“XXY” Compared to Susan Stryker’s “My Words to Victor Frankenstein”

Lucía Puenzo’s film XXY and Susan Stryker’s piece My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamouniz: Preforming Transgender Rage” are about different topics, but cover similar themes.

Like a Venn Diagram, XXY‘s circle sits on one side, focusing on the life of a non-“normalized” Intersex teenager. On the other side, Stryker’s piece is about taking ownership of  what it means to be unnatural. Where they intersect in the middle is a questioning of binary gender norms, medicalizing the body to fit inside these norms, and identifying with monstrosity. Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 4.52.55 PM.png

XXY focuses on fifteen-year-old Alex.

For the sake of this post, Alex will be referred to by female pronouns in order to avoid confusion (as, despite the plot revolving around Alex coming to terms with a possible male identity, she is referred to by female pronouns throughout the film).  

Born with XXY chromosomes, Alex has underdeveloped male genitalia and a feminine body shape. Although she was raised by her parents with a female identity, she has recently stopped taking her testosterone blockers. However, her parents have invited a surgeon’s family to their house so she can consider surgical castration.

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 4.57.00 PM.png
Alex places a corticoid (testosterone reducer) in the center of her feminine chest before flicking it away.

Because Alex was not surgically altered as a baby (as many intersex children are), there’s an emphasis on the natural in Puenzo’s filmmaking. The film is set in a Uruguayan house by the beach. The sound of the ocean or rain is often heard in the background in place of a non-diegetic score. Handheld camera and natural lighting are utilized to accentuate this realism. Many scenes take place in the middle of undisturbed nature; such as the beach, lakes, and forests.

These tactics are utilized to remind the viewer that Alex’s condition is one of nature. Her body has not been “butchered” (as Alex herself puts it), by surgery.

On the other side of this coin, Stryker uses her surgical procedures as a tool of her own identity. The very first line of her monologue is:

The transsexual body is an unnatural body. It is the product of medical science. It is a technological construction. It is flesh torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born” (238).

Image result for robert de niro frankenstein
Robert De Niro in Kenneth Branagh’s adaption of Frankenstein.  The sewn together flesh made to comprise a person exemplifies Stryker’s metaphor of being transgender.

One of Stryker’s main arguments is that the surgeries she has endured are a part of her and a part of being transgender.

She compares herself to Frankenstein’s monster with pride, claiming:

“Words like ‘creature,’ ‘monster,’ and ‘unnatural’ need to be reclaimed by the transgendered” (240).

and

“I find no shame, however, in acknowledging my egalitarian relationship with non-human material Being; everything emerges from the same matrix of possibilities” (240).

She almost seems to claim that surgery is essential to this identity, as well as a conflict with nature:

“As we rise up from the operating tables of our rebirth, we transsexuals are something more, and something other, than the creatures our makers intended us to be … Transsexual embodiment, like the embodiment of the monster, places its subject in an unassimilable, antagonistic, queer relationship to a Nature in which it must nevertheless exist” (242).

Alex in XXY is against the idea of surgery. When Álvaro (the surgeon’s son) tells her about her father’s work, he mentions that he likes to help people with deformities.

Alex sees surgery is an assault on the natural human form, even if it is done in order to normalize it. (In this case, having ten fingers instead of eleven).

However, there are also elements of Stryker’s argument throughout the film.

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 5.27.41 PM.png
While Alex examines her naked body in the mirror, a warped Frankenstein-esque baby doll watches
screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-5-30-13-pm
Along with its four arms, the doll is revealed in wider shots to have a cigarette penis stuck onto its crotch.
screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-10-15-31-pm
It also makes an appearance when Alex decides against an operation and to stop taking her medication, representing the identity that Alex is choosing.

The scene captured below practically quotes Stryker’s entire thesis:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 5.38.44 PM.png
Alex reveals her intersex identity to Álvaro and claims that she is is a monster. Puenzo frames this interaction in the center of a forest, surrounded by trees and nature.

Another way XXY and Stryker overlap is in their position on the gender binary.

Stryker gives a very touching anecdote about her partner giving birth to their baby. Despite the happiness of the occasion, a poignant detail left an impact on her.

She writes:

“‘It’s a girl,’ somebody said. Paul, I think. Why, just then, did a jumble of dark, unsolicited feelings emerge wordlessly from some quiet back corner of my mind? This moment of miracles was not the time to deal with them. I pushed them back, knowing they were too strong to avoid for long” (244).

and

The collective assumptions of the naturalized order soon overwhelmed me. Nature exerts such a hegemonic oppression” (248).

followed by:

“‘It’s a girl.’ This was the act that recalled all the anguish of my own struggles with gender. But this was also the act that enjoined my complicity in the non-consensual gendering of another” (250).

XXY covers these emotions felt by Stryker as well. The very first line of the line of the film is Alex’s marine biologist father classifying a turtle as “female”; echoing the way we announce gender when a baby is born.
The film goes more in depth with this concept during this scene:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 4.33.32 PM.png
“They’d ask: ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ That’s the first thing they ask in the clinic.

In the end, while the situation between Intersex and Transgender people is often different, Susan Stryker and the fictional Alex arrive at similar conclusions: they claim an identity outside the gender binary.

Though Stryker fights nature (having operations) and Alex embraces it (refusing operations and hormones), they each do so to better express their true selves, regardless of how each were born.

Words Cited

Stryker, Susan. “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. N.p., 01 Jan. 1994. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

XXY. Dir. Lucía Puenzo. Cinéfondation, 2007.

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One thought on ““XXY” Compared to Susan Stryker’s “My Words to Victor Frankenstein”

  1. Fantastic weaving of the film and essay in this post. I particularly appreciated your use of the visuals and the description of the imagery of the film, such as this statement: “Because Alex was not surgically altered as a baby (as many intersex children are), there’s an emphasis on the natural in Puenzo’s filmmaking”; as well as the symbolism of the doll, which I didn’t even notice. The questioning of the immediate assertion of gender at birth is also something that I hadn’t really thought about previously, and your commentary was very poignant for me.

    Like

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