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In
recent years, the treatment towards gay and lesbian people appear to be
improving a lot, however, the admiration for all those transgendered is certainly
far behind. ‘Transgender’ refers to “an umbrella term for individuals whose
gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically
connected with the sex they were assigned at birth” (American Psychological
Association, 2006). Over times, transgender depictions expose that there are
spaces between the transgender characters and the spectators embedded in the
lack of acceptance attributed to transgender identities by a heteronormative
society. In fact, the word of transgender has entered the vocabulary of
mainstream media where it has been criticized and blamed for this matter, especially
in motion pictures as well as television programs. Historically, specific
narrative modes and visual codes have been identified in the construction of transgender
representations. These narratives suggest that transgender characters often
become the butt of a joke or the objects of fear and disgust. In this sense, transgender
community as a whole may face intolerance, stigmatization and discrimination on
material reality, resulting from media portrayals of transgender characters and
gendered culture that they cannot be fully fit into. This notion can be backed
up by Dyer (2002) as he argues that “how social groups are treated in cultural
representations is part and parcel of how they are treated in life”. Yet, in
some cases, the representation of transgender identity can be seen as a
strategy of tackling transgender issues and the act of progressing. Here, I
seek to examine how transgender individuals and identities are being
communicated in various kinds through films. I will focus on the representations
of transgender identities in films Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) and Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982) surrounding the act of wearing clothing
of the ‘opposite’ sex that known as cross-dressing.

Before
we begin, it is important to highlight that cross-dressing creates a set of
cultural meanings that been organised narratively in cinematic representation. These
meanings mainly focus on performance, and the construction of gender identity
and sexual difference. Generally, clothing is linked to gender, serving as “an
outward of difference, of a fundamental attribute of the wearer’s identity”
(Kuhn, 1985).

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Tootsie (1982)

As
a representational instrument, comedy has become one of the most popular genres
in portraying transgender individuals and identity in films. In the comedy film
‘Tootsie’ (1960) played by Dustin
Hoffman presents the character of ‘Michael Dorsey’, a talented but
perfectionist actor who is being too hard on himself that left him jobless. In
desperation to make money, he decided to dress up as a woman with the name
of  ‘Dorothy Michaels’ for the audition
of a day time soap opera called “Southwest General” and gets the
part.

The
film featuring cross-dressing as a source of humour. According to Phillips
(2006), “cross-dressing in film represents the needs of comedy and society to
have a subject to ridicule, therefore, comedy helps to ridicule and hence
domesticate a transvestism that might otherwise prove threatening”. In fact,
the domestication of transgender identity can be achieved “through not only the
laugh at the transgender identities of the characters but also the privileging
of their heteronormative identities, therefore, the film creates the
heteronormative identity of the characters as the ones the audience should
identify with while their transgender identities are the subjects of laughter”
(Miller, 2012, p. 47). In this sense, an audience member may find Michael in
Tootsie funny because he dresses as Dorothy while also falling in love with one
of the cast members, Julie
Nichols in his heteronormative identity,
however unable to reveal his male identity. Furthermore, one way the film
privileges the heteronormative identity of the character is by portraying the
struggle of male character in learning female attire, particularly in footwear.
The humour results from the image of Michael in a dress as he walks down a busy New York street for his
audition and stumbles a few times because of the high heels. Therefore, the character
of Michael as a woman become the object of amusement rather than an active member
in the comedy. As Bermel (1990) states “we laugh at the characters, never with them”.
The audiences mostly laugh at spontaneous or surprising presence of a
transvestite figure where they see a grown man with make wearing a dress and
walking in heels. 

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