Tuesday, August 21, 2007

LET'S SINK THE CENSOR SHIP: Catherine Crouch’s The Gendercator

Are ideas threatening? Are we, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, threatened by thoughts, images, and stories? Is censorship our response when we encounter art that challenges our contemporary ways of living?

The answers to these questions are yes, judging by the actions of Frameline in San Francisco in regard to the film, The Gendercator, by Catherine Crouch. Originally selected for the 2007 Frameline Film Festival, the screening of The Gendercator was cancelled by Frameline with the following explanation, “Given the nature of the film, the director’s comments, and the strong community reaction to both, it is clear that this film cannot be used to create a positive and meaningful dialogue within our festival.”

Hmm. I guess I don’t believe that art always needs to create a positive and meaningful dialogue. Sometimes art provokes people. Ruffles feathers. Raises questions. Postulates radical visions. Makes people anger. Clearly, that is what The Gendercator did.

The Gendercator is a fifteen-minute film with a satirical take on female body modification and gender. In a future dystopia, a young lesbian wakes up, like Rip Van Winkle, in the year 2048 after partying in 1973 to celebrate Billie Jean King’s victory over Bobbie Riggs. In The Gendecator’s vision of the future, sex roles and gender expression are rigidly binary and enforced by law and social custom. All people must choose to be either a man or a woman—no more sissy boys or butch dykes. No more androgynes. The protagonist of the film, Sally, rejects this binary based on her experiences as a 1970s feminist. Sally wants to live in the world straddling an androgynous middle between the male and female genders. This choice is not acceptable in the world in which she has awoken.

The dramatic conclusion of The Gendercator offers two possibilities in a dream-like sequence. Either Sally escapes from the rigidly gendered society of the future into a lesbian utopia replete with a rescue team of lesbians driving a VW bus or she is forced to undergo gender conversion from being female to being male. While each outcome is considered, ultimately, Sally wakes up to the party of 1973—it was all a dream.

The Gendercator is thought-provoking film. It is made with classic lesbian-feminist filmic tropes. The Gendercator raises difficult questions about the social construction of gender roles and begins to ask questions that are common in feminist communities about the costs to butch women and feminists of embracing sex reassignment surgery as opposed to working to change gender roles and eliminate patriarchy. While these questions may be challenging, they should be asked and explored, especially since there are many shared objectives of gender liberation for feminists and transgender activists.

Yes, the questions raised by The Gendercator may be uncomfortable; yes, transgender activists may be angry that they are asked and want to refute them with great alacrity. Asking the questions, however, is not wrong. Censoring the questions raises great concern. I believe our cultural institutions should embrace the opportunity to view The Gendercator. As a community, we should watch it and talk and argue about it. Censoring The Gendercator and limiting availability to the queer community does little to address the questions that it.

Hopefully, in my hometown of Washington, DC, One In Ten, DC’s International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival will show the courage that Frameline wasn’t able to demonstrate. The Gendercator should be screened in Washington, DC. Ideas should be expressed freely. We all should have an opportunity to see and evaluate The Gendercator for ourselves. We may disagree. We may find the film to be transphobic, but unless we see it for ourselves, we will never know.

As SONiA and CiNDY sing in the disappear fear song, “Let’s Sink the Censor Ship,”
Narrow minds are generally two-faced
We must sink the censorship to find
What truth is
In Washington, DC, let’s find what truth is.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #9 dated August 21, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 648

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


If you want to know where you want to be, look at your feet. This is one of the hundreds of maxims that my gay father has given me. My gay father, like my lesbian mother, is a gay man who helped me to understand the gay and lesbian community and my role in it in profound ways.

I remember the advice, If you want to know where you want to be, look at your feet, most clearly because my gay father told it to me during one of our first long conversations involving the nature of life, love, and the city of Detroit. I left the conversation with my gay dad and bought a house in the city of Detroit. My gay dad was my realtor. I sold the house two years later, but it was absolutely the right decision at the time. I looked down at my feet, and there is where I wanted to be.

To this day, I always remember the advice of my gay father, and I look down. If I don’t like where I am, I know that I have to walk away—otherwise this is where I want to be.

My gay father is J. Michael Hickey. Like most, I just call him, Mike. Mike is a tall and hairy man. He’s a bear in every gay sense of the word. I met Mike when he was volunteering as a telephone operator for the Gay and Lesbian Helpline operated by the gay and lesbian community center where I worked. Mike came in every Monday night from 8:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. As I was leaving work during his shift, I’d stop by to say a brief hello and goodbye. These brief stops often resulted in me and Mike walking out of the community center together late at night after he had imparted some of his wisdom.

The house that I bought in Detroit was in his neighborhood, so we became stopover friends. And brunch friends. And I-need-a-special-hammer friends. And I-love-your-partner-of-now-eighteen-years-Jon friends. And I-need-you-to-approve-of-the-women-that-I-date-and-love friends.

My gay dad is knowledgeable about the ways of the world—gay and non-gay. He knows what to tell you to avoid particular trauma and what not to tell you because “everyone goes through that.” He’s an expert on depression glass and china patterns and he can repair anything in an old home.

Mike always has good advice for facing life’s challenges. Often it is a variant of if you don’t like things the way they are, get up and make a change. Often it is more direct and even blunt at times that I need a kick in the butt. Often Mike raises issues that I’m not yet ready to think about and months later I’ll remember his question. I usually call him then though I rarely tell him the reason for the call. Mike doesn’t seem to mind. I think he understands the nature of human beings and human interactions more than I ever will.

Eventually, I moved away from Detroit. Honestly, my only regret from leaving Detroit is not living a few blocks away from Mike. I only see him a few times a year now. We trade emails and I write letters occasionally. Although our physical time together has lessened my affection hasn’t.

I think we all need gay fathers and lesbian mothers—people with wisdom and experience who befriend us on our life’s journey to help us along the way. I honor my gay father Mike. He’s given me good advice throughout my life and more importantly he is one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #8 dated August 7, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 603