Trigger warning for transphobic language
Next month Paul Abbot’s new miniseries Hit and Miss premieres on DirectTV. Chloë Sevigny, former star of queer-flavored films like Party Monster and Boys Don’t Cry, plays a contract assassin who “just happens” to be transgender.
This is not the first time a fictional killer has “just happened” to straddle the gender divide—people have always used horror stories to work out their fears around gender.
Remember Psycho? In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock introduced the gender-bending killer Norman Bates. Unlike the werewolves and other species-hybrids of previous horror films, Bates is your average “guy next door” who owns a motel, mummifies his mother, and occasionally dons her clothing and personality to kill any woman who threatens mama’s place in Norman’s heart.
Along with plaguing an entire generation with some serious shower phobia, Psycho reinforced the Freud-induced anxiety about gender-bending “mamas’ boys” that still makes parents squeamish.
A few bad B movies later—Homicidal (1961), Dressed to Kill (1980), Sleepaway Camp (1983)—the 1990 thriller Silence of the Lambs brought “Buffalo Bill” to the big screen. Repeatedly denied a “sex change” by gender clinics, Bill is driven to kill and skin his female victims to complete a “woman suit.” Nope, the storyline wasn’t a call for trans-inclusive healthcare. Silence of the Lambs played on the fear that crossing gender lines pushes people over the edge.
In the past decade, this trope has hacked into television. “Transsexual killers” have shown up on crime shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and CSI. Now Hit and Miss writer Abbott is leaning on the same old trope for cheap scares, and he’s feeding an environment that facilitates violence against transgender people.
For years the “transsexual killer” trope has haunted the trans community with a bad reputation. And while transgender people are being portrayed as killers, we’re the ones getting killed.
A report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender women represented 44% of anti- LGBTQ murders in 2010. Perpetrators of that violence target transgender people because they fear our identities, and portraying transgender people as killers doesn’t make us look any better in the eyes of those who are out to get us.
What does Sevigny, who previously starred in a film about violence against transgender people, think about her character in the upcoming miniseries?
Earlier this month, the star complained to the Huffington Post that she “got reamed out by the Advocate” when she referred to her character as a “tranny.” “You can’t say anything anymore,” Sevigny said, calling the Advocate’s helpful hint “reee-donkulous.”
Guess I’m crossing Chloë off my ally list.