For a while now, I’ve been eager to share my disappointment with the lack of authentic transgender representation in TV and film. I’ve felt that watching shows and movies that wanted to present the transgender experience but still cast cisgender actors to play the part was the equivalent of being fed table scraps. Yes, I was being fed, but it wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t any good. Maybe I should be content with table scraps, because finding out about the upcoming movie “(Re)Assignment” was like being force-fed garbage.
For those who don’t know, the movie stars Michelle Rodriguez as a male hitman who, after being tricked into undergoing unwanted gender reassignment surgery by a mad doctor, is now on the hunt for revenge. If that sentence hasn’t set off alarm bells in your head yet, I’ll explain why it should.
It’s no surprise that there still exists a massive amount of stigma against trans people. According to a report by the Human Rights Campaign, transphobic violence is at an all-time high, with more trans people reported killed in 2015 than any other year. The 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality survey found that 63 percent of respondents reported experiencing significant acts of discrimination in the form of – among others – denial of medical service. 50 percent had to explain to their own health providers what being trans is and how that could impact their health.
I singled out the statistics regarding medical service and health specifically because it exemplifies the massive lack of understanding regarding the medical needs and experiences of trans people. Forced feminization and coercive surgery are not experiences that the majority of trans women face. In fact, according to the 2010 National Transgender Discrimination Survey’s report on health care, the majority of trans women cannot have gender reassignment surgery due to exorbitant costs and the staggering amount of legal and medical barriers. “(Re)Assignment,” however, creates this false connection between an invasive, unwanted, irreversible medical procedure and the trans experience.
The idea that gender reassignment surgery, which for many trans people has been essential for them to live their lives safely and happily, can be inflicted upon someone as some sort of punishment is not just insensitive but cruel. While not every trans person finds surgery to be a necessary part of confirming their gender identity, those who do are often barred from doing so. To take a procedure some trans people desperately desire and cannot have and turn it into punishment simultaneously teases them with the possibility of it and shames them for even wanting something so violent and horrific.
This is the most harmful notion “(Re)Assignment” is presenting: trans people must be crazy and must be monsters to willingly undergo something like gender reassignment surgery. Being trans is performing the unthinkable by going against gender roles in society. This kind of thinking is doubly so for trans women and is tied to the idea that women are lesser than men. Therefore, “(Re)Assignment” asserts the idea the worst thing a villain can do to someone isn’t kill them but rather take away their manhood. It reinforces the belief that trans women aren’t human, because they’ve had something essential– their maleness – stripped from them. The removal of the protagonist’s male characteristics is positioned as the ultimate loss. It’s a punishment, it’s something to be feared, and as a result, so too are trans individuals who undergo or want to undergo such surgeries.
That is what makes this new movie so dangerous. It has the potential to do serious harm to the fragile image trans people have been building of themselves for years. The general public still buys into so many myths surrounding trans people. And a major feature film with a star-studded cast perpetuating incredibly hurtful and incredibly false tropes will only further damage an already faulty understanding and perception of trans issues. I can only hope the damage isn’t too severe. I don’t like table scraps, but I can survive off of them. I can’t survive off of garbage.