Review: The Skin That I Live In

After much consideration I decided to see the film, The Skin That I Live In. I originally had some reservations about it because of concerns about sexual violence and the concept of forced feminization. As it turns out neither concern was justified. It is not really a horror film about transgenderism and the violence is actually pretty tame. If I had to summarize the film, I would say it is really more like a Greek tragedy than anything else. All the major characters in the film meet tragic ends due in some way to their own misdeeds and failings but the consequences of their actions seem somewhat out of proportion to the misdeeds. I found  it difficult to hate or despise most of them, although much of what they did was reprehensible. In some sense they they are as much victims as victimizers. I found the overall sense of the film to be very somber, that there were really no winners, only losers.  I found it to be a good film, not a great one, but a very good one that was very rewarding to watch. It was a very different movie that what I expected given the interview with the director in Salon.

Spoiler Alert: the following review contains lots of details of the movie. If you prefer to learn what happens by yourself  in the movie, stop reading here.

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The film itself is rather long (132 minutes) and begins slowly. It is in Spanish with English subtitles. Like films such as Pulp Fiction the order of events in the film is not sequential and events in different time periods are mixed together to establish the background of the story. I found the first hour of the film to be sort of slow and felt like they could have cut 10 minutes of it out without too much of a loss. Much of the first hour introduces the two major characters: Dr Ledgard (played by Antonio Banderas) and Vera (played by Elena Anaya). From all appearances Vera is a victim of medical experiments performed by Dr Ledgard which are designed to produce very durable artificial skin. Vera does not seem to be abused, just kept imprisoned against her will.

As the story unwinds, the history of Dr Ledgard and Vera becomes more evident and the simple morality of human experimentation begins to unravel. Ledgard is a gifted surgeon who is slowly driven mad by the tragic and violent deaths of his wife and daughter. His mother describes him as born insane but it seems more of a recent development.

Vera was once Vincent who was sort of restless young man who worked in his mother’s dress shop and spent his free time partying while in a drugged stupor. He seemed not to be a  really evil guy, just sort of a stupid one who allows the drugs to lead him into raping Ledgard’s daughter.

Other characters include Dr Ledgard’s mother worked as a servant much of her life, until some unspoken crime lead to some jail time.

Ledgard’s deceased wife is severely burned in a car accident while running away with Ledgard’s half brother. Despite Ledgard’s best efforts at saving her, she ultimately commits suicide after seeing the extent of her injuries. Ledgard at first is inspired by her death to begin work on the artificial skin but as the film goes on his intentions become more complex and distorted.

Ledgard’s daughter, Norma, is first driven made at the sight of her dead, disfigured mother and again after being raped by Vincient. She too commits suicide. She is the true innocent of the film.

The second half of the movie explores the history of Ledgard and Vincient/Vera and how their lives became intertwined and then began to unravel, eventually leading to the deaths of multiple people. This is clearly the most interesting part of the film.

The transgendered element was present throughout the movie, although it was not until well into the second half of the movie that it became evident. It was presented in an almost clinical manner . It is a key part of the story but not treated in a sensational or crude manner. Dr Legard turns Vincient into Vera, seemingly as revenge for the attack upon his daughter and her subsequent death. His motivation is unclear though, perhaps even to himself. At first it seems to be about revenge but as his madness begins to consume him, it becomes both a scientific and personal quest to recover the wife he has lost.  He turns Vincient into a copy of his wife, right down to her facial appearance and begins to fall in love with his creation. It is a very disturbing but also sort of pathetic transition for him. He despises his daughter’s rapist but also loves the woman he has created from the rapist. He even begins to assume that Vera really loves him. For me it was more tragic than anything else. He is clearly gifted but is also arrogant enough to try to recreate that which he has lost by any means possible and then blind enough to believe Vera really loves him.

Vincient’s forced transformation into Vera is equally troubling. He seems oddly accepting of it, almost passively going along with it. I think this part is the most unbelievable part of the story. A virile young man is forcibly transformed into a woman and seems to adopt into the role without much resistance. The actress who play Vera  (different from the actor who plays Vincient) is a beautiful woman with amazing eyes. She plays the role of Vera without a hint of Vincient’s underlying masculinity though. We are asked to believe that an unwilling young man could be turned into an incredibly feminine woman in a period of a few years. It is like Dr Ledgard operated on Vincient’s psyche as well as his body. It is sort of a ideal outcome of the postop experience.  Vera early on rejects all makeup but appears in every scene with impecable makeup. Her hair is perfectly styled and moves and talks as would a genetic woman. It makes Vera more attractive (and sympathetic) but  much less believable as someone who has undergoing a forced sex change. It as if Vincient had been willingly absorbed by Vera.

At the same time, Vincient/Vera does show remarkable fortitude throughout the whole process. I found myself very mixed in my feelings toward Vincient/Vera. On the one hand Vincient is a rapist who caused the eventual death of an innocent. On the other hand, he is really not a monster as much as a stupid and foolish boy and one begins to feel sorry for Vera, trapped as she is in her new skin and physical prison.

Eventually Vera frees herself from Ledgard and returns to the dress shop owned by her mother. The film ends simply with Vera saying to her mother: “I am Vincient”. At some level it is not clear in what sense that is really true. Vera appears in the dress shop nicely styled and wearing a lovely dress. She is clearly comfortable with her feminine self. She did not show up in short hair and male clothes.  In some ways Vera is a far stronger person that Vincient ever was having survived an harrowing adventure. Vincient whined when he was caught but Vera fights and schemes her way to freedom. One feels there is an inner steel that was never there with Vincient. Overall she seems far more at home in her skin than Vincient ever was in his.  One gets the sense that Vera will succeed in life far beyond what Vincient ever would have done. Perhaps Dr Ledgard, unwillingly, ended up doing Vincient a favor, redeeming him a way that Vincient would never have been able to do himself. Oddly enough it seems that the only “winner” in this sad tale is Vera (but not Vincient).

robin

Breast Forms – Starting Out

I am of an age that when I started dressing as I wanted, one of big problems was what to use for breast forms. Unlike today, in which you can buy very nice silicone breast forms on ebay or from online stores like The Breastform Store, for less than $50, when I started out such forms could only be found in the Sears catalog or in physical stores for hundreds of dollars each. They were clearly out of reach for multiple reasons. As a result I went through a series of low cost substitutes such as socks (or pantyhose), water balloons, ziplock baggies, etc.. They were all unsatisfactory for one reason or another. Socks were rigid and unnatural. Water balloons were too firm and tended to slosh about. Ziplock baggies tended to leak. I never tried rice but I had my doubts about it too. For a long time my favorite solution was to fill highly stretched out balloons with the gel from inside “blue ice” packs. I left the balloon inflated for serveral days and then let the air out. I put the blue ice gel in with a funnel. The blue gell had the right consistency and was easily available. The forms were difficult to make but worked well and lasted a long time.

Eventually I found my first set of silicone breast forms. I bought them from a TG woman who had gone full time and for whom hormones had provided sufficient fullness that she no longer needed the forms. I found her on a pre-internet bulletin board and arranged a meeting time. We were to meet in a shopping mall around 8:30pm. The forms were $200. We met as if I was buying drugs. We briefly greeted one another, I gave her my money, she gave me a box, and we quickly departed. I felt like I had procured a great treasure and was very happy.

The forms were teardrop shaped which I discovered was less than idle but they were very nice and lasted several years of regular use until one day I found they had been eaten by a rat. At the time I kept my things in a storage locker and somehow a rat had made its nest in my lingerie drawer. It was as disgusting as it sounds. Lots of things got thrown away and the rest went through several washings. The breast form was a hopeless mess of silicone gel, fur, and lint. Fortunately by that time my local TG community had come to be serviced by various vendors selling lower cost breast forms in a more accepting environment. My next set was about $150. They lasted several years until they starting leaking from small punctures. I learned to be more careful and used  silicone sealer for the leaks but the result was not very attractive. By that time Ebay and the Internet had made high quality silicone forms much more available and at a much lower cost. I bought several sets of Amoena for $50-80 each. My favorite was the Aire form which was  triangle shaped and made of lightweight silicone foam. They fit nicely and were weighted but not too much. They are still my favorite and are the forms I wear most often.

Still I was interested in find alternatives which might be more natural or durable and I continued looking. More on that in a future post.

robin

Forced Femininization – Why?

I have been reading various reviews of the movie “The Skin I Live In” trying to decide if I am going or not and doing so caused me to starting thinking about the popularity of the idea of forced femininization in the TG community. I visited some TG fiction sites and was once again struck by how many stories had forced feminization as the central theme. There are two sub-themes: one is that the guy is forced to crossdress for some harmless reason, such as needing an extra actress in a stage show. The guy then discovers he really likes it and ends up transitioning willingly. The other is that he is forced to crossdress or have a sex change as punishment for some bad behavior, usually towards women. The later tends to be considerably more violent. In both forms the guy often comes to love his new identify, although often in some dominated form in the later form.

I have often wondered why such such stories are so popular. As I noted, in my previous post, such stories have never really appealed to me (actually TG fiction in general does not appeal to me but such stories especially don’t appeal) but they do seem to have a large following. My usual explanation is that some TGs are basically ashamed of their condition and hence can enjoy being “female” only if “forced”. Their behavior is excused since it was not something voluntary, they were “made to do it”. Hence such stories appeal to them as a way of expressing what they feel. At one level it sort of makes sense, though perhaps a little sad.

Sometimes, though,  I wonder if something darker is going on . The notion that being “female identified” is somehow degrading. That to make a male into a female is the surpreme punishment. In many of the stories with a forced sex change, the post op woman is further degraded in some way, perhaps being forced to be a prostitute or sex slave or perhaps just drawn to guys who will mistreat her. They are seldom successful a CEO after their transformation. I find these story lines really disturbing and I really don’t get them. Do some TGs really hate themselves so much? Do they also hate women at some level?

At this point, I don’t have a really good answer as to why such stories exist at all. I wonder how many TGs are actually attracted to such stories. Perhaps only a small, but visible , part of the community is interested in such stories. I also wonder if there is some generational thing going on, perhaps it is a leftover of a time in which TGs stayed much more hidden and there was more shame associated with it. With TGs appearing on prime time TV, such as Chaz Bono, perhaps the notion of having to be forced to cross dress or transition for it to be okay, is much less necessary. In any case for those of us drawn to the female, its hard to see why we need to be forced or degraded along the way. Perhaps what we need are stories in which we are forced not to crossdress or transition. The problem is that many of us would find such stories too true to real life to be entertaining.

robin

TG Themed Movie: The Skin I Live In

One of the more popular themes in TG Fiction is the forced feminization of an unwilling male, either by forcing him to wear women’s clothing or by performing a complete sex change on him. While I have never really understood why this theme is so popular (for lots of us we have to be forced NOT to crossdress or change gender), but given the sheer number of such stories it must resonant with many TGs.

There is a new movie that is being generally released this week that deals with exactly this theme. Its title is “The Skin I Live In” and without giving too much away, it deals directly with the idea of forced feminization. It is a bit of an Indie film but is directed by a well known director and contains mainstream actors. It is likely to be be playing in an “art theater” near you soon.

 From what I have read, it is more of a horror story than anything else. It is a dark, violent story of revenge and completely different from “TransAmerica” which was a serious but more lighthearted movie about TGs. You can read an interview with the director here:

http://entertainment.salon.com/2011/10/13/almodovar_builds_a_new_frankenstein/

One of the major points of the interview is that Almodovar believes gender change is the ultimate challange to  God (which is one of his reasons for making the movie). I find it odd that many who oppose gender change believe the same thing. It is like both supporters and opponents believe the same thing, just differ on whether they think challanging God is a good idea or not. I have never viewed gender in quite such cosmological terms (even though I consider myself a Christian) and so find it hard to get worked up about it. Someday I will write something about  being a Christian TG.

I have not decided whether to see the movie or not. I tend to avoid horror films (I think the last one I saw was “Poltergeist”) and highly violent films. There is a rather graphic rape scene in the movie and I can do without seeing that. Still I am curious about the film and may yet attend. If anyone does see it please let me know what your reactions are.

robin

Telling the boys from the girls

I was recently shopping with my family at a nearby mall and mentally played a game called “guess their gender” with various people as they walked by. Its a pretty simple game, look at a person and try to guess if they are male or female. It is not very hard. Indeed it is almost trivial to figure out which gender someone is just by looking them. One hardly ever encounters someone whose gender one cannot determine almost immediately. About the only questionable ones are young boys with longish hair but if you watch their behavior you will quickly figure them out. Sometimes there may a tall woman who I wonder whether they are TG or not, but I seldom wonder if they are a man. It made me wonder about why it is so easy to tell males from females and what it means to TGs.  I started by making  a list of the attributes of each gender presentation:

  • males are generally physically larger than females
  • females usually have longer hair
  • females are usually dressed nicer and more colorfully than males
  • females features are more delicate, males have rougher features
  • females often wear some makeup, males don’t
  • females generally move more gracefully. Lots of guys just plod along
  • females generally wear some jewelry, some guys might have a necklace but nothing visible
  • females have curves, guys don’t (except around their stomachs…)
  • females usually carry a purse, most guys don’t

When you group all these characteristics together, they tend to form two well defined groups: male and female. Not all men nor all women have all the attributes of their gender, but virtually all have most of them. People have no problem deciding the gender of the person even when the person in question does not possess all the attributes of their natural gender (i.e. women with short hair or who are 6′, guys with “man bags” or delicate features) so long as they have “most” of them. Especially given the limited time (and interest) most of us when looking at other people we have no problems categorizing the gender of the person walking toward us.

For TGs, the ease by which other identify male and female is in many ways a good thing.  Most people are used to making snap judgements on gender since it is so easy to do normally. If a tg person can present a reasonable number of the attributes of their desired gender, most people will make the desired snap judgement  and move on. Most folks are not thinking about tgs and so if things more or less look “right”, they will accept you as your desired gender. If you can by genetics, surgery, or training (style, movement, clothing, etc) possess more of the attributes of the desired gender, so much the better. For casual or part-time TGs this is one of the goals of femininity training as offered by Denae and others. “Load up” on all the attributes you can have control over and hope those will cancel out the ones you cannot do anything about (of course if you try too hard (i.e. clothes that don’t fit the situation), you will attract attention for the wrong reason).

This of course works only for casual contact. The more prolonged the interaction, the more picky people get about making sure the gender attributes are consistent with the presented gender. Still if your goal is get out of the “closet” and into public, knowing that most people will make the snap decision as to your gender can be a source of encouragement.

robin