Film director Lana Wachowski, whom I associate most with the Matrix, has now declared her gender transition. I didn’t feel comfortable speculating when her transgender feelings were just a rumor, but now I can say that I see the Matrix as a deeply transgender movie. Blogger Hannah DuVoix finds a number of trans themes in the movie, but dissociation and glamour are the two that make the biggest impression on me. (There will be some spoilers here for those who haven’t yet seen it.)
The Matrix is dissociative. Dissociation is a psychological term for a particular kind of disconnect from reality, at least as others experience that reality. Dissociation can range from plain old field-independence to a deeply held belief that “my” body is not my own. One of its most extreme expressions is the dissociative fugue, where a person runs away and assumes a new identity, sometimes forgetting who they “really” are.
I refuse to speak for all trans people, but my own trans feelings have always contained an element of dissociation, and I’ve seen and heard it from others. A lot of my trans fantasies have involved some disconnection from my body. When I was younger I used to fantasize about moving to a different city and taking on a completely new identity for myself. Many trans people have done this, including the story of Holly Woodlawn as Lou Reed tells it in “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.”
In the Matrix, these dissociative fantasies are reality. When Neo takes the red pill, his entire reality is revealed to be an illusion, and he discovers his real body and the sensations that go with it. He is not just a programmer, “Mr. Anderson,” in a dreary world. He is something more, something where his “unreal” online identity is foregrounded.
The Matrix deals with glamour, and specifically the desire to own and control feminine glamour. After Neo first disconnects from the Matrix, Morpheus takes him into a training program, a sandbox where he can demonstrate how the constructed world works. He is distracted by “the woman in the red dress” (played by Fiona Johnson), who walks by, smirking flirtatiously, and then turns into an evil Agent pointing a gun at Neo.
When Neo leaves the training program, his new shipmate Mouse slyly confides that he created the woman in the red dress, and that she’s available for other encounters. It’s not exactly a secret that many trans people obsess over the glamour of their target gender, trying to discover and replicate its secrets.
In her speech to the Human Rights Campaign, Wachowski talks about spending hours trying on dresses in the wardrobe closet of her high school drama club. I have similar memories, and when I saw the Matrix I had spent the previous year and a half working on my own animated virtual women, one of whom was sort of blonde (and neither of whom turned out anywhere near as sexy as the Woman in the Red Dress). Like Mouse – and Wachowski – I had very good reasons for doing it, but those reasons don’t preclude others.
Again, I’m not saying that all trans people are dissociative or obsessed with the glamour of their target gender, but these are themes we hear from lots of trans people. I wasn’t entirely surprised with the rumors and later revelations about Wachowski, because I had recognized a kindred spirit.