Letter from the Guest Editor

June 2023

Ilove cinema with my entire being. In the past years especially, retreating to the darkened room of my apartment has been a crucial antidote to the amplified cultural noise of transphobia that continues to blare loudly from the void of my phone. As a trans woman, my relationship to the screen has always been marked by the tenuous acknowledgment that, for as much as I love the medium, the medium seldom reflects—at least in a mainstream sense—that love back to me. The recent crop of contemporary, studio-released examples of capital “T” trans cinema leave much to be desired—namely, actual trans people—and rarely have they ever translated the experience of transness, and all the possible nebulous arrangements that word implies, in a way that has felt true or meaningful.

As such, I’ve turned my starved attention to other, less pronounced creases and corners of films that don’t explicitly name their goals as conjuring a Trans Experience. Rather, films like Pina or Altered States, project a kind of residual transness that goes unspoken, but leaves deep impressions in the skin. Many films I’ve come to appreciate and cherish, like the two I’ve just named, illuminate a kind of dysphoric motion that is instantly recognizable as trans. The body is a plaything, a curation, a space for manifold possibility and reinvention.

The essays in this issue, then, are not universally concerned with the Trans Figure at the center of a film. Instead, our writers attend to the edges and margins where transness exists as undisturbed and unpolluted by cisgendered perceptions. Across this issue, films that might not scream “Trans” nonetheless hold ideas of transness close, investigating many of the endless contours and arrangements of trans livelihood, marked by beauty, tragedy, comedy, and visions of the future.

Here, we have such gems as S. Brook Corfman’s exemplary essay on Yentl, which attends to the face as a site for various gendered considerations. Elsewhere, Caden Mark Gardner locates examples of trans masculinity in John Waters’ iconic, underseen Desperate Living, while Willow Maclay considers the persona swap film as inherently trans, as evidenced by her examination of the films Celine and Julie Go Boating and Desperately Seeking Susan. Zefyr Lisowksi marvelously wraps Black Swan in a devastating personal narrative about trans desire and survival, and Weston Richey poetically explores the liberatory meaninglessness of transness in Orlando. And to round things out, we have dynamic essays on such films as My Cousin Vinny by Aegor Ray, By Hook or By Crook by Jo Barchi, and a double feature of Junior and Titane by Luke Sutherland. 

To live as trans in the present is to be thrust into a precarious choreography with the law, the invasive, wandering eyes of the cis-public, and dehumanizing institutions that would rather see us snuffed out than thriving. And still, amidst this grand, never-ceasing chaos, this issue seeks to mine the complicated joy of trans existence, balancing both the dark corners of our lives with many brilliant cracks of light, and doing so fearlessly and effortlessly.

Thank you for taking the time to read these words.