A Fantastic Woman ½

My thoughts are all fragmented. I just know that I'm seething with rage. And my stomach is turning because I can already see the utter indifference my rage will be met with. I could spend time arguing, presenting my case in the most cogent and comprehensive way imaginable, and still, my argument would pass through the insensate heads of the cis audience that received this film so ecstatically. It makes me not want to engage. In fact, I never want to engage because, of course, this stomach-turning feeling never really leaves me. I think I will be at odds with a world that by-and-large hates me until I relent and die. It's bleak but that's how I see it. But I think... I think if I don't engage then I resign myself to this horrible stasis. I will feel the furious dignity of solitude, but I will still be lonely. So here are some fragmented thoughts that might help account for this feeling.

This film is a bludgeon of transfeminine tropes. I almost vomited when "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" played. Mirrors abound. It's almost unbelievable how superficial and lazy Lelio's visual approach is. With the first couple, I rationalized that perhaps I was looking too hard for reasons to hate this film, but the mirrors start to accumulate very undeniably. The mirroring escalates to a point that I would find laughable if it didn't represent such a profound misapprehension of transfeminine being—a misapprehension which I have to struggle under every day. The climactic (though not the final) mirror finds itself nestled over Vega's genitals, reflecting her face. It's a perfectly terrible collision of cis misconceptions of transfemininity. It's probably the worst image I saw in a 2017 film.

The film shows only the most obvious, most clearly condemnable, forms of transphobia. Unsurprisingly, since these seem to be the only forms that a cis man can conceive of. I am far from denying that people so outspoken in their hatred exist; they do, and I have encountered them. But the film presents a false dichotomy, one of cartoonishly ignorant bigots and compassionate saints, so the intended progressive cis audience can feel a superiority and relief that they do not deserve. If our audience truly resembled these monsters, they would hardly be convinced that Marina is anything more than they see her to be. The film presents no challenge to the complacency of a progressive cis crowd. There is no purpose in presenting the obviously despicable to the already enlightened.

If the intent was to inform an unfamiliar cis audience of the trans experience, I can attest that this feels very foreign to my trans experience. Of course, such experience varies from person to person, but this feels foreign only in its vagueness. It doesn't feel like a real lived-experience that I myself simply have not personally had; it feels like an empty approximation of The Experience that One Would Have. There's no specificity here to mark Marina as a particular trans woman encountering particular transphobes. No, she is Trans Woman. But really, she's the thinly-drawn fiction of an incurious filmmaker. A Fantastic Woman. (See! I understand double entendre!)

Transgender cinema is a desert. The oblique belonging and understanding that I've found in films which contain no reference to or signification of trans identity overwhelm any that it has offered me. I really hope that changes. I think it can. But this is not what that looks like. I'm supposed to be overjoyed that Vega was given this role, but it's a half measure. I've already seen her taken up by cis allies as a beacon of progress. The only progress I see is the shift from fetishization to tokenism, and those things bear way too much resemblance to one another for me to feel enthused. The change happens when the cameras go to trans people, not just point at us. I'm trying. I think others are too. I just hope it's soon.

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