Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hit and Miss: a "glock with a cock"

My name is Mia, I kill people and have
a penis... but I can learn to wuv you.

Paul Abbott, the award winning producer of two hit, stylish British series, Shameless and State of Play, describes how his new series "Hit & Miss" (in the US on Direct TV) came about:
"Two projects were on my desk: one about a transsexual mother of five, the other about a hitman. The trouble with the first was the way the penis became an obstructive prop – it seemed that was all there was to talk about." One day I thought: why can't we have a story about both? Why not have a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual hitman (or hitperson) who discovers she is a father after her ex-girlfriend dies of cancer and puts her in loco parentis of a dysfunctional family deep in the Yorkshire countryside."

The series' main writer, Sean Conway explains, "It's a story of a character who has been a man, wants to become a woman, realises she's a father, wants to become a mother." There you go, instant series. To play Mia, 'the transsexual,' they hired Chloe Sevigny, an obvious choice because a) she played a trans man's girlfriend in "Boys Don't Cry;" b) she'll do pretty much anything in a film as evidenced by the real life blow job she gave in the indie disaster "Brown Bunny;" and c) she has considerable hipster, indy cred. As the producer Abbott stated, "She looks like a bloke and she’s allowed herself to look like a bloke." When asked who would like "Hit & Miss" Abbott replied with a straight face, “Everyone who likes a glock with a cock.

My name is Paul Abbott, tv producer
and like a transseuxual contract killer,

As with Abbott's other series (which use the international HBO/AMC style of filmmaking... cool yet detached and sometimes incongruous music scores, moody camerawork, and plenteous mumbled ironic humor) Hit & Miss looks and sounds good. When nasty violence occurs, you know the firearms will make that post-modern silencer sound effect, will feature no holds barred gore and, because it's an actress doing the killing, will leave many geek viewers (and younger feminists) tweeting about the lead character being "kick ass." And so she is. For someone who looks about 120 lbs, at one point she beats the crap out of a tough guy who looks about 7 inches taller and easily 100 lbs. heavier.

Mia when she was a dude with
her real woman girlfriend

Basically we are told that hitman Mia gets a letter from her deceased ex-girlfriend (probably a hooker) who gave birth to their now 11-year old son (who looks and acts more like an 8-year old). This boy, Ryan (who has Mia's birth name) lives with older half-siblings—a very hardass teen girl Riley, her brother Levi, and an oblivious younger half-sister, Penny. After their mom's death, they stay in a ramshackle farmhouse in a run down rural area of Yorkshire where Riley is trying to keep them together and out of the hands of Child Services.  Mom has bestowed guardianship of the four children to Mia. And here, the series resembles a few previous productions... TransAmerica (trans woman's kid comes back to haunt and redeem her) and Three Men and a Baby and umpteen other comedies where males who are viewed as completely unsuited towards mothering are expected to take care of vulnerable and emotionally wounded children (with a little bit of Lord of the Flies thrown in). Evidently, a series where a trans woman is just being a mom wasn't flashy enough (or male enough or good for enough laughs?) so the contract killer aspect was needed to give it a two-spirit contemporary edge. In the first episode, she mostly sits to the side, smokes a whole lot of cigarettes around the kids, tells her birth son that school isn't important and her big act of motherhood is beating the bloody crap out of the much bigger guy who might be threatening them. No wonder many trans women lose custody of their children in real life... you call that kind of behavior maternal?!

OMG, Chloe Sevigny's got a... got a... grossss!

Within the first 3 minutes of the first episode, we also get a shower scene of Mia au naturelle shortly after offing someone and, sure enough, her 'obstructive prop' is dangling in plain sight. What was it like for Sevigny to walk around on set with a prosthetic penis? “It was horrifying,” said the actress. “I cried every time they put it on me. I’ve always been very comfortable being a girl, so it was hard to wrap my head around the fact that someone could feel so uncomfortable in their own skin.” When asked in a BBC interview why they felt the need to show Mia naked (featuring said penis) Sevigny somewhat embarrassingly explained, "that was the producer's way of reminding people that she is still a man... and it was provocative, which Paul's productions are."

Mia shows Levi some motherly tough love

As with some other recent wannabe hipster productions (like horror film "Let Me In," which I previously reviewed at Skip The Makeup) quite a big deal is made of how a trans woman still has a whooole lot of aggressive dude juice inside them waiting to get out. Mia violently wrenches back Levi's arm when he sasses her... (it's like "whoaaa, new mom is one... tough... dude"). As the series' head writer explained, Hit & Miss is mostly about Mia's transition from an inherently violent and cold-blooded man (seemingly incapable of empathy) to a woman who wants to nurture. At one point, after meeting the 4 kids she's now responsible for, she almost backs out of a potential hit because of her concern the target might have kids. Abbott makes it clear... men (remember, Mia still has A PENIS) want to kill, women want to nurture. Yes, I know, it's terribly post-modern and not in the least gender normative (sic).

One day without 'mones and Mia's
punching holes in the wall!

Moreover, at one point Mia can't find her hormone pills (films never even have their trans women take anti-androgens, just plain old hormones) and she keeps clawing at her face as though a beard is ready to sprout and she's going to turn back into a real man, even to the point of putting some subtle makeup on her like it's 3 o'clock shadow. At another point in the first episode, they actually have a dog come up to her in the street and start excitedly sniffing her crotch. No doubt it's that unstoppable male musty smell eating through her panties. Yup, those obstructive props sure force their way into a scene when you least expect it.

Poochie smells Mia "packin' heat"

As to where Hit & Miss is going to head in its 6-part run I cannot say having only watched the first episode. It's pretty obviously pointed towards a buckets of blood showdown with the big bully, a Crying Game "dick reveal" and Mia's growing acceptance of herself as a 'new woman' and that she can be nurturing. Not to mention lots more nasty hits. Any of this sound familiar? Which isn't to say Hit & Miss isn't worth watching. Sevigny does a reasonably good job in the main role with her usual moapy-eyed dolefulness (the northern accent comes and goes) and I thought some of the kid actors, especially Karla Crome as Riley, bring a good mix of wildness and vulnerability to their roles. If you liked La Femme Nikita (the film, not the gawd awful tv show) or Alias mixed with British working class white trash, nastiness and grit then Hit & Miss might be highly entertaining. As a show which says anything about a trans experience other than as a sensationalist plot gimmick, it's  a washout.

Note: for the moment anyway, Direct TV is showing the first episode of Hit & Miss at this link:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Facing Mirrors: No, being a trans Iranian is not a bowl of cherries

Eddie on the Run

Facing Mirrors is part of the exciting new Iranian cinema which is flourishing and offering subtle social criticism despite being created within the shadow of religious fundamentalism. First time woman director and co-writer, Negar Azarbayjani, has woven a powerful and sometimes even humorous  tale which, like the recent Iranian masterwork, A Separation, deals with complex intertwining issues of women's roles in society, familial bonds and craziness, class structure, crushing bureaucracy, manhood and religion. But at the core of Facing Mirrors is the story of Eddie, a trans man who can no longer live in his country, especially under the crushing impact of his powerful, wealthy father, who is disgusted by his trans son and wishes to marry him off (as a woman) to a cousin.

Rana wonders about her strange passenger

Eddie's life becomes intricately woven with that of Rana, a single mom whose husband is in prison for the long haul after his embezzling business partner left him with insurmountable debts. She supports her son and herself by driving a cab (she only picks up women customers), a gutsy and pretty much unheard of occupation among Iranian women. Eddie (sometimes also known by his birth name of Adineh) is on the run from his dad and older brother, and gets picked up by Rana as he's escaping from a fight. He flashes her a ton of money to drive him to a border city away from Tehran where he can wait for his passport to be processed. He intends to return to Germany where he lived for a while, began his transition and was previously on T before getting lured back to Iran under false pretenses and trapped by his father. Rana clocks Eddie as a scary female thief. (he's is mostly dressed in vaguely homeboy style with closely cropped hair) She wonders where he got all his money and expensive jewelry (which belonged to Eddie's late mom and he sells to fund his transition and escape) and his very "unladylike" behavior. While Rana is a rebel in her own way she's, at heart, of a lower, likely less educated and much more conservative class than Eddie. The first half of the film is a kind of harrowing yet sometimes funny road film, with Rana and Eddie as opposites each, in their own way, societal outcasts and alternately annoying and learning about one another.

Eddie's version of a hijab

The second half of the film returns to Tehran and, without giving too much away, further involves Eddie's attempts to leave Iran and escape capture. He lives with Rana and her adorable son, who is much taken with the surrogate dad (who he, however, obliviously refers to as 'auntie'). Eddie also tolerates Rana's tart mother-in-law who makes his life miserable with endless misgendering. Facing Mirrors expertly captures that moment in binary transition when one isn't one nor the other, being called out for one's birth gender with all-around general suspicion that a freak is in their midst. It captures the pain and longing for escape from body, past and place. How there is "no one to go back to yet no clear destination either." Eddie is ultimately sad that, despite his money, he hasn't experienced any of the love Rana has in her life and the kind of profound connection she has with her husband.

Director Azarbayjani (l) and actress
Shayesteh Irani "Un-Edied" (r)

Ms. Azarbayjani and the film's producers were in attendance at the screening I saw and said the core of the story came from a trans woman the director knew when they were teens but that she developed the script with a trans man at the center of it and merged it with a script the co-writer, Fereshteh Taerpoor, had about a woman cab driver. The two lead actresses, relative newcomers Qazal Shakeri as Rana and Shayesteh Irani as Eddie are both brilliant (Shakeri, the producer's daughter, was originally and continued to be the set designer as well!). No, Irani is not trans and, as the director was very eager to point out, looks totally different in real life (in other words, she's a 'regular' woman). They are very nearly matched by Nima Shahrokh Shahi as Eddie's brother, giving a brilliant performance of a man torn apart by intense familial obligations and his love for his younger sibling.

There are a few soft spots in the film. At no point do the filmmakers mention how, in Iran, in order to have SRS one legally requires the permission of one's family (even if you transition as an adult). Eddie seemingly has zero contacts with other trans or queer people in Iran. For a gutsy, upper-class person who grew up in Tehran, he seems a little too isolated. There were also a few points of melodrama towards the end where I thought the film veered into a slightly simplistic "poor lonely transgender guy" sentimentality while it tried hard to have the audience's sympathy. But these are minor complaints for a film with so much emotional truth. If nothing else, it shows how trans people are not "widely accepted" (as the Internet trope goes) and their lives are very much as difficult as gay men and lesbians encounter in a traditional Islamic republic.

Rana and Edie

The producer, Fereshteh Taerpoor, explained how the film has won numerous awards and accolades at the 10 film festivals at which it's played in Iran but has yet to be given a commercial release. They seemed hugely moved by the enthusiastic packed house reception the film received at Frameline 36 at San Francisco's Castro Theatre (it's coming soon to festivals in Utah, LA, Denver, Phildelphia, Dublin, Melbourne and Sydney). Facing Mirrors is a not-to-be-missed work which, while ostensibly doesn't contain any romance, is very much all about love, connection and the deepest kind of understanding.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sexing a highly specific kind of trans man

The Buck starts here

Sexing the Trans Man, Buck Angel's new documentary about the sex lives of trans men has been shown at a handful of queer-related film festivals, most recently at San Francisco's Frameline Festival 36. For the most part shot in LA and Toronto, it's well worth seeing on two immediate satisfying levels: 1) it adds to understanding about trans men's sexuality especially how medicalized transition impacted this aspect of their lives; 2) It's a documentary about trans men made by a trans man... and, for the most part, they're allowed to speak for themselves. It's comprised of an extremely bare-boned structure: prolonged talking head shots of the person being interviewed by Buck (with occasional reference to him and his porn career), and quick vignettes of some of the younger men masturbating, and touching themselves. There are a couple of brief couples scenes involving trans-guy-on-trans-guy-action.

Ian Harvie: sexy trans man preppy

Some of the persons Angel interviewed fall into the trans man celeb category: rocker Lucas Silvera (formerly of the Canadian band, the Clicks) and stand up comic Ian Harvie. A few of the younger interviewees are involved in trans guy porn (a subject which, curiously, isn't really discussed in the film). Two couples who have girlfriends are interviewed (one with his girlfriend by his side, obediently  listening to him). A trans man bear and his trans man partner who are constantly pawing one another during the interview explain how they have a kind of 'friends with benefits' relationship... buddies who love to get it on together. There's only one trans man of color who's interviewed, a rather jolly trans sissy, who vaguely speaks about his sexuality. In general, trans men of color are sadly under-represented here.

Cho & Luna expound on... life with trans guys

Two of the most exposed interviewees in the film are Margaret Cho and her close friend, fellow stand up comedian and actress Selene Luna. Both have been in relationships with trans men (Cho is well known for her 'obsession' with them) and add witty rambling on their perspectives on having sex with them. The pixie-ish siren, Luna, gives a looong account of a 'stone' (doesn't like to be touched) trans man she was involved with who never liked to show his body. While both are fun to listen to (for a few minutes) they take up a large portion of the film. I couldn't help wishing that time would be better spent speaking with more trans men (both pre-and post-transition) and those with more varied experiences.

Lucas Silvera touching his junk
(which he's perfectly happy with, okay!)

And here's where the film kind of falls flat. There are some important members of the trans guy community it doesn't even start to include. There are zero 'no hormones' trans men and trans masculine people and no discussion of their bodies, lives and decisions and how that impacts their perceptions of themselves and their lovers' relationship to their bodies. Also ignored are trans men who had some form of genital surgery. Instead, we get a monologue from Lucas Silvera (who is 'non-op' in terms of bottom surgery) about how he's researched it and the surgeries aren't very good. Okay Lucas, that's your opinion, but how about letting trans men who did get a phalloplasty or a meta actually speak for themselves and their experiences? What, they don't count?

Gropey bear and lil' sex buddy

The film's production company is mirthfully called "I love my pussy productions"... a cute name, but it's kind of like "Original Plumbing" magazine. Is being non-op being somehow made more 'queer privileged' than trans men who've gotten bottom surgeries? Not a terribly inclusive opening statement. Moreover, there is no discussion about possible issues like how hysterectomy/oophorectomies might have impacted their sex lives not to mention the subject of T and the cessation/continuation of periods. Nor is there any attempt to speak with trans men who have previously given birth to find out how that experience might have impacted their sex lives. At the beginning of the film, a warning is stated that the film is not politically correct. Okay, but that doesn't excuse important subjects being ignored in favor of cis celebs taking up 20 minutes of the film.

It's also very clear, from Angel's selection of interviewees, that he wants to emphasize trans men who ID as gay. Easily 2/3rds of the interviews seem to revolve around, "I didn't use to be into guys, but I went on T and now I want to get it on with men." At one point in the film, it even seemed like Angel was prompting someone to go in that direction. Yes, it's his film (and as I understand, that's kind of his sexual preference these days) but he only really talks with 2-3 trans men who are primarily into women, not to mention what their relationship is with women's bodies. That can either be seen as breaking through barriers or trying to reinforce a specific narrative at the expense of others.

MJ: Cub scout wants to
have sex with you.

Another interesting moment for me (as a trans woman... maybe not the intended audience) was when MJ (the uber-cute, young trans guy) relates how he gets so turned on he neglects to inform his cis male partners that he's trans. All right, certainly his choice, but he mentions doing this one time right before he removed his underwear with little or no mention of any concerns he might have had about facing rejection or even violence. In light of how many trans women are accused of this very narrative (the so-called "Crying Game" legal defense of those who've murdered trans women) his little tale left a sick taste in my mouth. It makes these situations almost into porn fantasies and removes some of the reality all trans people face when dealing with ciscentric expectations of body norms.

These concerns aside, Sexing the Trans Man is a breezy (yes, curiously enough), often entertaining tour of some trans men's sex lives and shows some potentially instructive images of how these trans men like to be pleasured. As one transmasculine friend of mine said, "but it's not raunchy enough for porn and not serious enough to be educational." For a documentary, it's hardly an in-depth, thoughtful discussion of the subject exploring multiple viewpoints but, thankfully, it's all with people who are trans men or had sex with them and not burdened with "experts" or academics explaining it all to us in Gender Studies 101 gobbledygook. Happily, it's closer to a midnight movie than an academic filmic treatise. And honestly, it's a Buck Angel joint, so who would expect or want otherwise?

Postscript: It's important to note that I saw the "mainstream public consumption" version of this film and not the XXX version which is also being marketed. It evidently leaves out some of the hotter footage which is included in the XXX version.