Stuck in time: intersex and transgender representation in Predestination

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Author: Hanna Schenkel
Date: Oct. 2015
From: Screen Education(Issue 79)
Publisher: Australian Teachers of Media
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,606 words
Lexile Measure: 1740L

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This mind-bending science fiction film is notable for many reasons, not least of which is its focus on a protagonist who is both intersex and transgender. The mere act of putting such a character front and centre necessarily takes a step forward in terms of the representation of gender diversity, but, asks HANNA SCHENKEL, is that enough?

In a gloomy bar in 1970s New York City, a bet is made. The Unmarried Mother (Sarah Snook), a writer of 'confessional stories' for women's magazines, bets he can tell the Barkeep (Ethan Hawke) the best story he's ever heard. The stakes aren't high: a bottle of whiskey if he wins, or else 'a twenty' added to the tab at the end of the night. Increasingly deadly attacks by a terrorist referred to as the Fizzle Bomber weigh heavily on the city's population. Many have already fled the city, and the men left in the bar watch their boxing game amid an air of hostility that does not suffer outsiders easily. 'Look at this freak,' one of them spits out as soon as the Unmarried Mother walks through the door. The Unmarried Mother's own testiness speaks of a man ready for a fight. Still, there's a familiarity between him and the Barkeep that eventually convinces him to tell a stranger the one story he never sold for his gossip column--the true one.

'When I was a little girl ...' he begins. And this is where Predestination (The Spierig Brothers, 2014) moves away from most contemporary run-of-the-mill science fiction. While queer characters and relationships enjoy increasingly ubiquitous and diverse representation across all genres, (1) transgender and intersex representation is rare, and often problematic. The last few years have seen an increase in trans awareness--Laverne Cox's success as female inmate Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black, and her efforts in trans activism, brought the topic to America's most popular talk shows and the cover of Time magazine, and more recently, Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover shoot drew significant attention across both traditional and social media channels. Yet discussion about trans and intersex individuals and narratives still remains extremely contentious. Some reviews of Predestination reflect this in their choice of words, describing the Unmarried Mother as 'an intersex being' (2) and a 'creature'. (3) These descriptions betray the same type of mindset that has parents claiming that allowing a transgender child to use the girls bathroom at school exposes their daughters to the threat of a sexual predator, (4) and still recognises 'trans panic' as a legitimate defence during a murder trial in most of the US. (5) Indeed, it was only in 2013 that the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) declassified 'gender identity disorder' as a sexual disorder and created the less stigmatised 'gender dysphoria' in its own category. (6) Even media portrayals that strive to offer positive representations often serve to dehumanise transgender individuals, medicalising and fetishising their bodies by disproportionately focusing on...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A440821107