So many feelings: Ryan Murphy totally gets trans issues. And then doesn’t.

I have watched the 2008 pilot of Pretty Handsome. The show is a Ryan Murphy production and there is so much in it that is interesting for a fan of Glee.

I mean, there’s the school. The blazers have a crest including the initials D.A., but I do think it means Darien Academy (because of the lacrosse team shirts). However, the school itself is definitely shot in the same place as Glee‘s Dalton Academy. If nothing else, there’s a running-down-the-hallway scene (using the same hallway, very different situation) and The Staircase. Don’t look at me that way; you know the one I’m talking about.

There’s also the cast. Dot Marie Jones, Jonathan Groff and Mike O’Malley are all magnificent. There were a couple times I cried out, “BURT! What’s wrong with you?” but otherwise, my character confusion was kept to a minimum.

You know what? Here’s a bunch of photos:

But by far, the most striking thing about this show is its emotional intensity. The scenes where (closeted) transsexual doctor-and-father-of-two is confronted with a post-transition transman, Mario, are amazing. There are rough shots when a character is in a really intense, emotional state, or sometimes when they are having a fantasy moment before they decide how they’re really going to deal with that situation.

I would gladly have continued watching the show had it aired. I guess the only happy way to look at this is that if it had been picked up, we’d have no Glee.

But what I don’t get, and what is going to mess with my brain a little bit for a while, is how Ryan Murphy could go from writing this show — how he could go from writing a show where we are made to feel so strongly for these amazing characters, to a show where the word “tranny” is dropped like it’s nothing. I don’t get it. I mean, I get that FOX might make them remove the line from Lady GaGa’s Born This Way, and that FOX may not have wanted a guy to play Frank in the Rock Horror Picture Show Episode, and that FOX wanted to replace the word “transsexual” with “sensational”. I can blame all of that on the network.

But there’s no way they held him down until he wrote “tranny” into the script.

I may need a moment. 

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12 thoughts on “So many feelings: Ryan Murphy totally gets trans issues. And then doesn’t.

  1. Well, you already know what my reaction was when I first started watching it. First I flipped out when I saw the cast list, then I went half out of my mind when the scene in Dalton… er, I mean Darien… Academy first came on. I believe my exact words were something like “OMG THE STAIRCASE!!!!!!” So yeah… and the school bell ringing as a scene transition and so much the same style of editing (the editor of Pretty/Handsome is the same guy as on Glee, same costume designer as well).

    But once I got over all of that (which believe me, took a while), I found myself sucked into the story and really would have liked to see where this upper class doctor family man (closeted transsexual) would have gone. The pilot was clearly set up to be pitched to cable (language, sexual content) so I am actually surprised that it didn’t get beyond even the pilot phase, especially with someone with the Hollywood clout as Brad Pitt as one of the Executive Producers.

    As to the “tranny” word usage issue. What it’s making me wonder is this: If you are not regularly around the trans community (and I have no clue how involved RM and/or BF are), is it an absolute known that the word is no longer acceptable (case in point: some tweets earlier this year by Ashley Fink in which she very clearly was in no way intending to be offensive by using the term)? In the case of Glee‘s pilot, it was DEFINITELY used in a derogatory manner, so there’s really no excuse there except to say that it was ultimately cut from the episode. But how did it even survive long enough to be filmed? Having seen Pretty/Handsome I’m a bit at a loss since both Ryan Murphy AND Brad Falchuk are at the helm of both projects. How much influence did the addition of Ian Brennan have on the equation. I know he was the one who had the rights to the original script (which I believe was actually a movie script that got adapted for TV).

    Honestly, unless/until someone is actually able to pose the question directly to either Ryan Murphy or Brad Falchuk, it will remain an unanswered question. There are too many dots that can only be connected by them.

  2. Well the RHPS ep was written by Ryan himself, so I guess Ian couldn’t have had an awful lot to do with it.

    And — to be frank — I don’t know. I do know that GLAAD did make some gestures in the general direction of Glee when it happened, after some fairly intense pressure from the trans community, so I’m hopeful this won’t happen again.

    And, to be honest, if the show was entirely scripted by straight people about straight people — like most things –, it wouldn’t bother me as much. But when it’s a show that’s been so in our faces (in a good way!) about gay issues, it just seems like such a massive let down that they couldn’t be bothered to think about the T in LGBT.

    But you’d think having spent some time writing that script, and presumably researching trans issues and then to turn around and drop the word just seems like, really? Ugh.

  3. Ryan Murphy’s show “Popular” also had an episode about trans issues–it was about a shop teacher who transitioned and then had to face transphobia from the faculty and students. It’s been a while since I’ve watched it, but I recall it (at least from my teenaged pov) as being very sensitive and critical of transphobia–she was in danger of losing her job, and after some education her students band together and protest her firing. Again–hazy, hazy memories from the last time I watched it.

    It’s kind of ridiculous to ascribe complete understanding of trans issues or complete transphobia to anyone–I think like anyone else, Ryan Murphy is a mixed bag who does some things well and fucks up in other areas, partially because he’s a person, partially because he’s a cis person, and partially because he has about equal urges towards heartwarming messages of acceptance and “edgy” jokes. After all, Glee is the same show that’s given us both Kurt Hummel (whose fem aspects have been treated as both serious and deserving of dignity, and as an easy joke) and Sandy Ryerson.

  4. The episode is called “Ch-Ch-Changes” if you feel like tracking it down to add to your analysis.

  5. It’s more than “kind of” but I usually talk in absolutes. ;)

    I guess the reason this all disturbed me so much is that the t-word is such an easy punchline. It’s just a stupid, throwaway word that means all kinds of horrible things to the trans community (and some of the rest of the LGBTQ community too, because transphobia and homophobia are not really as separate as having two words for those two things might suggest).

    And to have it written by a guy who also wrote these subtle, gut-wrenching scenes where people are suffering at the hands of a phobic community, confronting their own identity in another person, that kind of thing — is just beyond weird.

  6. I think the thing about “tranny” is that it’s not necessarily simple. There are people in the trans community reclaiming it (I’ve known a few) just like there are plenty of us who find it really problematic, or who’d like to keep it in the category of words other (read: not trans) people probably shouldn’t be using.

    It’s also a word that in my experience gay men feel entitled to, that may be connected to gay culture, especially as it intersects specifically with drag subculture, and the intersection of gay and trans, particularly in the deeper history of the American subcultures. I hear the t-word at gay bars a hundred times more than I ever do around transfolk. I’ve had well-meaning straight friends use it, too. It’s out there in the wild, and people using it often. Ignorance, bias, misguided whateverness…it’s a thing.

    The way it’s used in these eps didn’t strike me as unrealistic or out of character necessarily for the people saying them on Glee, even though as an individual in real life I’d really prefer people who choose to use it are at least aware and honest in their motivations (instead of, more usually, wholly unaware of the layer of it which affects me and mine). That in itself isn’t problematic. But wow, it’s one of those things about culture that exists and which Glee didn’t take to unpack the way it sometimes goes to the trouble with in other cases.

    I’m not ready to label the creators transphobic — call it holding back, or maybe a little bit of heart-saving denial — but it would be nice for them to eventually have occasion to deal with the issue a little.

  7. Transphobia and homophobia (and misogyny, as Ryan Murphy pointed out in his text to that guy from Kings of Leon) do have a lot of overlap, but they’re not actually the same. Even lesbian issues and gay issues, which are grouped together even more often than trans issues and gay issues, aren’t exactly the same.

    Inasmuch as there’s a lot of good that can come out of lumping LGBT together (or even more sexualities and genders like in that ridiculous QUILTBAG acronym–sorry if anyone reading this is a fan), I think a lot of the time it does lead to things like Christian Young describes below–people from one part of the spectrum feeling like they’re entitled to other parts because they’re rendered together so often, or transposing their own issues (which may only apply to, say, gay men) onto another part of the spectrum instead of listening to what people from that part of the spectrum have to say, or rendering one part of the spectrum completely invisible. It’s depressing how often I see shows (including Glee, pre-Santana’s storyline) get props for being great on LGBT issues when they only have a single gay male character–being great on gay issues is not the same as being great with LGBT issues, particularly the T portion, which tends to be the most ignored.

    I agree that the t-word is an easy punchline, and that it’s particularly sad to see it used so easily in a show that has highlighted how painful the f-word is for the gay community, and by a man who’s shown some awareness and sensitivity towards trans issues. But as the other two commenters have pointed out, the fact is that the t-word is a slur hasn’t spread very far out of certain segments of the trans activist community. It’s incredibly normalized in our society, and as Ashley Fink pointed out in her tweet when she was called on using it, it’s often seen as an affectionate term (particularly in the gay community) rather than a hurtful one. That’s absolutely the fault of people who don’t care enough to pay attention to what trans people actually have to say on it, and it’s not as though non-malicious usage is non-hurtful, but making people realize that a common term is transphobic (or racist, or homophobic, etc.) regardless of their intent is a difficult hurdle to overcome–most people rationalize that if it’s common, it couldn’t possibly be problematic.

    In the case of it’s usage in the RHGS episode, I think there’s also the complicating factor that the conventioneers (and the people who play them) are referred to as Trannys (short for Transylvanians) within the Rocky Horror community (and possibly within the show itself? I can’t remember). Even more so than in mainstream society, in Rocky Horror culture that word is absolutely normalized and viewed as a term of affection.

  8. It would be REALLY nice for them to deal with this subject head-on, because it strikes me that, in so many ways, they’re dealing with it sideways and failing miserably. And I think they can pull it off in a way that so many other shows cannot. (which demonstrates my unbridled optimism)

    I’m not sure that the usage was unrealistic, or out-of-character for Mike (for instance). But certainly unnecessary. Like, it wasn’t really out of character for Finn to go on his “faggy” rant, but it was still condemned within the context of a trusted adult in the show. And, there were adults in Mike’s scene too, they just didn’t see the need to correct his language. I just don’t see why the word had to exist. Nor was it necessary in Rachel’s cut scene in the Pilot either. In both instances, entirely played for laughs. Which I’m afraid, I still find unforgivable.

  9. I’ve been wondering what they mean, actually. I mean, Adele and Susan Boyle don’t exactly look alike — or really sing alike. What do they have in common?

  10. I cringe to say this, but I think the casting call is finding a pseudo-polite way to say someone who is not conventionally attractive yet can “surprisingly” sing.
    (I think that Adele looks fantastic. Like me, however, she’s not as thin as a typical pop star.)

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