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Gender, Censorship,and the Power of Film
2007-11-07

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By Jennifer Curtis

Milwaukee writer Jennifer Curtis interviewed Catherine Crouch about The Gendercator. The interview took place after Curtis joined with other women in trying to bring the film to Milwaukee; so far their attempts have been unsuccessful.

Jennifer Curtis: What motivated you to make The Gendercator?

Catherine Crouch: While we once believed that transsexuality was a relatively rare medical condition of gender dysphoria that is unbearable for a person, in the last six years I have seen a sudden increase in the number of young women who opt to take testosterone or undergo voluntary mastectomies. Why is this happening now? What has changed?

If we situate this in terms of the larger culture's misogyny, it seems to be a rejection of the female part of the masculine female. Why does a woman do this? Most often, the reasons given are: to avoid harassment, rape and ridicule as a gender variant ( i.e: butch or androgynous ) . It seems to me that what is also going on, but has not been explicitly addressed, is the desire to avoid being perceived by the world at large as female, and/or to avoid the label of lesbian. We should also acknowledge that it has become a trend among some young people who formerly identified, or would be considered by the lesbian community, as butch lesbians. Why can't we talk about this?

For me it is important to work against the rigid gender binaries of the larger culture that enable violence and harassment of the masculine female or effeminate male. It is harmful to everyone that an individual's safety and identity is defined by conformity to normative standards; this is what The Gendercator is all about.

JC: Share with us one of the messages you want people to take from The Gendercator?

CC: Look at how much we are affected by culture [ in any time frame, and place of origin ] and how arbitrary forms of expression can be. Sally fits perfectly into the 1973 standard of hippie feminist sporty stoner, and the world of 2048 makes no sense to her.

JC: What would you tell those in the lesbian community who have witnessed what is sociologically referred to as 'butch flight'?

CC: I believe that women have been socialized in a way that makes us reluctant to be direct because of fears about being hurtful; in this case, we are avoiding some very difficult conversations that we desperately need right now. To comment on the obvious--that the number of young lesbians changing their bodies is escalating rapidly-- is to be dismissed as a transphobe, as my case proves. Even if this discussion causes us to feel uncomfortable, we must talk about the rift and the reasons for the rift in our community. I believe that we in the alphabet community are all a part of the same family, and we must find a way for constructive dialogue. I think that we can find a way to respect our differences and understand our commonalities.

JC: So, by now we all know about some of the strong and negative reactions to this film. What do you make of all this?

CC: This reminds us what a powerful medium film is, how it moves us to an excitable space whether the thrill of discovery or the creepy crawly of revulsion. Storytelling and character can bring an experience that is more memorable and has more forceful impact than essays or cyber rambling. The Gendercator seems to have affected people beyond the reasonable expectations of a silly 15 minute 'what if' fantasy. For this I am proud. I wanted to talk about female body modification and religious fundamentalism and identity politics and I put it all into a Rip van Winkle social satire and now people certainly are talking about it.

What I hear a lot is, that people are saying to their friends, 'Did you hear about that film?' and then they will start to talk about the issue. The film becomes a gateway to the conversations.

JC: What would you tell those who are supporting the banning and censorship of your film?

CC: Every person responds to art subjectively, from the sum of their own life experiences. Of course I think every person should follow their heart when deciding how to respond to The Gendercator. I do not accept the verdict of the film and idea and Catherine Crouch as being hateful or hurtful. These charges are not true and will not stick as time passes by and history judges my body of work as a storyteller. I am a proud and forever member of the alphabet community and of course artists will express themselves as they see fit. Banning and censoring never shames an artist who expresses her truth.

JC: Where do you find support, strength, and the motivation to keep going even in the face of attempts to ban and censor your film and perspective?

CC: The positive reactions from those who have seen the film have ranged from people thanking me for making the film and raising these issues, to comments about the film's humor and style, the quality of the acting, the great music. So people have responded positively not only to the content of the film but also to its form. Also, I have received many letters, e-mails, and calls from people in support of my film and against the cancellation of the film in San Francisco and Milwaukee Most are along the lines of, 'Hey, we wanted to see a film about this subject matter and we didn't even get the chance to talk about these issues that are so important to our community.'

I have also received supportive responses from transmen who have seen the film, which I think is very important to mention. Even if they did find some scenes objectionable, they feel as though including another point of view on gender and transitioning is not the same thing as discriminating against or oppressing transpeople. We have seen many films about transpeople in our LGBT film festivals in the last few years. Now we have a film with an entirely different starting point and it has provoked many intense reactions. This is what a filmmaker dreams of, that her characters and scenarios inspire people to think and talk about ideas from a different point of view.

JC: Do you think there's room in this 'LGBT' community for a more radical, lesbian feminist perspective?

CC: At 47, I have seen many cultural changes in my lifetime. … Feminists in the 1970s believed that you could be anything you wanted, in whatever body you were born with and it was an exciting time of experimentation and expression. While there has been a significant backlash against feminism, many important changes have had lasting benefits for all people, even for the young people today who reject identifying with the 'F word.'

Jennifer Curtis writes for the Milwaukee LGBT publication, Queer Life and has been an activist in the Milwaukee Lesbian and Gay communities since moving there in 2002. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Urban Studies and enjoys reading sociological theory, feng shui, herbal healing, and spending time with her partner, and their cat and dog.

See www.catherinecrouch.com .


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