With it being a Halloween staple, and the remake around the corner, it seems as good a time as any to talk about this film as trans representation.
And wow, is it a hot mess.
We’ll start with the lyrics to “Sweet Transvestite”. The chorus is the best known part: “I’m a sweet transvestite, from Transsexual, Transylvania”.
Ignoring the fact that Transsexual is an outdated term, which it wasn’t at the time of writing, this single line is entirely problematic. Why? Because it equates transvestite and transsexual as the same thing.
Why is this a problem? Because in a world where trans folx can’t use the bathroom they want, and the number of trans women murdered so far this year is way too fucking high, popular media putting it across to people watching that trans folx are just people dressing in costume is highly dangerous.
And yes, I am aware it’s “just a film”, but these issues are “just our lives”.
Secondly, and this pains me because I loved watching them host the Crystal Maze as a kid, but writer Richard O’Brien has said some fucking awful things about how trans women aren’t real women. They do quote Germaine Greer as their feminist source, so it’s unsurprising, just extremely disappointing. Especially as O’Brien themself identifies as non-binary.
It’s hard to reconcile watching something when I know it’s written with this view in mind.
And that brings us to the remake: sadly it’s not been updated to reflect more current mindsets, so we’re going to hear those problematic lyrics all over again. And we have a trans women playing a transvestite character, which in itself is totally fine, but when you take into account O’Brien’s view on trans women, it becomes rather icky.
Over on wearysourvoicemag.com, Venus Selenite wrote a very important piece about, as a black trans woman, she was scared about Cox playing the part, I highly advise you read it.
Now all of this isn’t to say you can’t enjoy the film: it is still a crowd draw, the dressing up and singing along a large part of the appeal, but it is important that we can look at popular media with a critical eye, especially when it touches on sensitive topics.
I’ll be giving it a hard pass in future, but that’s not to say I’m necessarily right, or that everyone should. It’s just worth bearing in mind that problematic media or media written from a problematic mindset might not directly affect you, but it can lead to dangerous mindsets in society.