You Can't Tell the Boys from the Girls

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:22

    struggling with sexuality, that here was a bigger struggle against an entire world of enforced gender roles.

    The lead actress was really exceptional. The movie only works because she's so believable as a guy. The short dark hair, the swagger, the voice?I bought into the whole thing. The supporting cast was equally fine. I especially liked the guy who lives with her, and how he starts to lose his cool as the whole charade begins to fall apart. He expressed a perfect duplicity when complaining about the gal's two-timing ways: "This isn't the first time that androgynous sleazebucket has broken a beautiful girl's heart!"

    Naturally, tragedy results. The gal is exposed as a genetic female. She ends up getting attacked by the local jock. And the prom is nearly ruined.

    Howard Stern is right. Just One of the Guys really is one of the greatest movies ever made. Clayton Rohner?who plays one of the befuddled love interests?says the film is still one of the main reasons he's regularly stalked by troubled young women. And it contains one of the most quotable lines in the history of 80s teen-sex comedies: "Where do you get off having tits?"

    That said, I didn't really get the film's point about hate crimes. Frankly, Terry Griffith chooses to put herself in a dangerous position. She learns early on that her deception isn't even necessary. She originally thinks that she's rejected in a student journalism competition because of sexism. Once she starts posing as a guy, Terry learns that the real problem is that she's a dull writer. Her new teacher informs her that she writes too much like a boy. Then Terry keeps the masquerade going as fodder for another article. That makes for fine comedy, but a pretty lame victim.

    The whole thing reminds me of that Brandon Teena brouhaha back in '94. You might remember Brandon as that 21-year-old gal who spent a short time passing as a guy in the American heartland. She fooled a few people for a very short time, and even got herself a girlfriend. Unfortunately, her new male pals found out her secret. The cretins ended up raping and killing Brandon, along with two of her friends.

    Now, there's a story that would make an interesting movie. It would be set in Nebraska, too, so the producers could recycle all those Springsteen posters in Terry's bedroom. But the Brandon Teena story would never have the timeless appeal of Just One of the Guys. For one thing, who would go see it? Certainly not any self-respecting gay person. Gays are desperate for martyrs, but Brandon wouldn't be anybody's idea of a gay icon. Honestly, Brandon Teena was the biggest closet case in history. Roy Cohn was more out, and he ended up being vilified on Broadway. Any film about Brandon would likely get burned in the streets.

    Liberals would likely suggest that the Log Cabin Republicans might garner some sympathy for her, since Brandon was the ultimate conformist. Still, that's the only gay audience you'd get. And anyone who saw Flawless knows that Log Cabin Republicans aren't even real gays. They're just stodgy old homosexuals.

    You can get a lot of wrong ideas from Flawless. In contrast to Just One of the Guys, Joel Schumacher has made an amazingly antiquated and offensive film about the old gender switcheroo. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a drag queen who's so screwed up that he actually thinks he's a transsexual. A less macho filmmaker might have picked up on that contradiction, but Schumacher is obviously 100-percent real man. He doesn't have time to worry about niceties. He's too busy making Red Dawn for homophobes.

    To be fair, I'm not sure if the version screened a week before the film's release wasn't missing several scenes. The Flawless production notes state that Robert De Niro's stroke victim is an "ultraconservative," but the character never utters a single political thought. All he does is scream a lot about "fags." That's awfully minor compared to the self-hating slurs that Schumacher has Hoffman weep in misery. Joel Schumacher is an ultraconservative. De Niro's character simply likes to shout. At least his grouchy character gets to lighten up after taking singing lessons from the flamboyant Hoffman. Schumacher ends his film by showing drag queens beating on a corpse.

    Fortunately, some ultraconservatives?like myself?have much better relationships with transsexuals. I'm not talking about the kind of transsexual who conventionally becomes one just to help propel a plot. One of my better relationships was with a pre-op transsexual, and not just because it was fun to later tell people that she was a pre-op transsexual. I'm only partially that shallow. She was also the only Republican I've ever dated. Or at least the only one who wasn't in the closet about it, which seemed a lot more bold than growing breasts.

    We originally met at a bookstore in Atlanta. It was 1984, when people looked less stupid buying the soundtrack to Blood Feast. She was buying a Jerzy Kosinski book that wasn't Being There. That alone would have been enough for love at first sight. But Belinda was actually a bit of a mess back then. She was actually a bit of a guy. She looked like a hippie Wayne Newton with braces. I soon got used to running into her at concerts, and having the occasional late dinner.

    But our paths crossed again several years later. By then, Belinda was pretty damn styling. We never talked too much about her change, but my impression was that her parents were paying for a lot of things. They seemed to have decided it was better to have a new daughter than a nebulous son. It was money well spent, too. I'm no expert, but transsexuals seems to be as equally well-adjusted as they are passable. Belinda shared the same fine characteristics of many such pre-ops I've known. Like many transsexuals, she had a very strong sense of self. You can't go changing your sex without a real appreciation of personal responsibility. You couldn't call her a libertarian, though, because she didn't support drug use that didn't involve changing your gender.

    By then, Belinda and I were in the same business and desperately trying to kiss up to the same people. We often found ourselves making the nightclub scene and passing time by goofing on our mutual lameness. It was usually good clean fun, until she made some especially cutting remark about my ability to conjugate a verb. For old time's sake, I thought this would be a good time to quote Kosinski. That's often one of my more stupid ideas. It makes you say things like, "That's the problem with transsexuals. You get the vanity of a woman and the ego of a man."

    Her drink mostly missed me, and I cleverly wandered away. But Belinda cornered me later and gave me a good berating. She was a tough dame, but let's note that her entire body was a well-stirred cocktail of hormones. She was in a sensitive mood, which meant it was very important that I understand her. So she's heaving out her outrage and she starts crying and she's telling me that I can't possibly understand what it's like to live like her. She wouldn't shut up, so I finally just kissed her hard.

    It was all very Tracy & Hepburn. Or Tracy & Tracy, for you wisenheimers out there. It may have been one of those doomed adversarial relationships, but it taught me to never buy into any media propaganda about the poor tormented transsexual. Belinda certainly never seemed like a victim. Then again, that's probably because she's the only woman to ever break up with me by bouncing a patent-leather pump off the back of my head. It fucking hurt, too. But that wasn't the worst part. The real drag was her shouting, "You're afraid of my pussy!"

    That's the kind of parting line a guy doesn't forget. I ended up sitting in a sleazy diner, waiting for a cab to pick me up. I remember trying to take comfort in knowing that the conversation would never repeat itself. My naivete is endearing. Five years later, a genetic girl would be shouting the exact same words at me.

    Anyway, I can't sit through two sex-change movies in one week without thinking of Belinda, though it's a very pleasant kind of brooding. The break-up was uniquely final. The old saying is that our cells regenerate every seven years, and we turn into completely different people. Assuming Belinda maintained her time schedule, she's more completely different than most people. It could very well be that I wouldn't even know her if I saw her again.

    Honestly, is it any wonder that I was so touched by Just One of the Guys? Unlike the grotesqueries of Flawless, this dopey little film struck me on a personal level. I know how Terry Griffith feels after everything falls apart on prom night. "My voyage of self-discovery," she says, "has ended in despair."

    Intelligent people, of course, respond more like Terry's horny little brother: "Hey, that's so interesting?really. Could you shut the light off, please?"