I could just end there, but that would be insufficient. After all, the novel Myra Breckinridge largely was a legit, scathing critique of Hollywood – and, the title character wasn’t really a transsexual woman; in fact, an honest assessment would place her outside even the broader category of ‘transgender.’
But, thanks to a gay man, when people think ‘Myra Breckinridge,’ they think ‘transsexual’….
EVEN when viewing the movie version (which even Vidal hated.)
Yes, if I stopped with the book Myra or even the movie Myra, that would let Isreal Luna’s Myra-on-Viagra-just-in-time-for-ENDA-2010.
Not surprisingly, the latest gay man to exploit trans suffering and death (thereby both legitimizing it and ensuring that it repeats) has his defenders who have mastered the art of FOX-esque anti-PC speak (so much so that one could be excused for wondering if all of the internet posts defending Luna actually came from members of Michael Bailey’s Greek chorus of faux-anti-PC histrionics.)
But, please note the word I emphasized.
This image is not from Vito Russo’s Celluloid Closet.
Actually, I take that back; part of it is.
The photo within the ad appears in the book – but, as noted, this is an ad for the book. I don’t know how many gay papers it appeared in (or if it appeared in any non-gay papers as well), but this is the ad as it appeared in the July 20, 1981, edition of the GLC Voice, a Minneapolis-St. Paul gay paper.
Perhaps some of you are thinking to yourselves, ‘Jeff Bridges played a transsexual woman? Wow – maybe I’ll give Thunderbolt and Lightfoot a look.’
Well, the movie is worth a look. It was Michael Cimino’s first directorial effort. The next was The Deer Hunter; his previous work had been as writer for the second ‘Dirty Harry’ movie, Magnum Force. And, like Cimino’s other work (which also includes the epic fail of epic fails, Heaven’s Gate), its not a happy-fest.
A great movie, but a real downer.
And, oh by the way, it also has nothing to do with transsexuals.
And, perhaps most importantly, the scene that Russo singles out has nothing to do with gays or lesbians.
And there is no debate on that point.
Don’t even try.
In case the ad image isn’t clear, this is the text:
Jeff Bridges in drag in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is just another example of the homophobia Hollywood has peddled over the years, from the “sissy” jokes of the silents to the paranoia and brutality of Cruising. In his brilliant new book THE CELLULOID CLOSET: Homosexuality in the Movies, Vito Russo explains how Hollywood has adapted to prevailing attitudes, both in its veiled references to homosexuality (e.g., “buddy films” like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and in explicit ones like The Boys in the Band. 120 photographic stills.
Noooooooooooobody in the gay community bitched about that one, eh Luna?
But a small cadre of gay men and women did think that J. Michael Bailey’s Man Who Would be Queen was worthy of a Lambda award – and it was up to transsexuals to bitch about that gay transphobia and be derided as bullies and censors both by Bailey’s Greek chorus of well-professed heterosexual Ph(U)Ds and the small cadre of award-conferring gay men and women who could not stand to have their credibility (deservedly) questioned.
Can we assume that Israel Luna’s celluloid definition of trans women should be gearing up to receive awards from other gay men and women whose judgment is above question because they say it is above question?
Israel Luna is exploiting and insulting trans women.
There is no legitimate debate on that point.
Exploitation of, insults to and erasure of trans women has been nothing but a career-enhancer in gay land, so I suspect that, in addition to preparing to receive gay-made awards, Luna should be gearing up to occupy an office on Rhode Island Avenue.
Yes, Israel Luna is exploiting and insulting trans women.
There is no legitimate debate on that point.
But what about my other example?
To the same extent that Jonathan Katz erased male-to-female-ness in Gay American History, Vito Russo exploited trans people – particularly male-to-female-ness – in The Celluloid Closet.
Yes, Russo - not Michael Cimino (or even Jeff Bridges.) As non-PC as it may be, as long as there are movies and television programs, there will be instances of male-configured bodies wearing women’s clothing. No one has the right to demand that that stop any more than christianism-infected government has the right to criminalize wearing the clothing of the opposite sex.
It just doesn’t have to always smell – and look – like shit (I won’t mention Candis Cayne’s appearance on CSI:NY by name.)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was about a bank robbery.
Jeff Bridges’ drag scene was a disguise to aid in the bank robbery.
In fact, even though much of Russo’s analysis about gay subtexts in ‘buddy movies’ is worthwhile – even as to two of the characters in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (those played by George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis) – with respect to Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges he stretches his thesis beyond the point of structural failure.
In no small part, the structural failure occurs because he tries to tie the drag scene to it.
Russo used the mere notion of deviation from archetypal masculinity (I use that term instead of gender transgression so as not to piss off the HBS people, who I’m hoping will side with me as I think we’re all in the same boat on this one) as being something evil and something that Real Men (gay or straight) should find abhorrent. (And if this paragraph inspires you to re-read Julia Serrano’s Whipping Girl, it should; and if you haven’t yet read it, you should.)
Forget the fact that a key element of the bank robbery at the center of the plot of the movie was Jeff Bridges’ Lightfoot-in-drag seducing a straight security guard.
Anything remotely trans = Antithesis of Gay Male = EVIL!!!!!!!!!!!!
Forget the fact that, though strictly speaking classifiable as trans behavior, Lightfoot was not being trans-anything (much less gay anything.)
He was robbing a bank.
This wasn’t Billy Crystal as Jody in Soap.
It wasn’t Dinah East.
It wasn’t even Myra Breckinridge - print or celluloid.
It was one of four bank robbers – and it was one of four bank robbers not being gay, explicitly or implicitly.
But, the image of Jeff Bridges in drag running down a street in a small town in Montana in the mid-1970s was the image that was used. And I do have to ascribe the picking of it to Russo, though I don’t know if he actually had a hand in the ad; still, the pages in the book that deal with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot are not simply as negative toward the movie as that ad – they’re even more negative, favorably citing the negative reviews of reviewers he calls out as homophobic.
Russo’s own take:
In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Cimino does a Ratso-and-Joe number on Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood, the same number he did on Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter (1978). At the beginning of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Eastwood’s baby blue eyes hit Bridges like a thunderbolt, and Bridges lightfoots it into drag for the remainder of the film.
The first time there’s even a hint that Bridges will wear a dress? Roughly 80 minutes into the two-hour flick.
The blue eyes? Eastwood is the one who makes a comment about Bridges’ eyes (something about all great racecar drivers having blue eyes; I leave it to the NASCAR crowd to verify or disprove that.)
Just another gay man who would do anything to stretch anything in order to say anything imaginably negative about people he feels he has the right to project his idea of gay-masculinity on acting in a way that he feels those he feels are gay should not be acting.
Luna can say anything he wants about what he claims his piece of garbage is.
And his Luna-ticks can dutifully assemble into a neo-Dreger-esque Greek chorus of fake outrage at the ‘censors.’
But if Luna wants to salvage himself, he can do one simple thing: He can take a lie detector test – and he can answer the following questions:
- Did you really intend the movie to empower trans women?
- Thus far, have you in any way lied to your critics?
- Do you acknowledge transsexual women as actually being women.
As simple as holding my breath – which, I’m not going to do.
Because I’m standing by my contention that there is – and will be – no legitimate debate that Luna’s flick is just another instance in a long line of gay-orchestrated cultural trans-bashing.