Lost Girl – Caged Heat’s Problem
This started as a part of the whole 3.01 review, but it grew larger until it took on a life of its own and clamored to get a dedicated post. The review will come next week.
Right off: I’m a writer and tv/filmmaker, and I’m approaching this episode primarily as such. I’m not a trans* person, nor am I licensed in . . . anything. I’m just a chick on the internet. I strive to understand, sympathize, and support others. If I’m given a platform, from a TV show to this blog, I should use it to uplift and not shout down those who find themselves with laryngitis in an arena of megaphones. I will assuredly do this imperfectly, but I will continue to learn. Discussion is a vital part of the process; the better to eradicate fear, misunderstanding, and future instances like this episode.
We understand this topic and episode can make many people emotional, some with great reason. I’m privileged to have a forum for discussion, and I’ve received a huge number of comments, many agreeing with me, others disagreeing, all interesting and polite. I look forward to receiving many more, but please remember to be even more your typically respectful selves when interacting with fellow commentors on this topic.
Without further ado.
Q & A
Does the episode metaphorically portray violence against trans* women, as well as perpetuate or lend itself to the horrific canard they pretend to be women specifically to invade women’s spaces and violate them?
Is it intentional, ie used in the same way Lost Girl uses metaphor to portray things like child sex trade?
No. I’ll discuss arguments for and against this conclusion below.
Can unintentional messages still hurt?
Ultimately, should shows catch such representations before they go out to the public?
So despite it being unintentional, it’s still not good?
Now two possible responses.
1. Well then, *ANGER.*
You’re entitled to your feelings, of course.
In such a loaded, coded genre and medium, things will get missed, even if a dozen steps are taken to ensure they’re not (I’ve no hard knowledge of how many steps were, in fact, taken). Unless a writer/director is intentionally making a parable – like squonk-to-child-trafficking – one can get so wrapped up in the mythology of what’s happening and how it works for the story, one misses alternate interpretations. [I worked on a script for two years, and it wasn't until I was three months into editing the resulting film I realized I had missed a simple and obvious tweak which would have added a fantastic layer and interpretation to a scene. Every time I watch it now, I see the missing bit.]
What’s important is to learn from that, and not make the same mistake again. The show responded with an apology. But it’s not me this episode specifically hurts, and I can’t accept the apology for anyone else.
2. Well then it doesn’t matter. Get over it. You’re making a big deal of nothing.
No. No. NO. This is the wrong response to any such occurrence. Words and images are important. They can change minds for the better, or they can confirm prejudices. If I didn’t understand this, I wouldn’t be in this business, nor would I be devoting a large chunk of free time to dissecting various TV shows and what they say about humanity.
It’s appalling and horrible to hear real-life stories of hate speech and crotch-grabbing, let alone these things leading to even more awful assault and death. This episode, no matter its intentions, has a scene displaying something very akin to that violence. This is immensely hurtful but especially to a minority who doesn’t see many storylines (let alone positive storylines) representing anything even resembling them in popular culture. We can’t simply close our eyes to this and still move forward as better humans.
I hope those who clamor ‘it’s just a TV show’ thoughtfully consider how it’s still necessary to discuss why it’s bad, and realize those we like and respect can still make mistakes; glossing over them instead of addressing them helps no-one.
I hope to the same extent those who understand it as a bad thing consider how it happened, how it can be used as a platform for positive change, and how to continue reaching out to creators who – by their own admissions and the bulk of evidence – are LGBTQ positive and have learned from this experience.
The story has a lot going on: an elaborate homage to the movie Caged Heat; an undercover escapade; a mystery about Lauren’s doctor mentor; a new development in the Lauren / Bo relationship; a refresher on where all the characters have gone since Season 2′s finale; another Bo/Kenzi tease for those fans, whoever you are; a furthering of the Dark Bo plot; a desire to showcase sets, wardrobe, crane shots, and more because of the new audience gained through SyFy and its reruns. On top of this, and crucial to the whole thing, it features Amazonian mythology and a lidirc.
That’s a giant pot of plot stew. Amidst this roiling collection, the believable thing which would get the Amazons to all turn on the warden in about .5 minutes would be the warden actually being a man, established in this episode and all mythology as anathema to the Amazonian strongholds. Thus the Warden is a man, thus the ousting, thus the controversy.
Arguments and Rebuttals for the Intentional Representation of Trans* Women
They change the story of the liderc.
It’s true the liderc doesn’t follow all the mythological strictures, but it’s hardly the first time LG has deviated and tweaked to make a plot work. The only thing the aswang in “Food for Thought” has in common with its namesake is cannibalism and appearing like a person. Lost Girl consistently bends mythology, fairy tales, and literature to their own universe. Which is generally awesome, and inventing the catch-all ‘fae’ instead of trying to stick with something like ‘vampires’ is part of what makes this show work so well.
The liderc is ‘pretending to be female,’ to infiltrate womens’ spaces.’
The Amazons throw out all male children at birth. In typical mythological style, at some point a child will survive exposure and come back to infiltrate and rule the family (Oedipus, Romulus and Remus). The warden believes this is unfair because he loses out on his family and his cultural identity. He goes undercover the same way women dressed as men to fight in wars: it did not mean they were necessarily trans*, it did not make them trans*, it was simply the only way they were going to be allowed access to what they wanted. The warden’s cries of “I’m one of you” play as “but I’m an Amazon, too.” He wants to be accepted as an Amazon despite his male-ness, which prohibits him access to clanhood. He never claims to be a woman.
One of the groundbreaking things about Caged Heat was its use of a female warden rather than male. This episode seems to be following the same line, thus leading audience familiar with the source material (term used loosely) to be all the more surprised when the twist reveals the warden was male and following the old strictures all along. Not trans*, but male. And males invading women’s spaces (the flip of women invading men’s spaces by dressing and presenting like men, a la the army example earlier, as well as other historical examples of writers and doctors etc) is also an old film trope.
The liderc is impregnating people, obviously raping them [though not necessarily with his own body], the ultimate end of the above disgusting stereotype and a warping of liderc myth.
Once you establish the fact one can see the warden as a trans* individual, this stereotypical representation becomes glaringly obvious. But it’s also easy to see how the writers got to this plotline without thinking ‘trans* stereotypes.’
First, there’s a lobotomy plotline in Caged Heat as well, and of course many female prison flicks, serious or trope-laden, use pregnancy, lobotomy, birth, and abortion as plotlines. Rape, violation, and lack of agency are inherent in prison settings, but most especially women’s prisons. It preys on some of our greatest fears.
Second, the warden’s story also uses a rough theme which crops up now and again in the show, which is to show the darker side of succubi-esque myths. The mythological succubus and incubus, though toned down for this show, often rape and impregnate people in their sleep. Aife is much closer to the original succubus mythos, a dark, sexual being who uses force. This is also made reference to with the Mare with her succubus tendencies. Here the show takes another opportunity to show another flash of the succubus dark side – in Hungarian folklore, the liderc is akin to the succubus - and its only after conflation with other plot elements it appears and gets projected as an ugly trans* stereotype.
The Show’s Stance on Who’s Right and Wrong
Ultimately, though the liderc is the bad guy, there’s sympathy towards him: like Aife and Isaac/Taft, he was a powerful force, who easily could have gone good. It was rejection, betrayal, and suffering at the hands of those he trusted which led him to his end. The show takes a strong stance that trajectory is how many ‘evil’ people/fae end up this way.
In addition, there’s no love for the Amazons. Bo despises them, Lauren sarcastically defends them but is no fan. We cannot say the way they treat the liderc, either at birth or at the denouement, is commended within the show.
But Really, That Last Bit
Though the violence isn’t directly commended by the episode, it can’t be passed over without comment.
Of course a crotch-grab is the easiest, network-standard, and most slapstick ‘accepted’ way for the Amazons to confirm Bo’s announcement. (What that says about broader culture is another topic.) But it’s also fairly obviously a man dressed as a woman getting assaulted in the same way many trans* people are assaulted. Even if they were looking at the Warden as a drag performer, would they think it’s OK to walk up to a drag king or queen and cup or grab the genital area? Of course not. It’s the hardest thing to watch with any understanding: once they saw dailies, did no-one catch this as problematic? Even if they never saw any parallels with the rest of the lidirc myth and trans* people, at some point one would think there should have been a discussion like:
‘Yeah, women are grabbed inappropriately all the time, and a woman grabbing a man seems to mirror that. But, grabbing the privates of a man who is dressed as a woman to ‘ascertain’ what’s in his pants walks close to common violence these days. Even without that, grabbing a man’s privates is assault; though we’ve portrayed other assaults on this show, the perpetrators of on-screen violence usually get their own comeuppance, while here the Amazons get off with some verbal scorn. On top of this, while there’s no gratuitous close-up, the moment it is played off, and ends with a funny throwaway line.
It’s all too much. Though it will weaken the scene to simply have the Amazon guards scream ‘get him!’ based on Bo’s say-so, we will cut the 10 seconds. Maybe we’ll call Anna Silk in to ADR a bit about his name, or how he was left in the woods, something further to convince the mob. Maybe the audience will buy it since the Amazonian guards love violence for the sake of it. But even if it doesn’t quite work, this unpunished portrayal of violence, which happens to look like violence against a trans* person, cannot stand.’
The fact there’s wasn’t seems to be a vetting problm.
None of the fixes would make the scene play so quickly and easily, and there’s no way they afford a reshoot; ADR is as good as it gets. But it’d be akin to cutting Bo’s line about FaKenzi eating peanuts in The Kenzi Scale; we’d squawk and get over it. Airing as-is was a bad, harmful decision. Which they apologized for, and hopefully learned from.
As should we all.