So. As many of you are no doubt aware, I’m currently in production on the next installment of “Really That Good,” the subject of which is THE MATRIX.
As you might imagine, THE MATRIX is a particular daunting target for analysis because it’s so densely layered with symbolism and reference but also because so much has already been written, blogged, vlogged etc about it – so it’s easy to get lost in the noise doing even basic research. Also complicating matters: The cultural understanding of the film/franchise keeps shifting as we come to know more about the extremely private Wachowskis as filmmakers and as individual persons.
With that in mind, I’m reaching out to my diverse and well-informed readership for some help on this one: Specifically, I’m looking to read/view any writing or other content that anyone would like to recommend that analyzes transgender themes (implicit or otherwise) THE MATRIX and/or looks at the films (and the Wachowskis greater body of work, for that matter) from a trans perspective. This is an important part of the broader cultural story of these films and filmmakers, and one I am not a firsthand nor academic expert in, and I feel it’s important to read as much as I can in that area before having anything to say about it; and while I’ve done some research on my own already, I believe there is plenty I’ve missed or didn’t know where to find that you readers may be able to point me toward.
If that happens to be the case, please post links (author names and descriptions also probly helpful) into the comments section on this post. The authors of any recommended work I end up citing will be credited in the episode.
Thank you in advance,
P.S. In the name of keeping things organized, please use the comments on this blog in lieu of sending emails unless you are not able to comment.
P.P.S. “Really That Good,” like many other projects posted to this site, exists mainly through generous support from The MovieBob Patreon. If you support work of this nature, please consider becoming a Patron.
13 thoughts on “Seeking Information & Enlightenment”
Old man on the nerd-mountain Chuck “SF Debris” Sonnenburg has a pretty comprehensive look at the movie. True to his name, it focuses more on the SF concepts than the genderqueer themes, but I think you’ll enjoy his stuff in general. http://sfdebris.com/videos/films/matrix.php
Article from the Mary Sue on the subject. Would also suggest possibly coming up with a few topics you feel are important and get some responses from individuals over just articles. I have plenty of thoughts on it but haven’t had a reason to put down a lot in writing.
I do remember it being touched on in the episode that ‘Into It’ (a podcast hosted by a trans woman) did on the trilogy. Mind you, it’s been a while since I listened to that, so I don’t exactly recall how much they talk about that specific aspect. http://www.intoitpodcast.com/podcast/2015/1/24/into-it-12-the-matrix-with-dr-kati-corlew
Oh, they also did another episode about the Speed Racer movie where the guest was trans (although I haven’t listened to that one yet, so I can’t speak to how much it comes up).
Some resources, some of which you may already have found:
Click to access ovnat%20paper.pdf
Click to access Emergence.pdf
There is a book from trans author Daliah Husu called “I Am Woman: Surviving the Past, Present, and Future” that has been assigned to my college class curriculum, and I hear that it is a worthwhile and enjoyable read: https://www.amazon.com/Am-Woman-Surviving-Present-Future/dp/1522798609/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
While not relevant to what you are asking for, I thought I’d mention that the first movie was used as an example of Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ during my high school days by my English teach and then again by a Philosophy professor in college. I’m not sure if you have already thought of this, but I thought it would be interesting to mention. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave
Never gave it too much thought before, but being trans and having people identify you by the wrong pronoun is probably a lot like having Agent Smith call you “Mr. Anderson,” when you identify as “Neo.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
If you’re looking for insights into the Wachowski siblings, the series sense8 might prove useful. There’s a lot of focus on identity and the issues around it, mainly involving one of the leads who underwent a male to female transformation and is a lesbian afterwards. The series was released after the first sibling changed their gender and it’s very clear how personal that particular character’s struggle is to them.
Okay, here’s a few various links about it dealing with queer themes.
This popular Youtube video goes into some details: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=184&v=s2-m3ZksNGM
This article also covers some decent ground as well: http://ontologicalgeek.com/call-trans-opt-transgender-themes-in-the-matrix/
But for a quick and messy review…
– Programming everywhere. Programming is a big thing in the transgender community. There’s plenty of pet theories for as to why but nobody knows for sure, just that it is. There’s plenty of trans gals on Twitter I know you follow that you can ask about it.
– Prominent nightlife clubbing in each Matrix film. Clubbing is very historically important to the LGBTQ community going back thousands of years.
– BDSM and leather everywhere. Not as big as clubbing but queer folk are disproportionately into kink since we’re already rebelling against norms of gender and sexuality and don’t really have anything to lose from it.
– Trinity is a soft butch. Don’t believe me? This is literally the first picture you get when you Google “soft butch” – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/5e/e8/51/5ee851c7fef84a2204c49c091f196380.jpg
– Switch is supposed to canonically be transgender, played by a man when unplugged but their residual self-image (psssst, thats gender identity) that exists when plugged into the matrix is played by a woman. This was scrapped by the studio.
– We meet Neo as a depressed programmer who feels like there’s something missing in life, something wrong that he just can’t place a finger on and pursues this instinct by going online and connecting with other folks who can fill in the answers. This is the story of millions of LGBTQ people.
– Neo is metaphorically reborn as a new person when he’s initially unplugged from the matrix.
– Neo’s sudden realization that things aren’t as they seem and how he teeters between rejecting it because its traumatic. Part of this trauma is realizing the damage to his body, instinctively realizing that there just isn’t something right. These are the holes
in his body. Having voids in one’s body is how plenty of transfolk, including myself, would describe the physical discomfort associated with gender dysphoria. The mental trauma is how his entire frame of reference changes and that accepting the world as it exists means that you’re in for a tough life rather than sticking it out in a tube with a hollow-feeling life. Transition is a double-edged sword that way just like the choice between staying unplugged or going back into the Matrix to stay is for Neo.
– How the character’s transition between the two world’s is a change in how they present who they are versus how they need to appear to others who would otherwise harm them if they stuck out and were more individualistic.
– Smith continually refers to Neo as his plugged in name (Thomas Anderson) throught the entire trilogy, specifically Mr. Anderson every time, gendering him. Fruther, this establishes that part of Smith’s villainy is rejecting Neo’s right to identify himself.
– Neo’s power and sense of fulfillment in life comes from embracing his identity. You’ll note he’s not wearing glasses during this part and at the earlier train scene neither him or Smith are wearing glasses. In the series glasses are a subtle indicator of a character going through personal conflict. Eyes are the window to the soul, after all.
This is just the first film too. In the sequels there is an explicit kiss between two women as well as lots of subtle and overt homoeroticism and androgyny. The series’ fortuneteller also changes her body, though thats just a befitting change due to real life circumstances. Smith also conducts his villainy by destroying individuality and creating complete conformity. Queer folk tend to find some sort of conformity to rebel against. One of the main themes of the films is fate and it examines fatalism philosophically. The Architect in the Matrix sequels also goes on and on about fate and fatalism. Its not hard to read the notion of coming out as a matter of fate versus biological reality and medical limitations being what you assume your fate is.
Also, for the Wachowskis in general. First, their directorial debut was movie dealing heavily with lesbian bondage called “Bound.” There’s also Cloud Atlas, which I know you’re familiar with and how it relates to queer folk and the general notion of a major transition from one state of being into another. There’s also Sense8, which features a prominent vegan trans lesbian hacker, which is pretty much what the stereotype of trans woman would be if you asked other trans women about it, and to top it off she’s played by a trans actress.
Very much looking forward to this, Bob. You’ve probably seen this one already, but Chelsea Shephard’s “Call Trans Opt: Transgender Themes in The Matrix” is a great read on this topic:
Hey Bob, let me preface this with the observation that Really That Good was and is a great idea. Not that this source is terribly academic, but Ready Player One (a novel I will hazard a guess you’ve read at least once) has a subplot involving what could be described as a version of the Matrix (except that one can enter and exit it more or less at will) does have one character whose online image is the opposite gender from his/her birth one. Likewise, the character “Switch” in The Matrix was originally supposed to do that—transition from being a man in the real world to a woman in the Matrix. So … you might want to note under “On the Other Hand…” that the Wachowskis missed an opportunity to take this as far as they’d planned when they wrote that idea out before they started filming.
I’d suggest looking into Idea Channel’s look into gender as performance ( https://youtu.be/oMBYFXZknGQ ). While not expressing elements about the Matrix itself, it does discuss avatars as a portrayal of gender. The character, Switch, was intended to be a prime example of this, in that inside the Matrix she was to be portrayed as female, while outside, male. The romance aspect of her relationship with Apoc, another member of the Nebuchednezzar crew, was also greatly diminished. Additionally, you can read Lilly Wachowski’s take on the film post transition in a follow up article to one posted earlier ( http://www.themarysue.com/the-matrix-trans-lens/ ).
As for the Wachowskis in general, their inclusion of these topics extend past just trans in most of their films. Themes of various counter cultures are present throughout their entire collected works, The Matrix simply being the stand out. Lesbianism, BDSM, gamer culture, and anime inspiration all speak to the same theme of the counter culture spreading thoughout society thanks to the internet. This in turn, allowed LGBT youth (generation x-ers to millenials) to begin discovering more about themselves at younger ages, while at the same time allowing older generations the opportunity of community and reassessment of their own values and desires. This ultimately led to the reworking of HBIGDA (trans health organization characterized by a gatekeeper/therapist vs. patient mentality) into WPATH (a more inclusive institution looking at gender expression as more of a spectrum and helping to rework the DSM definition of transgender and gender dysphoria).
(Trans activist, LGBT youth mentor, Gen Y-er, Educator)