Artifice in Transamerica

In her “Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix,” Susan Stryker denies the validity of the dichotomy between nature and artifice, especially as it is used in arguments condemning transgendered people. She accuses non-transgendered people of being “as constructed as me” (241), claiming that, should they “investigate” their own natures, they “may well discover the seams and sutures in [them]selves” (241). The idea driving this claim is that the multifaceted identities of all people are highly artificial and decidedly constructions of society. Thus the “nature” that these people appeal to in order to condemn the unnatural physical construction of transgendered people is something that they themselves have access to only in their physicality and not in their minds or identities. 

Keeping in mind Stryker’s analysis of the nature/artifice dichotomy, we’ll turn to Transamerica’s heroine, Bree, a transwoman about to have her surgery. Bree demonstrates throughout the film the desire to be truly and decisively a certain kind of woman, namely one who is wholesome and “normal.” This stands in stark contrast to the glamorous women that some feminists accuse transwomen of trying to emulate; however, this identity is still, as Stryker might say, stitched together and based on a socially contrived conception of womanhood. Bree, urgently holding onto a gendered identity that she understands to be natural, denies the burden of the revolt against “natural” gender that Stryker places on transgendered individuals. Indeed, Bree’s denial of “her own kind” when she and her son stay with other trans-people reflects her denial of Stryker’s gender revolution.

This, I think, is the danger of this movie: It depicts trans-people (or at least the “good” ones like Bree) as desiring to fit into the existing structures of gender rather than to occupy more ambiguous spaces between the two traditional genders. That isn’t to say that a transwoman like Bree could not exist in reality, or even to say that it’s necessarily the duty of a trans-person to take up Stryker’s fight. The danger of this film, I think, is that it seems to go down the path of political utility that has so utterly normalized queer (or rather LGBT) communities. Instead of embracing and representing those trans-people that desire to fit in with existing structures and those that desire the ambiguity of counter-normativity, this film depicts the more palatable kind of trans-person, imaginably in order to gain sympathy. Instead of asking heteronormative, gendered society to change or even to examine its current notions of gender, this film excises the non-normative aspects of trans* cultures, attempting to normalize it to a point where the modern social tyranny can see it as permissible.

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