21 April 2014

Not Again: Mrs. Doubtfire

In 1992, I came out.

I'm not talking about my sexual preferences or gender identity.  What I mean is that after coming about as close as I've come (until this past summer) to having a nervous breakdown, I talked for the first time about the sexual molestation I experienced as a child.

I was ready to do so; even more to the point, some people in my life were ready to hear it.  And in American society, more people understood that a kid or a woman who is sexually molested or assaulted did not bring it on him- or her-self.  In fact, I found a pretty fair amount of sympathy from those with whom I discussed my experience.

However, at that time I also felt the submerged bubble of my gender identity rising to the surface of the river of my life.  And I popped it, at least to the degree I could.  

For all that doing so cost me (emotionally, that is), I had good reasons.  You see, most people still believed (and I told myself) that so-called trans women were gay men who wouldn't admit it to themselves. Someone who ended his friendship with me after I began my transition said as much.  

And, to most people who were not in the "spectrum" gay and trans people cared about nothing but sex, and therefore were "asking for it" when they were raped, molested or even murdered.  About two decades earlier, most men (and many women) had similar attitudes about women.

So, while not coming out about my trans identity was not a calculated decision at the time, it probably was best, at least in some ways.  Even from sympathetic people, I might have gotten some really bad advice, and I probably would have ended up in the office of some therapist who still believed that a man molesting a boy was simply a result of repressed homosexuality on one or both sides.  The fact that one of my molesters was a married man who, to my knowledge, never had any liaisons with adult males would not have been considered.

Even more to the point, a lot of people still saw transgenderism as nothing more than a person of one gender wearing the clothes of, and aping the behavior (actually, cariactures) of the other.  This attitude accounts for the wild popularity of a movie that came out that year:  Mrs. Doubtfire.

Now, I don't want to paint all people who laughed at it as transphobes.  I saw it and laughed at Robin Williams' antic comedy, as I do whenever I see him in a comic role.  However, most people--including many critics--actually thought the idea of a man wearing women's clothes was just plain funny or, at best, an example of "gender bending."

Even the premise too many saw as novel was ancient in the time of Greek theatre:  Someone dons a disguise to win, or win back, the person he or she loves.  And the idea of a man putting on a dress and makeup to get a job was treated much more skillfully in Tootsie, not to mention in Richard Wright's acerbic short story A Man Of All Work.

Still, there's no idea so cliched or simply outdated that Hollywood won't try to recycle it.  That's why there's a sequel of Mrs. Doubtfire in the works, with Robin Williams reprising the lead role.

I hope he reconsiders.  After all, I always thought he was thoughtful and informed when it comes to gender, sexual identity and other issues.  Also, I don't think that any remake, no matter how well-done, will be as well-received as the original was.  A lot of people's notions--including my own and those of people in my own life--have changed, thankfully, since then.  Of course, there are still a few who will laugh at the same jokes and sight gags.  Even such people probably wouldn't want to see a remake more than once, or a sequel.  That can't be good for Robin Williams' career--not that it needs a boost.

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