Trans Viewing: “Beautiful Darling” and “Becoming Chaz”

Paleo Retiree writes:

For no particular reason, The Question Lady and I spent a couple of recent evenings watching docs that we found on Netflix Instant about trans people. The first one was about a transvestite while the second concerned a female-to-male transsexual.

Beautiful Darling

CandyDarlingA645

James Rasin’s 2010 doc is about Warhol superstar Candy Darling, who was born a boy on Long Island, who went to NYC to fulfill his fantasy of himself as a woman, and who died before turning 30. It’s interesting and informative in a fairly standard-issue (not a criticism) way: it features interviews with many well-known survivors of the era (Fran Lebowitz, Bob Colacello, Gerard Malanga, Julie Newmar, Holly Woodlawn, John Waters) as well as lots of others; and it highlights a ton of miraculously-turned-up archival stuff. The film does a good job of making clear Candy’s originality as a drag queen, which was that while onstage or onscreen she didn’t create a grotesque parody of a woman, she really, via willpower and self-belief, attained a sort of womanhood. She invested her dreams of being Kim Novak and Marilyn Monroe with such fervor that her delusions could sweep you along — assuming you were open to such an experience, of course.

The picture doesn’t seem to leave much out; when I did some online research after it was over I didn’t discover much about Candy that the movie hadn’t told us about or at least hinted at. The one big question the movie doesn’t go much into: did the hormones Candy was taking cause the cancer that killed her?

Candy had one very peculiar life: she may have had a few years when she enjoyed closeness to Warhol and access to the cool-kids’ tables at Max’s Kansas City, but she was generally poor, on speed, lonely, often begging friends and family for money, sleeping on sofas, and sometimes turning tricks. The film is a vivid reminder of what grotty lives many of these now-well-remembered people lived, and of how tattered and dangerous a place New York City was back in those particular glamor days. It also made me have another look at my view of gay lib. It can be tempting to say that gays hit more peaks of dizzy genius back when they were still mostly in the closet than they do in these banal, very out days. And couldn’t we really use more genius and less in the way of cardigans and white picket fences? But, pre-liberation, gays really were in near-constant danger of being ridiculed and beaten-up, and on a simple human basis who would wish that on anyone?

Candy’s ride was a very short one but she packed a lot of living into it. Her dad was a brutal alcoholic while her mom was supportive; she discovered Hollywood movies, makeup and costumes at a very early age. She got to attend, as a movie star, a movie opening in her dreamed-about Hollywood; she appeared on magazine covers; and she acquired near-legend status in certain small circles. She also believed Warhol’s “we’re a movie studio” proclamations and felt crushed when he dropped her and moved on to exploiting other oddballs and freaks. She hit bottom with a huge thump. Where do you go, and what do you do with yourself, if/when you’ve burned up your allotment of luck as well as everything you have to offer in the way of talent and skill by your late 20s?

The film employs a framing device that’s rather tedious: Candy’s good friend Jeremiah Newton, who has kept her ashes and artifacts for decades, is arranging to bury the urn alongside his mother’s in a small upstate cemetary. I could have used fewer of these scenes, but since Jeremiah is one of the film’s co-producers maybe that was the price of having him on board. And it is fun comparing Jeremiah’s portly, bent-over, white-haired working-class-esque current physical self to his thin-as-a-rail, proto-punk/dreamboat young days, when he looked like a member of Television. What the years will do to a body …

The Question Lady and I teased each other a lot as we watched the film. She, a ditzily glamorous six-foot blonde, could easily have had a Warhol-girl phase, while I (in type, an arty-intellectual punk/hippie postgrad hanger-on) would have had a very hard time spending more than an evening in that particular crowd. I’m as gay-friendly as can be, but the Warhol world of the ’60s and ’70s was something a little too special even for me. All those drugged-out, meandering attempts at being campily witty and brilliant; the pathos and the giddiness; the solipsistic raptures; the mirrors, costumes and dressing rooms; the upside-downness of the sex roles; the whimsicality, degradation, grotesqueness and arbitrariness; the backstabbing, psychodramas and drama-queening … So far as real life goes I’m about as enthusiastic about spending time in that universe as my wife is about hanging out in the Earth First! eco-fringes and arts-geek blogging circles where I’m most at home.

Becoming Chaz

chaz_jennifer

We let ourselves get fascinated by this 2011 doc about Cher’s daughter as she initiated and lived through her “transition” (the word “transition” is used a LOT) from Chastity to Chaz, from lesbian woman to sort-of-man. We visit doctors, old lovers, hospitals, and rallies; we hang out in the kitchen and bedroom of Chaz’s cute, sunny little L.A.-area house. We learn that creating-a-penis surgery still isn’t very advanced or appealing, though, who knows, maybe that’ll come along too.

A lot of the film focuses on Chaz’s relationship with his girlfriend Jennifer, who isn’t consistently thrilled with the goings-on (and who, as I learned via the web after we finished the movie, broke up with Chaz not long after a sequel to this movie was finished). Jennifer had fallen for and moved in with a woman, after all. She wasn’t looking for a guy — and now here she is sharing a house with, if not a guy, a somewhat guy-like creature. Jennifer makes efforts to be supportive but she didn’t sign up for this, you know? Plus: she has her own dramas and issues — and where’s the space in their new life for them?

The movie, directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, is very proficient if also anything but deep. It’s done in the current reality-TV style (mostly: real-ish-seeming events shot handheld with multiple cameras, crosscut with later interviews about those events), and it doesn’t do a lot of questioning of or musing about what it portrays. Modern PC-media attitudes dominate the film, and you’re assumed to be happy — like all well-meaning and up-to-date people — to go along with them.

That didn’t stop these particular viewers from doing some marveling and wondering of our own, though. About Chaz, for one thing. What does Chaz do with himself, exactly? It’s hard to tell. No job seems to be part of his life. In early adulthood, as Chastity, she had a band but recorded a grand total of one song before giving up on music. At another point she fell into depression and spent two years not doing much more than playing videogames. She became an addict and went through rehab. Chaz doesn’t, and Chastity didn’t, seem to have a lot that’s productive or even postive going on, to be honest. So what does the eagerness to execute a sex-switch really signify? And what does her obesity, let alone her collection of ill-mannered, yappy little dogs and creepy hairless cats, represent?

In Chaz’s mind, having his/her breasts lopped off and going on testosterone shots is the only way she has to solve her big general case of life-unhappiness, and the film encourages us to think so too. (Chaz was one of the film’s producers.) The Question Lady and I couldn’t help discussing some hunches the film doesn’t endorse, though. Maybe Chaz is the not-very-driven child of an overwhelming diva-mom who, when Chaz was little Chastity, regularly brought her onto her hit TV show to boost ratings. You could be excused for wondering if Chaz is someone who just doesn’t know who he is in a larger sense, and who’s maybe desperate to feel special. And maybe what the surgery gives him, after a lifetime of feeling like nothing in particular, is some sense of a bold identity as well as — who knows? — some time of his own in the limelight as a star. (Take that, mom.) The press and the public make a fuss out of Chaz’s transition, Cher has a hard time handling it, friends throw parties to celebrate it, Chaz is invited here and there to be an inspirational speaker on behalf of the trans set … How delicious it all must be for him. But for how long is the exhilaration likely to last? Chaz has a lot of issues in his life that seem unlikely to be completely solved by a sex-change treatment, however dramatic and telegenic the gesture may be.

Another topic is one that I thought about more than The Question Lady did: we’re told over and over that post-op Chaz is now a man, but is he really? Speaking as a representative of that unfashionable group, namely men who have spent their entire lives as males, I have my misgivings. But first, a moment of wishing-everyone-well: while I have almost zero real-life experience of trans people, I’m happy to accept as a fact that a small percentage of people really are born unhappy with the sex of the body they’re in and would like to do something about it. I genuinely hope they figure out satisfying ways of coping; I don’t imagine that life is easy for them; and I’m happy to play along with whichever pronoun they want me to use, though I do hope they won’t switch ’em around too often. It gets to be annoying and inconvenient. But whatever Chaz is (and whatever it is he wants us to think of him as being), as a bunch of practical facts he has — unlike me and my entire born-male cohort — two X chromosomes, a vagina, no dick and no balls, zero experience of having lived his young life as a boy, and testosterone in his system that has never had any way of getting in there except via hypodermic needle. These strike me as deep and extensive differences between him and we folks who have traditionally been thought of as male. I don’t feel a big need to decide whether Chaz is a woman or a man, btw. I’m happy thinking of him as “a lesbian who has had her breasts removed, who is on a lot of testosterone, and who wants to be referred to as ‘he’.” What’s wrong with that as a classification?

The film also offers, without making anything whatsoever of it, lots of evidence for the biological basis of sex characteristics. After he’s spent some time on testosterone, for instance, Chaz’s skin coarsens, he grows hair on his face and his butt, and he becomes much more aggressive and short-tempered. So, as PC as it is in other ways, the film undermines the usual PC case for sex, er, gender, er, whatever as a socially-constructed thing. Hey, amazingly enough, men and women really are different. Another small subversive thought that occurred to me: perhaps Chaz’s newfound happiness, or at least assertiveness, has more to do with the testosterone therapy than with the sex-change surgery. Maybe all Chastity really needed to jolt her out of her depressive sluggishness was to start wearing a testosterone skin patch.

The trans set has developed its own vocabulary, its own account of life and its own preferred social agenda. And — while wishing these people well on a personal level — I disagree with much of it and see no reason why other everyday people should submit to it either. For example: As Chaz becomes a symbol and a spokesperson — finally, a purpose! — we meet a group of parents of young children who we’re told are trans. Chaz visits them and happily babbles about how these kids (thanks to the pioneering efforts of people like Chaz) won’t have to go through the miseries previous generations of sexually-confused people have had to endure. Instead, they’ll be put on hormone therapy at 10 and will start with the surgeries as teens. At this point in the film my eyebrows shot to the ceiling. At 10? As teens? Really? Adults can do what they want with drugs and surgeries as far as I’m concerned. But kids are still kids, and kids are unavoidably prone to glomming onto fads and styles, they have phases they go into and then emerge out of, and they have moods, plans and passions that come and go like the weather. It’s not like I don’t sympathize with youngsters who are genuinely unhappy with their bodies and who are impatient to do something about it. But what about those other kids — the ones who convince themselves at 12 that they’re in the wrong bodies, who submit to hormones and surgery, and who then, at 25 or 35, wake up to the fact that they were mistaken all along? Seems like quite a likely scenario to me, especially given how eager many parents and teachers are these days to nurture their charges’ neuroses, fantasies and anxieties. So I’d put a minimum age of 18 or 21 on beginning the process. Besides: haven’t we got too many of our children on drugs already?

All in all, in these days when trans people and the trans cause are making the headlines near-daily, and when the trans agenda has imposed itself on the larger public discussion, we found “Becoming Chaz” an interesting doc to expose ourselves to. Reality TV-style shows don’t have to be great to deliver some interesting sights and information, or to spark off some fun-to-wrestle-with thoughts.

What kind of sense are you making of what Steve Sailer likes to call World War T? And what are your reactions to it?

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog 2Blowhards.com. Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
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27 Responses to Trans Viewing: “Beautiful Darling” and “Becoming Chaz”

  1. was the choice to ignore chloe sevingy’s brilliant narration a deliberate snub?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. agnostic says:

    PC insanity in a nutshell:

    Spoiled rich girl convinces daddy to buy her breast implants for her sweet sixteen — “That’s disgusting! The beauty myth claims another victim!”

    Airheaded proto-faggot convinces mommy to buy him breast implants and snip off his pecker at 13 — “Woo, you go girl! Fuck the haters, if you got it, flaunt it!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. agnostic says:

    We can’t take anyone seriously who says they’ve always felt like a girl or a woman, yet who’s never shown any interest in caring for babies.

    Girls do that early on, tending to those baby dolls. Trannies are interested in fashion dolls, not child care dolls. They want to be like the doll (the center of attention), rather than take care of the doll in a maternal role (an altruistic act).

    Grown women plan for raising a family, and most follow through with pregnancy, nursing, and nurturing for years and years. Trannies couldn’t show any less interest in raising children — thank God, there couldn’t be any more disgusting of an abomination than a trannie being responsible for a helpless child. Sacrificing time, money, and effort for the benefit of someone else, like a kid? Wh-what will that leave for my 24-hour schedule of attention-whoring???!?!

    Man-women are no better. They don’t care about acting like and becoming fathers — or even fatherly.

    Both groups must have felt outside of the norm for their sex during childhood, but both have also remain infantilized, and don’t want to act like grown members of the opposite sex. They want to live out their lives as children of the opposite sex, the one whose character and personality they identified with more growing up.

    Yet they are stung by cognitive dissonance — you mean you were a boy who was as feminine as a girl, or a girl who was as masculine as a boy? “Uh… no… that sounds bad. I, uh, I always felt like I was a girl (boy) inside, born in the wrong body.” By attempting to alter their biology to match, they lessen the cognitive dissonance. They’re now a girl who’s always felt like a girl, not a sissy boy who’s always felt like a girl.

    Like

    • Marc Pisco says:

      My girlfriend, for some strange reason, reads tranny forums for entertainment. What she’s said to me is just your point about the mothering business, but more so. They don’t have *any* feminine psychological traits, until they go on hormones and start getting emotional. But that’s as far as it goes. They don’t understand women at all. They discuss their interactions with women, trying to puzzle out what’s happening, and they misinterpret female communication as badly as any man ever did.

      Now, maybe some of that, like the communication, is influenced by male socialization and/or by male levels of testosterone. But we do know a bit about how male and female brains differ; if these dudes have at least partially female brains, more so than run-of-the-mill gays, it ought to show up in brain scans or whatever.

      There’s *something* there. The prog dogma is obvious BS, but there is something.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A story from the latest issue of The New Yorker on how radical feminists are pushing back against transgederism: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/04/woman-2

    Like

    • peterike2 says:

      The New Yorker piece is a fascinating look at different kinds of insanity competing for attention. That’s really the crux of the whole thing: old school feminists annoyed that Transgenders are pushing them out of the spotlight. Which is true in the media pecking order. Gay is first, trans is now second, and lesbians have fallen to a distant third, which is hardly surprising given the gay dominance in the media, and that gays really don’t like lesbians (once useful allies, gays are now so powerful they don’t need the lesbians anymore, and seriously, have you seen how they dress?). To stay relevant the lesbians have to jump on the T-wagon, and some are resenting it. It’s all a giant clown show.

      Liked by 1 person

      • wait. what? where and how do homosexual men wield more power than homosexual women. homosexual men and women hold political offices in the U.S. in equal number and the “lesbian kiss episode” made its debut more than 20 years ago.

        i don’t think second wave feminists are particularly attention-seeking. if the new yorker hadn’t published a story about it, this discussion would remain largely academic.

        Like

    • peterike2 says:

      BTW, curious thing about the newly updated New Yorker web site: they seem to have gotten rid of comments. They never allowed them for magazine articles, but they did have them for online-only pieces. But they’ve gone. There was never a lot of political push-back to their by-the-book Progressive-ism, but there was some. I guess that was too much for them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • there are hints of this in “Beautiful Darling” – fran leibowitz can’t restrain herself from throwing shade at poor, dead candy. jealous of the pretty, i suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Will S. says:

    Confused freaks.

    Unlike gays, who are simply attracted to their own sex rather than the opposite one, or bisexuals who are attracted to either sex, these are people who don’t merely have their wiring as to who they’re attracted to gone astray, but more fundamentally, they’re essentially claiming, in not so many words perhaps but nevertheless, that somehow God made a mistake, and made them the wrong sex, not the one they were supposed to be. Evidently they’re that special, that unlike everyone else, He went to the trouble to specifically fuck them up in that way.

    If that isn’t hubris, the absolute pinnacle of arrogance, not to mention batshit fucking insane, I don’t know what is.

    God does not make mistakes. To suggest you know better than your creator, what sex you were supposed to be born… It’s just beyond any possible comprehension.

    If we still had a real actual functioning civilization, we’d not tolerate it.

    Like

  6. lloydville says:

    Great piece, Paleo — fair, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Will S. says:

    Speaking of Steve Sailer and his documenting ‘World War T’, pro-choice folks are beginning to turn against the political slogan ‘a woman’s right to choose’, because it’s too cis-normative (why would only women get the right to choose to remain pregnant?):

    http://www.unz.com/isteve/world-war-t-never-underestimate-the-more-masculine-minds-urge-for-dominance/

    In response to which, someone channelled Monty Python:

    http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-peoples-front-of-judea/

    We live in transparodistic times (and by ‘trans-‘, I mean ‘beyond’, not ‘transsexual’, though I suppose it fits…).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lapidarian says:

      “transparodistic” — I’ve been saying “transparodic” for years as a quick way of saying, for the most part, contemporary life has become, and perhaps transcended, a parody of itself. A hilarious chimera that you laugh at until it quite suddenly eats your face.

      This longer form version tho, perhaps it has a better (more absurd, brightly feathered) strut.

      Thoughtful, sharply chatty article, btw.

      Like

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  9. Although the media has a lot to say about transsexuals, you don’t see or here much about transvestites these days. The only major film I can remember about a sort-of realistic transvestite was in the Kelvin Kline film The Extra Man. Considering male trannies outnumber both gays and transsexuals by a sizeable margin this seems kind of odd.

    In terms of human psychology, male cross dressers and transsexuals are similar to women on the dimension of neuroticism, hence they tend to react to stress in a similar way to women. Researchers have found they use cross dressing behaviour to reduce mental stress and physiological tension. The later point makes sense, since women tend to have much less muscle tension than men, but why dreaming about being a women would reduce mental stress is hard to say, after all women are more mentally stressed than men.

    Most transvestites are happy to call themselves “men with a feminine side” who cross dress for stress relief, but a minority of cross dressers seem to want to take it to the ulitmate conclusion and have a sex change.

    I suspect their are a couple of things going on here. Some guys with serious mental illnesses such as severe depression, are getting a stress relieving hit from cross dressing and are changing their sex in an attempt to escape their mental illness. Another possibility is that there is a certain percentage of cross dressers who have addictive personalities and these guys are addicted to the sexual arousal they get from dressing/acting like a woman.

    Unfortunately, after some good, politically un-biased research in the 70s and 80s, research in this area has pretty much stalled due to political correctness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting stuff, tks. I’ve got almost zero experience with trans people, but back in the days (’70s thru ’90s) when they weren’t yet a political cause I knew people who did know trans people, and one thing that was often reported to me was that a fair number of the people who had the sex-change treatments didn’t wind up very happy, and sometimes wound up killing themselves. They’d get a huge initial boost from the treatments — finally, something dramatic was being done for them! But then their long-term problems would re-assert themselves, they’d wake up to the fact that they *weren’t* really women, just mangled men, and they’d collapse in final despair. But this is all anecdotal, and who knows, maybe the pattern has changed since.

      Liked by 1 person

    • >>Another possibility is that there is a certain percentage of cross dressers who have addictive personalities and these guys are addicted to the sexual arousal they get from dressing/acting like a woman.

      I first heard about that phenomenon after reading this post: http://blog.sethroberts.net/2009/07/01/michael-bailey-on-michael-jacksons-sexuality/

      Like

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  11. JV says:

    I’m with you on wishing them well, but for me, transexualism is the ultimate in exoticism. Like Western people delving into Eastern religions in search of some unfamiliar and external wisdom that simply HAS to be missing from their own culture (because why are they so miserable?), transsexuals want to get as far away from themselves as possible in the hopes that some external force will make them feel better. That’s my take on it. Again, they can do what they want, and I’ve met a couple trans people who were perfectly delightful. But, I don’t view a sex-change as a positive development in any way. And, like you, I’m hesitant to accept them as their “new” gender, for the reasons you state.

    That said, I’m adding these movies to my queue!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. JV says:

    Also, check out Transparent on Amazon Prime if you haven’t already. Jeffery Tambor is brilliant as an older man “transitioning” to a woman. The whole cast is great and the family has kind of a Six Feet Under neuroticism that I find incredibly appealing. Makes sense because the show is created by Jill Holloway, one of the creators of Six Feet Under.

    Liked by 1 person

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