Friday, June 1, 2007

Film Sparks Controversy Among Transgender Activists

This article I wrote for the Blade this week examines the controversy surrounding lesbian filmmaker Catherine Crouch's film "The Gendercator." Transgender activists both here in New York and across the country continue to blast the film as transphobic and insensitive. Most of these activists readily concede they have yet to view Crouch's short. Yet it has succeeded to spark dialogue about gender identity and societal norms.

Transgender activists have called for NewFest to remove the short film “The Gendercator” from its lineup. They claim lesbian director Catherine Crouch’s controversial piece portrays trans people as “monsters” and presents the gender issue as one-sided.

An LGBT film festival in San Francisco pulled the film after similar complaints last month. But Basil Tsoikas, artistic director of NewFest, New York’s annual LGBT film festival, said the film will be screened as planned on June 2 and 4.

“We’ve received calls both pro and con, from both trans and not trans,” Tsoikas said. “Most people we have heard from have not seen the film. You need to see a film before you can decide.”

According to Crouch’s web site, her 15-minute film “The Gendercator” features lesbian Sunshine Sally (Emily Wood) who, after celebrating in 1973 the victory of Billy Jean King over Bobby Riggs, falls into a mysterious slumber and awakes in 2048 in a world where butch women and sissy boys are no longer tolerated. Strict sex roles and gender expression are enforced, and the protagonist must then choose one gender and follow its rigid constraints.

Filmmaker Crouch described the work as a “satire about female body modification and gender.”

“More and more often, we see young heterosexual women carving their bodies into porno Barbie dolls and lesbian women altering themselves into transmen,” Crouch wrote. “Our distorted cultural norms are making women feel compelled to use medical advances to change themselves, instead of working to change the world.”

“To create a science film where transgender people are monsters clearly demonstrates transphobia of the worst kind,” said Pauline Park, chair of New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy. “I am a bit surprised and disappointed they decided to screen Catherine Crouch’s film.”

Park said she wants NewFest organizers to pull “The Gendercator” from the festival. NewFest’s Tsiokos acknowledged her and other activists’ concerns. He said New Yorkers have not responded to the film the same way Bay Area activists did; at San Francisco’s Frameline fest, 160 people signed a petition to stop the screening.

“We don’t find it to be hate speech,” Tsoikas said of the short movie. “We feel people should see the film. We didn’t make the film, but we will allow people to see it. We encourage it.”

Crouch agreed. She said she wanted to create a film that raises important issues.

“Women seem to like it and want to talk about issues and how they are feeling about body modification today in all countries around the world,” Crouch said. “I want to talk about it and hear about it and learn more, and I was thinking people would too—they are and they do.”

Park dismissed these arguments. She opposes censorship but said that New York activists need to hold NewFest organizers responsible for the films they choose to show during the festival.

“NewFest is a community organization, and like all community organizations it needs to be held accountable for the decision it makes,” Park said.

“We are not doing this for controversy,” said NewFest’s Tsoikas. “The short is by a lesbian filmmaker and is from her point of view. None of our films will represent everyone’s point of view. I’m sure if you point to any other film, there’s going to be controversy.”

The Indianapolis-based filmmaker described the outcry over her film as bizarre. “It has been accepted in about six film festivals, and then this came out of the blue,” said Crouch. “This is very surprising. I want people to pay attention to the film, but I don’t want it to appear to be negative.”

Crouch’s film is playing along with a group of shorts screening together under the banner Twisted Love.
“The Gendercator” will continue to spark debate within activist and filmmaking circles as Crouch herself implies on her web site. She said people can come to their own conclusions once they see her film.
“People are going to take it in based on their own life experience,” Crouch said. “[The film] is based on my own life experiences and my own story.”

“The Gendercator” plays as part of the Twisted Love collection, 10:30 p.m. June 2 and 3:45 p.m. June 4, at AMC Lowes 34th Street Theater, 312 W. 34th St. NewFest runs through June 10,, 646-290-8136.

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