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“Exit Sign” (Trigger Warning: rape and sexual assault, abuse of trans* and intersex individuals)

jfwright's picture

This is DEFINITELY the most non-traditional blog post I’ve done, but I’d like to explain my reactions to the previous class in a format similar to the one that Karen Barad uses in “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come." I think the way in which she embodies the electron is a pretty decent representation of the way I feel about the Right to Appear as it relates to gender non-normative and intersex victims of rape and sexual assault.

 Act 1, Scene 1

SpaceTime Coordinates: The internet, as altered through PPPP, sieved through Bryn Mawr and Haverford students and faculty, diffracted through the 1993 murder of Brandon Teena, extruded through the 1999 movie Boys Don’t Cry which depicted Brandon’s brutal murder, mixed with the medical treatment of intersex and gender non-normative individuals, shone through a three-slit experiment in which the slits represent Judith Butler’s notions of the “Right to Appear,” Sharon Welch’s ideas on personification of a disastrous event by knowing someone affected, and  Karen Barad’s ideas of entanglement and diffraction, explained by a 21-year-old, female-bodied, FAAB, genderqueer college senior with a history of sexual trauma and a considerable number of friends and family members who have experienced some sort of trauma, as well.

 Enter center-stage, the ghost of Brandon Teena. Brandon remains still, blank-faced, eyes moving over the audience, towards the back of the theater. Behind Brandon descends a screen on which the scene of Boys Don’t Cry is played in which Hilary Swank, the female-bodied woman who plays Brandon in the award-winning adaptation of the story of his rape and murder, is raped. In front of the screen is a very different person from the one who is projected forth. The person who appears on screen is constructed: played by a woman, Brandon watches her play him. She forces him to appear -- not as Brandon, but as Hilary. Brandon’s gaze haunts the audience, but he remains quiet, unable to speak, eyes pointed towards the back of the room.

Brandon’s story is used to create one of the best-known accounts of a trans* individual in American popular culture. Brandon remains fully-clothed, while Hilary’s body consents to appear naked. The audience sees Hilary’s pubic area, but mistakes it for Brandon’s. The audience hears Kimberly Peirce’s fictionalization, but mistakes it for Brandon’s own words. Meanwhile, Brandon knows how different these representations really are: once Lana found out that he was a trans man, she refused him; she was complicit, rather than the woman portrayed in the movie as the last person to stand by him in his brutal death. The audience gasps while they watch Hilary’s acting of a rape, but Brandon is unable to consent to what they are seeing. They see a woman, and mistake her for a man.

Brandon is forced to remain silent. Brandon does not have the right to disappear; forced out of the closet and into the limelight as a victim of rape and murder, a spotlight descends on him. The harsh glare of the bright light burns his eyes as he is outted to everyone he knew when he was stealth. He cannot escape: he has no right to. His story will put a name and what passes for a face on the brutal murders of trans* individuals; maybe now, people will act against them. Why shouldn’t his story be told?

Several more individuals wander onto the stage. They are confused, not knowing why they’re there. Suddenly, the screen changes: the audience sees the “ambiguous genitalia” in pictures taken by doctors during their childhoods. Some are matched to before/after pictures. Some audience members feel uncomfortable, some avert their eyes. Some of these individuals remember when their pictures were taken, while others didn’t even know that their genitalia were ever “ambiguous.”

The individuals who just walked on stage protest. They try to move, but they cannot leave the stage. Some identify themselves, but others wish they hadn’t been brought out in the first place. Eventually, they realize that they are unable to leave, and look where Brandon is looking.

Forced onto the same stage, Brandon stands with these intersex individuals, lumped into a category that no one quite feels comfortable with. Most of the audience understands the point that has been made: what happened to these individuals was wrong. Some clap, and some tear up. Others don’t understand what’s going on. Some vow to become better allies, citing the names and faces they saw here today as the reason they became involved in activism. Most go home, take off their shoes, put their feet up, and don’t think about it anymore. The audience members never see each other again, but some keep the imprint in their minds of what defined the people they just saw: the pictures and representations of genitalia that were exhibited against their wills.

Some of the audience members think Brandon looks a little uncomfortable -- well…we don’t know what he feels. He’s still not allowed to talk.

The audience departs, looking at each other as they make their way to the neon red exit sign that hum in the back of the theater. Some make assumptions about what the other audience members would look like with no clothes on, but they wouldn’t really know.

Fixed on the little Xs made of masking tape on the floor in front of them, the cast is forced to stay. They face outwards, their eyes focused on the exit sign that their bodies will never reach. Held captive under the bright lights, they are unable to leave.