Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Alexis Arquette: She's My Brother

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | June 16, 2007 4:08 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Alexis Arquette, Frameline Film Festival, gender transition, Harry Benjamin Syndrome

It's amazing how glamorous a little press accreditation can feel, my favorite part is getting inside the theater before everyone else so that I can choose the seat of my choice! Soon the theater is packed with so many gays, I don't think I've seen this many gays in a while. Not all together, at least. Here are the kinds of things these gays say:

A bourgie tweaker type with disappearing jawline, to one of his friends: I need a dollar because they only take cash -- I'm like hello, the dark ages!

A lesbian to her companion: there's nowhere to get a burrito around here, is there? (This movie is premiering in the Mission, where there are probably 20 taquerias within a five block radius).

Then I'm bonding with the guy next to me who at least has a good sense of humor, he says I think the real show is taking place right now. He's right in a lot of ways, it's fun to watch the crowd, but then I realize he's saying this while looking at this one particularly glamorous transwoman, the guy says: because you can't tell what anyone is.

Oh, but the movie -- right, the movie -- Alexis Arquette: She's My Brother. It starts with Alexis practicing her voice training, it's pretty hilarious because she's been acting since day one so she's got it down: deep voice for when she's angry, queeny voice for day-to-day, high ditzy voice when she's trying to pass. The movie is about her transitioning from so-called male to so-called female, it follows a familiar trans narrative where we're going to be present for all the steps to the endpoint of a new vagina. The twist is that, when Alexis Arquette outs herself to the media as trans, the paparazzi line up to snap photos. I guess I don't have that much experience watching paparazzi events of this sort, they are all behind barricades while Alexis is doing runway -- it's much more glamorous than I expected.

Alexis is also quite smart, and she decided she doesn't want to take any hormones because of the way the anti-testosterone drugs destroy your liver, and she also is down with the "Harry Benjamin thing," the assumption that all transpeople are unstable and therefore unsuitable for surgery until proven otherwise by qualified medical doctors, it's a code of ethics from the Harry Benjamin Gender Dysphoria Association. We watch Alexis resentfully go to therapy, but mostly we watch her enter her car in an endless variety of makeup and outfits, she's worrying about how she's going to make a living since it won't be from acting because Hollywood won't give transwomen the parts they want, but then suddenly she buys a new house.

Here's someone with all of this privilege, she might need to borrow the money for surgery from her wealthier actor sisters and brothers, but there's never an issue about whether she'll get it. What is an issue is the media circus around her, which includes most of her friends and their crass questions about whether she's chopped it off yet, even though none of the other Arquettes appear on camera with her for more than a few moments (in one scene, her brother David appears chummy, but then dashes away as soon as he's needed by more important media). The title of the movie is a reference to Alexis's sisters and brothers awkwardness with the transition, but we never get to see this on camera -- the title doesn't really make sense without it, so I'm guessing some footage was cut because the filmmakers couldn't get permissions.

By the end of the movie, we're bored by interviews with a few club personality bimbos and the surgeon defending the Harry Benjamin rules and the therapist voicing her acceptance and Alexis doing her makeup again and putting on yet another wig and the bleeped out curse words since I guess this might have been made for British tv. But what's most interesting about the documentary is that Alexis ends up refusing to disclose whether she's had any surgery. Even after taking the audience on trips to the surgeon and the therapist, Alexis declares that the important part is her self-acceptance as a transwoman -- it's all a bit hackneyed, since she invokes the "right to privacy," which rings just a tiny bit false since she's such a publicity hound (she just wants to control the attention), but still it's refreshing that the movie doesn't tidy itself up with the ordinary trans narrative of "I have arrived!"

Mattilda blogs at

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