Arcade Fire’s “We Exist” Video

See the video here. And don’t read the comments.

I was taking a bath earlier, enjoying a cold beer, listening to this song—but specifically watching this video, nearly on repeat for about half-an-hour. I had a few thoughts about it I wanted share.

Now, off the bat, as a cis-queer guy, I can’t speak for my trans* identifying friends, colleagues, and community members. I can only speak for myself and do the best I can to admit of the privileges that give me passage through this sometimes shitty culture. White + Cis = One extremely potent combo. As such, I can often take up positions that seem authoritative, to the point of obviating other voices within the various communities I represent in my discourse. Doing so contributes to epistemic injustices, as I have elsewhere explained. Be warned, then. I’m attempting to mobilize a huge number of identities in this brief entry—and trying not to do injustice to a single one.

But this video. It did something to me. Andrew Garfield gave something that other cis-actors have not in their representations of queer and transgender people—a look at pain, and denial, the non-triviality of the introspective bodily gaze, in a way that doesn’t play into stereotype. If only we could have more transgender actors playing these roles, and telling their stories—that would be ideal.

What I mean to say is that this video, I think, is not of Andrew Garfield in drag. Sure, that’s who is acting, and that’s what he’s doing. But the child in this video seems to be experiencing something far more personal than what color blouse to wear. Rather, “what color blouse to wear that allows me to pass in this shithole town”? Scant makeup. Long hair. Painted nails. Her eyes ache and her lips tremble. She seems in pain. This portrayal of pain poses a potential problem, putting a ‘trapped in the wrong body’ narrative forward that a number of activists condemn (see the latest entry on it in TSQ by Ulrica Engdahl). As Engdahl argues, however, this narrative does serve to destabilize the gender binary through the lived or situated-ness of a trans* experience. Is the person in this video a part of that narrative?

I’m not saying this is a go-to pop cultural reference for trans* studies. I’m not even saying that this is an excellent representation of trans* being or becoming. I could push further and say that although this facilitates a potential dialogue about the trans* experience for white folks, it doesn’t cover the spectrum of race. It leaves out the violence that queer and trans* people of color face daily. Too, it may yet be taken only as a ‘drag’ performance.

But it touched me. It reminded me that these sorts of stories are more frequently getting told and that that’s a good thing. But in that more frequent telling, whereby our cultural scripts about gender, sex, sexuality, and identity become more unstable—it behooves us to learn what it does mean to be trans*, or non-binary, or all within the umbrella of what Paisley Currah calls gender pluralism. These pop-culture representations, however beautiful and touching, are only the surface of a much larger part of our diverse social-collective.

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