Friday, February 10, 2012

Film Review 1: Middle Sexes

What is the main thesis of this film?

The film suggests that in the Western culture, specifically the USA, enforces the idea that there is a strong gender binary that revolves around our lives and that needs to be changed because people who do not fall within the norm are dehumanized. To live outside of this gender binary is very difficult because we have this idea that humans are supposedly either male or female, and it is fixed. Most of this gender ideology originated from Christianity, in which religion has played a huge role in shaping our concepts of gender and sexuality. However, in other parts of the world such as India or Africa, the people embrace another concept of gender (probably due to differences in religion) and that some others are more comfortable with transsexuals (like the katoeys from Thailand).

What were the main arguments in support of this thesis?

As mentioned above, Christianity only allows the idea of two sexes, male and female, and that the individuals must have the proper gender identity correspondent to their sexual organs. The Western culture has a fear of homosexuality (or any other ideas that do not conform) because in Christianity, any behaviors that are anti-reproductive is considered a crime. To add, for an individual in Western culture to claim that he/she is not comfortable with their assigned gender, immediately, society treats the individual as if they have a mental illness and he/she needs to be re-corrected. If the person firmly believes that they are not ill, they have to be diagnosed as a person with a Gender Identity Disorder in order to get healthcare or to have a sex change (Itlmedia 2009) which causes further confusion, stress, and frustration among transsexuals. Later on, the film presented different countries and their ideas of transgenders, transsexuals, and intersex. In India, transgender individuals are seen as if karma has played a role in their fate. For example, the offering of their male genitalia is a sacrifice to their goddess and those individuals feel more empowered with their femininity. In Thailand, a country that has never submitted to Western society, transsexuals and transgenders (also known as katoeys) are probably most accepted. The katoeys have a wide range of gender and sexuality and want to be regarded simply as human beings, which reflect the ideas from a clip we watched for class, Reteaching Gender and Sexuality (Putthisonthemap 2010). The clip reminds us that people’s gender identity should not be judged and labeled, instead, we need to accept and learn that everybody is not the same. Our society needs to be re-educated and that those who do not conform to the norm needs to be respected as well. In Africa, religion also plays an important role in defining gender and sexuality as something more spiritual than physical. Happiness (being comfortable with your own gender/sexuality/identity) is more important than norms.

How does the thesis of this film relate to the course?

Transgenders, transsexuals, and intersex individuals (and many others) challenges our society’s image of a man and woman. Therefore, society has defined people who do not fall into these categories as deviants because it is not normal. Our fear has forced these individuals to fall back into the gender binaries and reinforcing the idea that they have a mental illness; you have to be either male or female and that your identity has to correspond to your genitals. We have also learned in the course that those who are deviant are not taken seriously by giving labels. Interestingly, I see this concept during the film, especially when the film was talking about Thailand. The katoeys, who are proud of their identity, perform for the general public. They are glorified, but not necessarily in a positive way. People go to their shows because they are considered “freaks” (a label that reinforces the idea that they are deviant) and out of extraordinary. In a sense, the kateoys are actually not recognized by the rest of the world and will remain as deviants and not normal. The population may not be convinced about their ideologies. For example, in India, though they have a community that supports transgender and transsexual individuals, most of them end up doing sex work in the end because their society still cannot accept them. In a sense, isn’t it the same with the katoeys performing shows for entertainment purposes?

Which arguments/points did you find the most convincing?

I find the part about men exploring their sexuality while dancing with other men in India during wedding ceremonies convincing. Since they lack interaction and socialization with women (assuming they're heterosexual) during the beginning of their lives, I would imagine they have a lot of sexual tension (unless they’re asexual). As a viewer from a different culture, finding out that they have sexual relationships with other men during those nights are interesting and sad as well. Deprived of freedom, these individuals are being cornered and forced into arranged marriages. If one is gay/lesbian, it would create a lot of internal conflict and unfairness, like the Indian man’s case in the film.

Which arguments/points did you find the least convincing?

I was very impressed by the study about homophobic men who were aroused while watching a “gay” clip, but I have some doubts. I suppose that since they have a strong rejection about homosexuality, they are actually in conflict with themselves (and against their pro-heterosexual religion). However, everybody falls within a certain range between heterosexuality and homosexuality, and this is an idea not endorsed by our society (instead, we have two extremes: straight or gay). So, wouldn’t it mean that most individuals, straight or gay, would become aroused while watching the clip? A straight man could react strongly to the gay clip compared to a homophobic man as well. I may be confused, but further studies are needed, especially on how women react to gay/lesbian clips as well.

Choose one argument, point or question that most stands out for you from the film. How would you study this point? Briefly design a research study around that point.

We have seen that different countries and regions have different views about gender and sexuality, especially countries that are not influenced by Western culture and/or colonization. I would like to study further on these views by looking at tribes or other regions that have still retained their native culture. Do these cultures embody free will about gender and sexuality, that it is a continuum? Do they strongly reject transgenders, transsexuals, intersex, and others? How do they respond to such individuals then? Do their opinions differ by their race, gender, or religion?


Itlmedia. 2009. “Looking Back, Pushing Forward.” YouTube Web site. Retrieved February 10, 2012 (

Putthisonthemap. 2010. “Reteaching Gender and Sexuality.” YouTube Web site. Retrieved February 10, 2012 (

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