Saturday, March 9, 2013
Icons: Jaye Davidson, Dil and the Crying Game
Screw Hedwig. Jaye Davidson's ultra-believable Dil from 1992's The Crying Game is my favorite transgender character.
It's not that I didn't enjoy The Angry Inch. I thought it was lovely and thought-provoking. I just didn't find it very relate-able Dil is a complicated Bohemian living in the modern world of gunshots, dead boyfriends and lovers who puke when they get you undressed. She threw a goldfish belonging to her ex-boyfriend out the window in a torrent of glass. She has a day job and a thyroid condition. But while Dil is definitely transgender, she's not what you would call a transsexual, meaning she isn't portrayed pursuing a physical transition of hormones and surgery. When the film's lead character Fergus (Stephen Rea) spends the night, he's shocked to find Dil has a penis and a very flat chest. Why is this physical journey never explored? For the sake of plot structures and shock factor? Probably because it's not relevant.
There are plenty of films with transgender characters dealing with the physical side of their journey. Often times they tell a valuable story audiences haven't heard before, but more often than not the character comes across as hammy or cliche. Case in point, Transamerica's Bree Osbourne. I can't think of a more underdeveloped, pale character in a worthwhile film. Either this lack of depth was intentional or Bree's personality is just sort of lost in the larger message of the wide reaching film. This is a common plot device used in educational films.
So what makes an engaging transgender character? Dil succeeds where Bree or Hedwig or a thousand showgirls fail because she's allowed to exist on screen as an individual rather than a vehicle who pushes the story along. We're allowed to see glimpses inside her life as "hairdresser" and watch her struggle with male and female relationships. The emphasis of the film is placed on each character's unyielding nature (Forest Whitaker cites this in his Scorpion and Frog speech) rather than the genital reconstruction and tedious tucking and pill popping of one transgender character.