As a filmmaker (or, perhaps more truthily, an art student who did not receive an F for her sole video project) I feel it is my duty to view as many films depicting trans folk as the doctors will allow me. ‘Tis a quest not without peril. When a visit to the SF LGBT Center brought me face to face with Clair Farley, a subject of Red Without Blue and number three on my list of “people who have inspired me to do make great changes in my life who I hope never to meet in person because I know I’d lose my shit”, spoiler alert: a lot of shit was lost. I stared at the floor, dodged her questions (did I mention I met she was doing my intake for an employment services program? OF COURSE I DIDN’T, UGH SO FUCKING LIKE ME) and when I realized that the chances of me winning that golden ticket that would let me rearrange reality so that instead of giggling uncomfortably to myself I could instead escape to a universe where I was gainfully employed and she and I were bff who played Chu Chu Rocket on the weekends were fairly slim I just made shit up. Dante never specified what the punishment in hell is for people who try to convince their heroes that blogging counts as a form of community volunteering, but I’m willing to guess it involves having something put in your anus that you’d rather not. Oh, and once I was asked to leave a screening of Normal, but it was agreed that if I never stated who I threw my notebook at and why they would keep it off my record and let me squeak by with a written apology.
Dangers be damned, I saw Beautiful Boxer, the biopic about Muay Thai boxer Parinya Charoemphol, or Nong Toom. As a safety precaution, I had Ms. Pacman plugged in just in case I needed emergency escort to my “happy place”. Much to my surprise, I thought it was an amazing film, and my gripes with it were limited and tied entirely with the storytelling and not the portrayal of Parinya (I thought the dream sequences were contextually inappropriate when done outside of her first person narrative, though I must admit they were poetically executed and relevant to the film’s message). So rare do I find films that engage me emotionally while sating my hunger for organically choreographed violence. I feel it served as an illustration of the fallacy behind the notion of transitioning to avoid the struggles and challenges traditionally assigned to men, or as my father put it “acting delicate and weak and girly to avoid having to live up to my responsibilities”. And I thought Kyoko Inoue playing herself was pretty fucking neat. Yeah, that’s all I have to say about it. This isn’t a film review. This is a reaction piece. So yeah, you’re still gonna have to rent it or read the reviews on IMDB if you want to bluff your way through a conversation about it in your little Livejournal group. Sorry.
The film is very clear with presenting and expressing a common criticism levied against Parinya and those behind her career: she was a gimmick and novelty act that mocked the sport of kickboxing and her trans identity was exploited and paraded about for profit. To this I say “eh, that’s one way of looking at it, where I come from we call that the wrong way”.
To suggest that the Thai boxing establishment’s acceptance, support, and promotion of Parinya’s gender expression was somehow more profit-minded than the minds behind Manon Rheaume (the first and only woman to play in the NHL)’s stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning or fuck, let’s just go for broke here, Jackie Robinson playing in the MLB, is to contribute to a the ignorance of the machinations of the kyriarchy. The underdog from a troubled, prejudiced life who’s talent just has to be shared with the masses regardless of their latent bigotry is a noblie lie disguised as a marketing ploy disguised as a human message. The real tragedy is not, I believe, in the tokenization of one’s identity to be part of the majority’s broadway production, but in the refusal by those who have benefitted from your sacrifice to acknowledge the good you may have done for your community. Without the scream queen, there’d be no ass-kicking Whedonverse heroine. Without the Hays Code-era sissy, there’d be no Brokeback Mountain. That’s just how hiearchy works. When we break free from our cage in the kyriarchal circus, they’ll just find someone else to fill our place, and then we, sitting in the audience, will have to decide between shutting the fuck up and eating our kettle corn or bum rushing the stage and burning the tent down.
In a society where hierarchies exist (i.e. all of them) the minority takes on an air of mystique and curiosity. Thus we are forced to ask ourselves, as minorities, whether it is better to be an attraction or risk being unseen by society. The answer will be different for each and every one of us. Parinya played the game, made enough money to afford SRS, is a successful model/actress, and could probably break every bone in the body of any asshole who thinks they’ll “teach this shemale a lesson”. If you could play the system like that and win by that much of a margin, you’d have already picked out your stage name. But you can’t. The minority underdog is the bizarro affirmative action: they meet their quota once and then it’s closed to everyone else. Personally, I prefer my chances against the system as opposed to with it. But fuck, ask me in a year or two if and when Comedy Central is looking for a caustic plus-sized trans woman with no indoor voice. For now, I find it more efficient in the long run to just be happy for her success and hopeful that it will start a trend of acceptance of trans people in professional sports and instead direct my rage to those instances where people are being played by the system. The bearded lady, the conjoined twins, they know they are part of a sideshow. The microcephalic (or “pinhead” for those of you who fear Wikipedia) does not. Try, if you can, to fight and prevent the greater injustice of the two. The famous and successful can take care of themselves.
And they’re giving me the sign to wrap up, but I do want to point out that Parinya Charoemphol is often credited with pulling Thai kickboxing out of its slump and re-establishing its popularity in Thailand.
Me-1 You -0.
Get used to this.