It appears to be the first time in the festival's 31-year history that a movie has been yanked from the lineup for being too controversial. The Frameline-sponsored fest has shown other controversial works in the past: The stampede to the exits at the 1992 screening of Todd Verow's indie flick Frisk, about a group of gay men who prefer disemboweling each other to hitting the discos, has become part of festival legend. But the transsexual community, historically less accepted or understood than gay men, has been particularly sensitive to media portrayals, even in a 14-minute "science fiction satire."
The film's setup goes like this: It's 1973, and a group of dykes are celebrating lesbian tennis icon Billie Jean King's victory over sexist trash-talker Bobby Riggs. One of the women, a butch stoner named Sally, falls asleep under a tree and wakes up, Rip Van Winkle-style, 75 years later. Alas, there's no room in this future for manly lesbians. It seems the evangelicals have seized the government and, abetted by rigidly role-bound transsexuals, are insisting on heterosexuality for all. And further, everyone must now be masculine male or feminine female. For Sally this means a visit from the Gendercator, who intends to change her into a man whether she likes it or not.
The controversy may be less over the content of the film which few of its detractors have actually seen than a provocative statement about it on director Crouch's Web site: "More and more often, we see young heterosexual women carving their bodies into porno Barbie dolls and lesbian women altering themselves into transmen." (Some lesbians have long expressed fears around female-to-male sex change, calling it evidence of socialized, internalized misogyny.) Putting "carved porno Barbie dolls" and "transmen" in the same sentence apparently went too far.
Not every queer film festival has reacted like Frameline. The Gendercator is slated for major fests in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and their organizers have defended its showing as a chance for dialogue on a thorny issue that most transsexuals dismiss as a cover for bigotry and lack of education.
But the Bay Area's trans community is probably the country's best organized, most vocal, and least likely to take any shit. Local festival directors Michael Lumpkin (who had not personally screened the film) and Jennifer Morris caved on May 22, shortly after being handed a petition from 150 angry transsexuals. Local blogs and queer media have been abuzz since the decision, with passionate arguments pro and con.
Local trans filmmaker and academic Susan Stryker, one of the film's harshest critics, may have said it best on the "Left in SF" blog: "I truly regret that the film will not be shown. I hope it finds another venue where it will be subjected to the rigorous critique it so richly deserves."