“The Assignment” is a movie starring Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver.
Rodriguez is a cisgender woman playing hitman Frank Kitchen, a cisgender man who unknowingly undergoes surgery to become a woman. Frank Kitchen’s involuntarily gender confirmation surgery is performed by The Doctor, played by Weaver. The movie is about Frank seeking revenge for the surgery.
In the trailer for the film set to be released later this year, The Doctor states her reason for the operation as “wanting to cause Frank Kitchen enormous psychic pain.” Frank is not transgender, so indeed it would be psychologically difficult to be in a body that is not his. When Frank wakes up and realizes he is in a female body, he screams in shock, “No!”
Actually being trans is a form of psychic pain in many ways. Many trans people feel they are in bodies that don’t belong to them. The film takes the real pain of trans people and demeans it. Forty-one percent of trans-identified individuals attempt suicide, according to Vocativ. When this film uses a cis man to portray the “psychic pain” of being transgender, it takes the very real and damaging pain of being trans away from trans people. It turns our reality into entertainment.
In the trailer, Frank re-introduces himself to a woman in his new body. We can imply from the scene that Frank knew this woman while he was in his male body. We then see a small clip where the two of them have had sex and the woman (currently unnamed) says, “I’m still trying to figure you out.” Frank responds, “I haven’t made enough trouble for you?”
Many trans people are rejected by family, friends and partners. If our significant others do stick around, we sometimes feel we are a burden on them for causing them to experience discrimination on our behalf. In fact, according to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, if a transgender person lost their job due to bias, 28 percent of partners of trans people also experienced job discrimination. So when Frank asks if he’s made enough trouble for her, what he’s really saying is, “My life has made your life harder. You don’t have to stick around.” And Frank isn’t even trans. He’s just a character who has unwillingly undergone a sex change.
In the trailer, we see Frank undergo anesthesia and then wake up later in a bed in a small, dirty room with his face wrapped in bandages. He unwraps his face and looks at his body to reveal that his sex is now female. This is not how it works. Undergoing a physical and medical transition to emerge as one’s self-identified gender is a process that often takes years and multiple surgeries. Physically transitioning from male to female often requires Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), doses of estrogen to feminize Frank’s secondary sexual characteristics, such as raising the pitch of his voice, softening his body hair, decreasing his sex drive, among others. Some of the surgeries Frank would have had to undergo include a tracheal shave, facial feminization, breast augmentation, buttock augmentation and genital surgery. It is simply not realistic that Frank would be put under anaesthesia as a male and wake up female. This gives the wrong notion to the audience that changing sexes is easy.
In reality, trans people usually first see a therapist, who diagnoses them with gender dysphoria. With their mental health diagnosis in hand, they see an endocrinologist who prescribes them HRT. In addition, they will decide if surgery is right for them to feel at home in their bodies. This usually happens over the course of years. Keep in mind, some people who identify as trans may want HRT and surgeries, but never receive them or put them off for years due to financial hardships, unwilling or incapable doctors in their areas and a lack of competent and affordable health insurance. To portray that a person can wake up in a different body after one surgery is erroneous and demoralizing to trans people who have to regularly remind themselves of their worth and their validity in the bodies they currently possess.
Finally, this movie sees being trans as a punishment. In the trailer, The Doctor says, “This operation’s your reminder of the terrible thing you did.” The audience doesn’t know what terrible thing Frank did, but it is irrelevant. Being trans is not a punishment; it is an identity.
There are many terrible things transpiring in the world right now, and this movie is nowhere near at the top of the list of horrors. Why write about this silly movie when there are legal U.S. residents who cannot return to their families? Yet in times of horror, many people turn to entertainment to allow them to escape the daily torments, if only for a few hours. If it is accurate to say pop culture reflects our society, then our society sees being trans as a punishment of psychic pain.
It is my duty as an out trans person and advocate for gender and sexual minorities to speak out when I see injustice. I cannot let this movie slide by without speaking out against it, even though there are discriminatory executive orders being signed almost daily. One wrong is not worth more than another.
I would like to end this article with a call to action, or rather, inaction. Do not see this movie. Do not give money to a business that actively demeans and demoralizes the struggles of real trans people. Being trans is a beautiful identity, one that ought to be celebrated instead of only mourned every Nov. 20 during Trans Day of Remembrance.