Column: “Stonewall” Whitewashes and Erases Trans History

The Stonewall movie was released into theaters on September 25, 2015.

We should not accommodate the bigotries of straight and cis people

By now, you probably know what many LGBT opinion writers think of Roland Emmerich’s twinkified, whitewashed, and detransified version of the Stonewall riots.

While there’s plenty of debate about how the riots started and who initiated these events, one thing most agree on is that it didn’t happen the way it’s portrayed in this movie. Indeed, while “Stonewall” has only had first public showings this week, I’ve yet to see even a single positive review.

For me, one of the most accurate criticisms of “Stonewall” comes from HuffPost Gay Voices Editorial Director Noah Michelson, who calls out Emmerich’s own explanation of why he cast a pretty Midwestern white boy in the role of a protagonist which would have been more accurately portrayed as a trans person of color.

Emmerich claims that by making the protagonist a “straight-acting” young white twink he was making the movie more accessible to straight audiences, essentially arguing that the character is more appealing because he looks and acts like a straight and cisgender person.

Michelson points out how rewriting the history of the Stonewall riots to attempt to pander to the anti-LGBT bigotries of straight and cisgender audiences is itself a facilitation and accommodation of self-hating bigotry that inspires many LGBTs to attempt to pass as straight and cis before we’re ready to come out and present ourselves to the world as we truly are rather than as others would prefer to see us.

It’s also fair to ask an obvious question: If the audiences Emmerich seeks to appeal to would find a more accurate portrayal of the history of the Stonewall riots too offensive to witness without this kind of heterosexist and cisgender sweetener, what makes him think that these audiences will find this film any more appealing because the star looks like he would be more properly cast in a remake of “Oklahoma”?

Those who oppose and fight against our basic civil rights as LGBT people aren’t doing so because we number people of color among us, even though those bigotries most certainly do still exist in modern America. They do so because they find the way LGBT people live our lives and present ourselves to the rest of the world to be perverse and disgusting. The character of Danny, and from all reports the entire film, are to be sure a whitewashed and ciswashed version of history, but the character and the events depicted are no less Queer because of it.

That Emmerich, a gay man himself, apparently believes that rewriting historical fact and replacing it with a fictionalized version of events will be more palatable to mainstream audiences than the truth reveals to us that he’s the very last person who should have been hired to make this film.

Like Michelson, I too know what it is to hide large chunks of myself in a misguided attempt to present myself publicly as a straight (and cisgender) person. I knew that I felt I should have been born a girl from a very early age, but I also understood that such a revelation would not have been accepted well by my parents, teachers, and friends.

As a teenager with raging hormones, I learned that the way to gain the romantic and sexual attentions of the girls I desired was to behave as the heterosexual and cisgender boy I was seen as. As I grew into young adulthood I became quite accomplished at portraying this masculine role society had laid out for me and eventually even saw fully embracing it as a way of curing myself of my desire to live my life as a woman.

I was rewarded for my efforts with the affections of women I desired, which validated this misguided self-hate. More than anything else, I wanted to love a woman as a woman and I hated myself for it. It wasn’t until this internal conflict drove me to attempt to end my life that I was able to see through these lies I’d told myself and seek out a path toward living my truth.

I know what it is to want to be something I wasn’t. I also know what it is to feel compelled to rewrite the public story of my life in order to accommodate a culture that would have rejected me as I truly am. Most of all, I know what it is to finally come to understand that without truth it’s impossible to do more than simply go through the motions of life without truly satisfying the demands of one’s heart and soul.

That’s the kind of life I wouldn’t wish on anyone, much less want to witness on the silver screen.

 


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