blade runner 2049: trans edition, now with more cis people

at times shatteringly brilliant, at others confusing, obscure, and disappointing.

(spoilers ahead)

i liked Blade Runner 2049 for the most part but it seemed there was a pervasive misogyny to the whole thing that was very poorly justified. i could be misreading it but several scenes featuring violence against women were extremely difficult for me to watch and one of them left me hyperventilating and feeling nauseous. it seemed like all the women existed either to die to prove how evil their murderers are or to advance the plot for the white male protagonists while being perfectly self-effacing. the resistance leader might be an exception though.

of course my trans headcanon machine kicked into full gear with the whole “everyone secretly wishes they were a girl” thing among the revolutionaries even though it seemed completely unintentional. oh and also “that’s not a name, it’s a serial number” is painfully close to the connection i have with my birthname, which for me at this point is a label for a legal abstraction that doesn’t exist as a body and persists in this role solely because the state demands a consistent means of control. it might as well be a serial number.

it is almost unquestionably the most beautiful movie i’ve ever seen, and the philosophy is still interesting for the most part, but i can’t help but wonder whether the questions about what makes an identity, what makes you real, what does it mean to be authentic, can you convince yourself you’re real when society tells you you aren’t, what is a soul, etc, could’ve been better handled by a trans person or someone else for whom these questions aren’t allowed to be airy meditations on existentialism but questions for which wrong answers can and do get you killed.

this isn’t to say the director and writers have no understanding of or right to speak on these issues, just that at times it felt a little distant and a little impersonal and a little hypothetical and i fear it risks becoming another depoliticized cult adventure flick with a cool plot twist because of this. it can be so hard for people in dominant positions of power to understand that it often has to be blatant and carefully spelled out. (i’m mostly looking at men when i say this, particularly men in SF/F fandom) the film is dealing with questions faced by large groups of real people on a daily basis, yet what we have in the replicants of “2049” seems to be white, cis people but with trans people’s problems.

one can imagine a voight-kampff test for transness, (probably administered by TERFs to unusually tall women at feminist gatherings) and i wonder whether the movie might have had more to say about our current cultural-political atmosphere if it were more direct about the consequences of treating some people as less authentically human because they lack intrinsic characteristics. for blade runner the essential characteristic is a soul, which apparently derives from a womb. however this definition (and perhaps the entire concept) is shown to be total bullshit when Joe (don’t you dare deadname him goddamn it) starts acting like a fucking human being merely because he thinks he has a soul.

whether or not i’m “really trans” in a transcendent (no pun), platonic, essential sense is not something i agonize over much these days, and i often question whether it is a useful question to ask in the first place. i had a problem, and i eventually solved it in part by believing i was trans and acting on that belief, and it’s working out pretty well. identity is at least as much what you do as what you “are.” how many cis people do you know who defy gender stereotypes? how many non-replicants do you know that despite their obvious humanity don’t fucking act like human beings? (hint: we call these people “normal” and “republicans” respectively) if acting like a goddamn human being is proof enough that you are, should we care if you’re a replicant? if changing your name and clothing and pumping those hormones is going to make your life livable, should we really care whether or not you have a specific gender identity in your DNA? i don’t think so, and i think Joe would agree.