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

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