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Negative Transgender Imagery in Horror Films Explored

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From Silence of the Lambs to The X Files: I Want to Believe, horror and suspense films have long demonized transgender characters. A new article ranks "The Top 15 Transsexual Killer Movies." And "top" in this case really means the "worst."

The article, by Greg Gaymon, appears on the horror film website Horror Year Book. Beginning with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Gaymon chronicles the way in which transgender themes "successfully exploit the uncomfortable feelings most people still have about gender and sexuality."

Gaymon writes:

"For the lazy writer the transsexual angle is an easy way to...exploit an audiences ingrained prejudices and fears and touch on certain undercurrents of misogyny and homophobia[.]"

Gaymon also comments on how the "surprise" of a transgender characer's identity is often "revealed in a cheap twist at a film's climax." Most of these revelations, according to Gaymon, are "downright offensive to transgender people." However, many of these films are still considered classics such as the 1990 film Silence of the Lambs and the 1960 film Psycho.

These films have impacts beyond the cinema with advocacy organizations such as the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs noting that misinformed and negative imagery often lead to increases in violence against particular populations. From the media release following the 2007 Report on Anti-LGBT Hate-Violence:

"Highly visible...attacks on LGBT communities reinforce the idea that it is acceptable to target LGBT persons with violence...there is frequently a corresponding surge in anti-LGBT incidents of violence and crime as these campaigns play out in communities and in the local and national media."

As pervasive as these negative images are, transgender people have begun to find themselves more accurately represented in the past years. Feature length films have begun to show the diversity of transgender experiences from Boys Don’t Cry to TransAmerica. In 2008, reality TV shows included transgender contestants on America’s Next Top Model and Who Wants to Work For Diddy.

These images have assisted in bringing transgender lives out of the fantastical uses of the horror and suspense genre and into fully realized contexts that more accurately reflect the lives of transgender people. As media begin to accurately cover transgender people it will become increasingly difficult for the “lazy writer” to rely on overworked stereotypes that exploit transgender lives.