Transphobic film Ticked-Off Tra**ies with Knives not fixed by trailer changes

The new movie Ticked-Off Tra**ies with Knives, which is schedule to screen at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, is drawing serious criticism from the transgender community for its advertising and content.

The film is about trans women who seek revenge against men who attack them and murder two of their friends.  Part of the criticism has been about references to the brutal murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Lopez Mercado in the film’s trailer (which I am not including in this post and do not recommend viewing, as it is incredibly triggering). As a result of pressure from GLAAD and Dallas area activists (the filmmakers are based in Dallas), director Israel Luna will remove mentions of these real life victims of transphobic violence from the trailer.

While this change fixes perhaps the most despicable aspect of the film’s marketing, the exploitative use of real murder victim’s names, it by no means makes the movie or its advertising OK. One poster contains the tag line, “It takes balls to get revenge,” and other promotional materials include references to “balls” as well. This attempt at humor about male genitalia delegitimizes the identities of transgender women – references to our crotches are used to suggest we are really men. Then there’s the use of the word “tra**ies” (without the asterisks) in the film’s title. Luna has claimed he didn’t know the word is an offensive slur — a clear sign he is not someone we want making a film about trans women.

Advocates who have seen the film confirm it is just as problematic as the ads suggest. From GLAAD:

[W]hile some of the actors in the film identify as transgender, the characters are written as drag queens, “performing” femininity in a way that is completely artificial. The very names of these over-the-top female caricatures (Emma Grashun, Rachel Slurr, et al.) drive this point home.

Because of its positioning as a transgender film, viewers unfamiliar with the lives of transgender women will likely leave this film with the impression that transgender women are ridiculous caricatures of “real women.”

Those who are ignorant about trans women often think of us as drag queens, men who perform a heightened version of femininity instead of actual women. This film just reinforces the stereotype.

Rape is a theme in the film as well, judging from the tasteless rape
jokes in the trailer. Ashley Love, organizer of the anti-defimation group Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Trans People (MAGNET), saw the film and reports that it does indeed make light of rape and violence.

Director Israel Luna is gay, and sadly confirms that the gay and transgender communities are not automatic allies. Luna made the film about trans women instead of violence against gay men because:

“That’s a story we’ve seen all too often… I wanted to do something more modern and I thought ‘Whose story do you never see on the news these days?’ It’s not gay men–it’s transgenders.”

The ignorance on display in this quote (“transgenders” is not accurate or accepted terminology) confirms Luna is opportunistically taking advantage of a marginalized group he is not a part of and does not understand or respect. This point is further driven home by the fact that he and the other filmmakers ignored repeated protests from the Dallas trans community during the making of the film.

So no, protest against this film will not be silenced by the removal of Angie Zapata and Jorge Lopez Mercado’s names from the trailer. GLAAD and other organizers are calling on Tribeca to rescind its selection of Ticked-Off Tra**ies with Knives, since support from the festival is a major boon for a small independent film like this. Take action against supporting transphobia by clicking here and joining this Facebook group.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Brianna G

    This stuff drives me crazy. I’m not transsexual, but even I, a heteronormative ciswoman, can see that there are almost no depictions of transpeople in the media that don’t represent them as a) something horrible to avoid (ie, OH NO THAT HOT GIRL IS ACTUALLY A GUY), b) prostitutes (while I know that many transwomen do have to go into prostitution, it’s one of very few representations I regularly see), c) evil or crazy in some way, or at least murderers (the Law and Order shows like to put transsexuals on trial a lot).
    Just once I want to watch a movie where a character just HAPPENS to be transsexual and the only reason you find that out at all is because s/he talks about her/his childhood in context or something. I want to watch a movie where being transsexual is not a big deal. Because honestly? That’s been my experience with transsexuals! One of my bridesmaids is trans and *gasp* she’s not a criminal, a prostitute, or trying to trick men into sex (she’s preop, so she doesn’t have relationships with men right now). She works in a call center and is a typical geek.

  • lucierohan

    A note on the ongoing attempt to get the film pulled:
    I’ve said on many other posts, and will say again on this one, that this is never a good idea. I respect your (the OP’s) frustration/anger as a trans woman. You don’t need me to tell you that you’re entitled to it. But on this point I have to appeal to you as someone who creates on a daily basis. This post and the posts it references are criticism. Criticism is good. Forcibly removing a film from public view (regardless of how it got into public view in the first place) is not good. When some great, empowering, LGBT-oriented, indie film makes it to Tribeca, I want it to sail smoothly into the theater. I don’t want the folks at Tribeca to pass on it because it might cause too much controversy (god knows its not just the bad ones that cause controversy, Boys Don’t Cry faced a shitstorm of a battle with the MPAA).
    I know we all have different ideas about what constitutes censorship. Many people on this blog seem to draw the line at governmental censorship (“The police can’t arrest you for making this film, but it doesn’t mean you are entitled to a spot at the Tribeca film festival”). I don’t. A private school isn’t obligated by law keep any book in it’s library, but my stomach would still turn if I heard about them banning certain material for moral reasons.
    Our ideas about censorship need to evolve beyond the strict letter of the law. If they don’t, it all becomes a game of seeing how close to censorship can we get without putting our politics in question. Allowing our fellows their evolution in the forums they get access to should be a principle among creative people. Whatever problems we have with them should be expressed through our own work.

  • Comrade Kevin

    They call them exploitation films for a reason.

  • Brett K

    Note to Israel Luna: exploiting and caricaturing a marginalized group doesn’t make you “edgy” or “modern”. It just makes you a transphobic asshole.
    Ugh. And using the names of real murder victims in the trailer – for a movie whose title contains a transphobic slur, no less. WTF made this guy think that was okay?

  • konkonsn

    The director picked trans because violence against gay men is “overdone”? Both the creative part of me and the queer part of me are so angry at this statement.
    Who cares if a subject is discussed a lot (and I don’t think violence against gay men counts, to be honest)? You make a good piece by approaching the subject using novel characters with their own personalities. Plot is one way to excite an audience, but character is another, and it certainly goes a looooooooong way. How many movies, games, and books can you dumb down until it’s either Star Wars or Romeo and Juliet, and still people read them!
    And violence against any group is not overdone. I feel racism has fallen by the wayside because of this very train of thought. “Oh, nobody wants to see blacks getting beat up. We’re past that point.”

  • Dawn.

    To a certain extent, I will have to disagree with you, lucierohan. I am not a fan of censorship, I am an artist of sorts myself (writer), and I hate the MPAA for its hypocritical, heteronormative, (willfully) ignorant standards. So I am not saying that I approve of censorship. I am saying that I do not approve of exploitative, bigoted depictions of marginalized groups.
    Don’t you think we’ve had enough of these depictions being given major platforms? Don’t you think these depictions implicitly encourage real-life consequences, like rampant dehumanization, systemic inequalities, and horrific hate crimes? I know every artist has a right to create. Israel Luna can come up with, film, and/or produce whatever he desires. But the Tribeca Film Festival doesn’t have to encourage the hatred and exploitation of a group of already-marginalized human beings. They are under no obligation to give this film a platform.

  • Vexing

    Just a quick FYI: being pre-op doesn’t mean you cannot have a relationship with a man. I’m pre-op (though not for much longer) and I have a male partner.
    Of course, some trans women refuse to date until they’re post op. Your friend might be one of those – in which case, your comment is perfectly valid :-)

  • Brianna G

    She lives in Texas, in a conservative area. The only way she could date a man right now would be via an internet relationship or to deceive him about the nature of her current biological status (ie, allow him to believe she had female genitals when she does not). The latter would, of course, be very dangerous– she is still forced to live as a man for her safety. The former doesn’t work for her.
    She’s hopefully going to move to Boston soon and maybe she’ll have more luck up here. But her reasoning was basically “I’m preop, I live in a very conservative area, I don’t want to die.” As she seems comfortable casually dating women when she seeks intimacy, even though she prefers men, and she seems to accept her situation in the short term, I accept it too.

  • lucierohan

    I understand your problems with this film, which is why I didn’t say anything in defense of the film’s contents. If you want my opinion, it looks, for all angles, like a piece of shit. But that wasn’t the point.
    “Israel Luna can come up with, film, and/or produce whatever he desires. But the Tribeca Film Festival doesn’t have to encourage the hatred and exploitation of a group of already-marginalized human beings.”
    Right. And the MPAA has no obligation to give a pass to LGBT-oriented films in general (nor is Tribeca obligated to produce them) if they find that the content of these films is too controversial. I’m arguing that the pulling of Luna’s film (not because it’s a bad film, but because some people don’t like the message) is connected to every incident in which a LGBT film, or a film about a woman’s abortion, or a film with a realistic rape scene, is dropped from the lineup because of its contents.
    I’m saying that just because we’re not “obligated” to support–or at least NOT sabotage–another artist’s development, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. No, it’s not government censorship. And if artists continue to censor each other, the government won’t have to step in.
    “Don’t you think these depictions implicitly encourage real-life consequences, like rampant dehumanization, systemic inequalities, and horrific hate crimes?”
    Yes. From what I’ve seen in the trailer, yes. Which is why I look forward to reading more criticism of this film. But if the implication is then that Tribeca is literally preventing murder by pulling the film, or that I by supporting Luna as a fellow artist (and not as a person I’d want to have lunch with) am responsible for these hates crimes, then no, I have to disagree with that. You can’t say that a film can’t be produced because of what might happen.

  • xocoatl

    I don’t care much for action movies, so this movie doesn’t particularly appeal to me.
    There are three issues at hand here:
    1. “tranny” is a filthy, dirty word that should never be uttered.
    2. certain depictions of trans people are never okay, specifically those which depict trans people as solely “dragging.”
    3. TOTWK coopts suffering.
    The “trans community” much like the “black community” or the “white community” or the “mashed potatoes enjoying community” is made up of a diverse group of people who all have individual opinions, histories, preferences, desires, dislikes and hairstyles.
    I think it’s deeply problematic to assume GLAAD or any other organization or individual can represent the views of a particular identity category, especially one as deeply contested as trans.
    As someone who has been called “faggot” with frequency, I have invoked the word as a title in academic papers, performance pieces, activist posters and cultural interventions.
    I don’t fashion myself as transgendered, but I’m pretty sure that even if the Emperor of Trans People declares that “tranny” is utterly devoid of any value and should be banned for 10 million years, that doesn’t necessarily reflect “The Truth” of the word. Potentially it may be invoked to return power back to people who it is used to refer to negatively.
    Words have power because we give it to them. Remember the 90s?
    Transgender isn’t a supar secrat clubhaus that has a special status to assign universal and eternal meaning to words or ideas.
    If I identify as a faggot, it’s not because I am weak and effeminate caricature of a gay man, it’s because it’s an inversion of the word that helps to challenge the way it’s deployed by dominant power structures.
    Clearly this doesn’t make every use of the word good. Clearly the use of tranny in the title of TOTWK doesn’t “redeem” the value of the word for all time and make it good forever (as the infuriated rage of GLAAD and other organizations has shown). It *does* however, provide an interesting opportunity to intervene in anti-trans discourses and shake things up a little bit. It blurs the line of that identification being necessarily evil.
    Similarly to the way that words mean only what we want them to mean, representations of people carry the significance that we attribute to them.
    The film isn’t *exclusive* of other representations of trans people just because it doesn’t include them. There are plenty of trans people who perform as hypersexualized, over-the-top caricatures. Are people who make the choice to perform that way “hurting” the “trans community”?
    That claim would be as absurd as saying gay men who enjoy cruising culture and public sex are hurting the gay community and should stop expressing their desire.
    The use of the names and stories of real victims of violence certainly points to the fact that we are in a culture that experiences pervasive violence against trans people. I don’t think highlighting this fact is the problem. I think the problem is that people feel the film somehow “equates” this violence with the violence in the film.
    Perhaps that’s true. I don’t think it necessarily means that such violence will become normalized and accepted anymore than watching Inglorious Basterds normalizes the holocaust. Opening that film with some narratives of holocaust survivors might be crass, but it certainly wouldn’t be taken to mean that all Jewish victims in the holocaust suffered from the almost cartoon-like violence of IB.
    Lastly, I’m just worried about the desire to normalize and naturalize trans people as “everyday members” of society like the heterosexual family unit. I think we should privilege representations and ideas of people as showing that there is no “normal” and that tendencies towards normalization always leave someone out. We shouldn’t be merely “tolerating” these differences, we should be celebrating them, even if we don’t always agree with them.

  • Brittany

    “Those who are ignorant about trans women often think of us as drag queens, men who perform a heightened version of femininity instead of actual women.”
    For a long time before I found the feminist community and was ignorant to other lifestyles, I thought this. It’s what I saw in every movie and witnessed at gay parades and gay clubs, along with that terrible “all homosexuals have lisps and want to be in the fashion business” stereotype. I’m shameful to admit that I refused to call a trans woman “she”, because I assumed that they were all drag queens, and drag queens insult women by assuming that we all act like that.
    So I suppose I can sympathize with the ignorant for not being able to tell the difference, because I was one as well. But when I was always stereotyped as being ugly, fake, in denial, or unable to get a date when I stated that I was asexual, I realized that stereotypes were bad and took a long hard look at myself and my beliefs. Really, information is all I needed, and I’ve met some amazing trans women since that have totally turned my woefully ignorant world upside-down.

  • Barbara

    Oh and the title makes it sound like it could be some really awesome and empowering satire made by transgender people, or at least true allies. Instead it’s mainstream, got-it-totally-wrong-AGAIN, transphobic bullshit! Damn. Another great opportunity missed.