . . but that's a falsity. . . . because, really, birds eat a lot." Later in the same scene he says "only birds look well stuffed - because they're passive to begin with."
In Psycho women are seen to consume men, Marion in the very first scene where she is seen at the end of a lunch time love making session with Sam, has not eaten her sandwiches. In other words she has been satiated by sex, rather than food. Norman however in the motel scene, though he has asked her to join him for supper doesn't eat either he is no longer hungry, instead, as his mother, he is satiated by killing rather than food.
In Psycho, women satiate their hunger through sex with men, but Norman has his craving and appetite attended to by consuming the female flesh, not only by becoming a woman but also by destroying a woman.
Dressed to Kill:
Though the references to eating are not as blatant as Hitchcock's, we instead have a victim Kate, and a potential victim Liz who are both sexually active women. They are literally 'Dressed to Kill' as they go out on their hunt for men to have sex with, they are man eaters in the sexual sense.
However Dr Elliot satisfies his appetite for female flesh by totally consuming women, by becoming one, and by destroying others.
Silence of the Lambs:
One of the major characters of the film, is Hannibal Lector, nicknamed Hannibal the cannibal. Like the reality of Ed Gein, he actually consumes parts of his victims, and has even been known to serve up their flesh to his guests. Lector goes further than Jame with his victims, he desires their flesh so completely he eats them.
Jame Gumb's victims in the story are large girls, their crime like Marion's is eating too much, only whereas Marion is a man eater, they are also food eater's.
Jame's name is Gumb - a play on the mouth and the process of consuming.
Jame is attempting to satisfy his appetite to become his mother, by consuming - that is using up - female flesh, by killing women and then literally using their flesh to satisfy his desires.
Films are made in order to be seen by spectators, and typically feminist film theory places women in either of two viewing places in relation to these 3 films, that is either the place of the female masochist - identifying with a passive female character or the place of the transvestite identifying with the active male hero (Modleski 1988, p 25) That categorisation does not however cater for the roles that women take in the three films discussed, and hence the female spectator must surely identify differently with the films. The films all place women as victims, but not as masochists. As victims they are strong women, who actually decide for themselves what they want, and it is as if this strength makes them the choice as victims. But they are not victims to men, they become victims of women. Women are also the practitioners of justice in the films, they see whereas the law is blind - but in this they are pseudo-lawmen.
The three films purport to be about serial killers who are cross dressers - but when viewed at depth, they are about women. Women are operators at all levels of the text. The cross dresser is merely a blind to the story, they provide the link between different generations and types of women and of course, they are the slashers of the stories - perhaps because to place that slashing in its context -ie. as belonging to a woman, would show up the true inadequacies of the texts to the viewer. The texts are inadequate because women don't as a general rule commit violent crimes, and rarely participate in crimes which involve slashing.
Thus the cross dressed slasher was created, but as the sub text of both Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs point out, it is not a true character at all. Ed Gein was true but not a transvestite - transvestites and transsexuals as a rule don't participate in violent crime. It is unfortunate that they are used as scapegoats, to allow for the female violater.
Neil Jordan, the director of The Crying Game did exactly the same thing. The film initially appears to be a complete reversal of the plot of the other films: the victim is a man - Jody - a black British soldier in Northern Ireland, His crime - to be seduced, the killer is a straight woman - Jude, the single white female whose career is the IRA, and whose vocation is apparently as a seeker of justice (for the Irish people), the woman as law turns out to be a man - the crossdresser Dil.
Alter one's point of view though: where does the killing lie in the film - it is the death of Jude at the hands of the cross dresser Dil that recreates the story of Psycho. Read Mark Simpson's A Crying Shame (1994) who points out a different viewing: the film is about "fear of woman" - Jude represents the vagina dentata - the castrating bitch, the evil and criminal woman who wrecks men's lives. Dil is both the woman killer and the woman with a penis (in that she penetrates and slashes Jude with numerous bullets, and she literally has a penis). She acts for the state in bringing justice against women who commit crimes, yet she also is criminal because of her femininity. Dil plays both the parts of Norman and of Lila, of Elliot and of Liz, of Jame Gumb and of Clarice Starling. She is the man who plays the woman, and the woman who plays the man. Once again real femininity as portrayed by Jude is exterminated, and transvestism is used to do away with the feminine altogether.
Janice Raymond in The Transsexual Empire (1979) stated that "all transsexuals rape women." I would say these films go further and state that all transsexuals/transvestites/transgenderists consume women, both through the metaphysical consumption and through the flesh.
This is a misogynist extension of the Red Riding Hood fairytale, the wolf in granny's clothing, the man in his mother's frock who eats up little girls.
Killing women is a form of consumption of the flesh of the female, to equate the cross dresser with participating in the same activity can but create an unknown, and unfounded, fear amongst women. That creation of fear is the violence of the films, not of the cross dresser.
Whittle, S., (1994), Do transsexuals eat women ?????, GENDYS '94, The Third International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England. London: Gendys Conferences
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