On Why The Matrix and Its Meaning Matter to Transgender Politics Today

hi guys yes i must inform you i also have the trans
ma’am the gun would like you to stop putting words in its mouth
  • That irresistible sense that you have to change something in your life or everything will fall apart anyway
  • The bureaucratic frustration of a system that can take years to make the “on-paper” you reflect the real you (thus, “’Mr. Anderson”)
  • The association with drug and criminal culture because we’re outsiders and that’s where society puts us
  • The desire to detransition, and the willingness of some detransitioners to cooperate with transphobes
  • Poverty (surely the Nebudchannezar, where the crew eats sloppy goop and engine grease for alcohol, is even worse than the bachelor pad I was living in when I came out)
  • The fight continues after that dramatic moment when you assert your identity. I’ve written a lot about the moment where Neo declares that that is, in fact, his name, and then does a backflip, watching his deadname get hit by the El. It’s awesome and triumphant — and then you get bathroom policed again or called Mr. or Miss and you’ve got to fight all over again — as Neo does immediately after this scene
  • The complex relationship we have with cis society. Probably the most troubling thing about these films as a trans metaphor is that the people who are metaphorically trans are fighting a guerrilla war against literally everyone who isn’t one of them. This is famously highlighted by the Woman in the Red Dress scene, where Neo learns not to trust those who are still “plugged in,” but also in the troubling morality of the film’s conclusion, where the protagonists kill hundreds of soldiers who don’t know who they’re fighting or why and cause massive destruction to the downtown cityscape. (But then, Superman and Batman do that now, so who gets to cast stones?) So, this is pretty ugly, metaphorically, BUT I want to make two observations:
  1. Trans people are being threatened with exactly the violence that Agents and police in the film use. This violence is disproportionately directed at trans people of color, but it’s there — and all of us feel that dread of “what if today when I go to pee, there’s a guy with a gun”?
  2. The Matrix is ultimately a story about people who want compromise, peace, safety. The people of the awkwardly-named Zion injury want to be able to free those for whom the Matrix is a prison and leave the others. In The Animatrix, we find out that the Machnes themselved were abused and oppressed by humans (and the trans metaphor/resonance runs strongly through the Wachowski-written parts of the anime). If we find ourselves idly imagining being Keanu Reeves and having a Kung Fu battle with someone over which restroom to use, it’s not because we think cisgender people are copper tops. We want to be your friends — we just know how quickly you, like the woman in the red dress, can become enemies.

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Dr. Eleanor (Ellie) Amaranth Lockhart holds a Ph.D. in communication from Texas A&M & is currently researching topics related to popular culture & data science!

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Eleanor Amaranth Lockhart, Ph.D.

Eleanor Amaranth Lockhart, Ph.D.

Dr. Eleanor (Ellie) Amaranth Lockhart holds a Ph.D. in communication from Texas A&M & is currently researching topics related to popular culture & data science!