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In the second part of our series on transphobia in horror, we explore three more common trans tropes and the harmful effects of perpetuating these myths.

Before diving into the second part of our in-depth series on transphobia, be sure to catch up on part one where we lay the groundwork for this series, set the stage with some important definitions, and explore the first two myths and associated tropes regarding trans people in horror: 1) Monsters and Mutants, and 2) Killer Crossdressers. In this article, we will continue to explore three more harmful myths resulting from poor representation in our genre.

HORROR MYTH 3: GENDER NON-CONFORMITY AS A MENTAL ILLNESS

“I think film in general serves as both a mirror that reflects the ideas of the mass public, as well as what the filmmakers wish to present. In that way, many people feel that being trans is a result of mental illness, which is not the case. And of course, the filmmakers actively choose to portray it as such. I am not opposed to the idea of trans-based horror entirely. Dysphoria does not cause mental illness, but it can make mental illness worse. However, allowing for that nuance in film leads to mistakes in representation and affects public ideas of trans people.” – Persephone Valentine (The Broke-Ass Transwoman)

THE TROPE

Being gender non-conforming doesn’t make people dangerous, but what about mental illness?

Ed Gein was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” so he must have been super crazy right? Why else would someone go around killing people? And transgender people do have a much higher rate of mental illness than the rest of the population.

Former psychiatrist-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the man responsible for the shutdown of the gender identity clinic in 1979, claimed in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that being transgender is a “disorder of ‘assumption’ – the notion that their maleness or femaleness is different than what nature assigned to them biologically.”

Ryan T. Anderson, a fan of Dr. McHugh’s work also argues in his book, When Harry Became Sally, that “sex change” is impossible, and claims “the feelings that people who identify as transgender report are real—they really feel a disconnect with their bodily sex—but I also acknowledge the fact that those feelings don’t change bodily reality.”

A review of Anderson’s book published in a certain Catholic magazine shockingly titled The Medical Monsters Among Us, also claimed that “nobody really is transgender because pretty much all of them grapple with underlying psychological problems and are fooled into the transgender answer by unscrupulous therapists, butchering doctors, and activists.” The article then goes on to call trans people a “social contagion”.

It makes me wonder how these mental health experts feel about trans conversion therapy?

Horror goes a step further, portraying trans people as dangerous because they’re mentally ill.

The movie In Dreams, which shares a director with The Crying Game, casts Robert Downey Jr. as Vivian, a gender non-conforming serial killer who preys on little girls in an effort to create a “perfect family”. In Dreams was actually RDJ’s second transphobic film, the first being 1991’s Soapdish, which has a transgender villainess who is “defeated” by being publicly outed.

Downey’s character even gags after learning he slept with a trans woman. Vivian has spent much of their life in an insane asylum, but eventually manages to escape by dressing as a female nurse and seducing a guard. The killer’s gender is left ambiguous for most of the film, and when Vivian is finally revealed, they’re shown with an effeminate appearance (long hair, makeup, etc.). They even dress up as their mother.

Most mentally ill trans movie killers are portrayed as suffering from split personalities: one male, one female.

The most famous example of this is Dressed to Kill, an erotic thriller that was presumably written by a man who panicked after realizing he’d only written enough for about thirty minutes of film and just padded the rest of the script with overly long scenes he tried to pass off as “suspenseful” and a bunch of his personal sex fantasies. You can practically hear him jerking off in the background when a bored housewife has sex in the back of a taxi with the man who’s been stalking her throughout a museum.

In the movie, Michael Caine plays a therapist named Dr. Robert Elliott who’s absolutely terrible at his job and wants to sleep with his female patients. Elliott also has a second, female personality named Bobbi who is seeking gender affirmation surgery, and is driven to a murderous rage when Elliott stops her from obtaining it. Or she murders women because they arouse her male side, or both… I dunno. The writer did about as much research on trans people as he did on psychiatry. At least they use