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Glamor, Horror and the Trans Fatale

A couple of years ago I recommended to you Virginia Postrel for her insightful discussions of glamour, and argued that they’re relevant to transgenderism and transvestism.  Now Postrel has started a new blog focusing on glamour, as part of a new book she’s writing on the subject.  This is definitely good stuff.

Growing out of a discussion of whether a McCain presidential campaign ad aims to present Obama as the Antichrist, Postrel has a great post about the relationship between glamour and horror.  She writes:

While horror comes in different forms, some decidedly unglamorous (e.g., Alien, Saw), a lot of horror, including vampire tales, depends on glamour: What starts out as beautiful and alluring is revealed to be terrible and life-destroying–and by then it’s too late. Witness not only the vampire but the femme fatale, especially in her 19th-century form. Glamour promises escape and transformation; horror replaces escape with entrapment.

(With regard to gross-out “horror” movies like Saw and Friday the 13th, I’d say that they’re more appropriately called “terror movies.”  Sadly, that term has now been appropriated by the terrorism frame, but before that there were some insightful discussions of the contrast between terror and horror.)

This explanation of horror helps me to understand some of the various “trans fatale” movies (Dressed to Kill, Homicidal, M Butterfly): if the idea of the femme fatale plays off of men’s fears of unexpectedly strong women, then the trans fatale has the glamour of being beautiful and alluring, but are even more threatening because they can be imagined to possess the physical strength and aggression (and ability to rape) of men.

Going further, it seems connected to the “trans panic” that some men have claimed: they believed they were kissing a vulnerable woman, and on discovering that the person was male they were overwhelmed with the fear that they had been seduced and would be raped or killed.  This is often, horribly, used to justify beating and even killing the trans person.  Of course, a male who is small or slim enough to pass as a vulnerable woman usually has no more strength than a woman that size, and any trans woman on hormones probably doesn’t have much ability or desire to penetrate a man, but reality plays very little role in any of this.

Deconstructing glamour with reality is actually an effective comedy technique, and this can explain why so many people find cross-dressing funny.  Since men have many of the traits that are considered unattractive in women (hairy, sweaty, big bellies), but more commonly and to a greater degree, a cross-dressed man can produce just enough cues to project the image of a glamorous woman (long wig, long legs, short skirt) before shattering that image with a hairy belly.  The humor is a bit broad for my taste, but it clearly works for many people, as shown by the enduring popularity of Benny Hill and Martin Lawrence.

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