“Laerte-se”: the life narrative of a male-female transgender cartoonist in Brazil

Laerte-se”, directed by Lygia Barbosa and Eliane Brum, is a biography and self-focused life narrative of transgender Brazilian cartoonist Laerte Coutinho.

Laerte, now 65, didn’t start crossdressing until 2009 and announced herself as a woman soon thereafter.  The film has a lot of childhood 8mm reels of the boy Laerte who looks rather cis.  His family seemed somewhat understanding.  But Laerte says that as a man she was more reticent about homosexuality than gender change.

The film shows a lot of her cartoon work and paintings, and tries to convey her life narrative by metaphor in the cartoons.  She says that conservatism is capable of progressive ideas but moves to slowly.  Her cartoon activities were in support of the Left in Brazil, including some demonstrations in Sao Paolo. She has also covered professional soccer and likes to follow sports teams.  While the film gets into political polarization sometimes, it never takes up something as dangerous as, say, the (radical Muslim) cartoon controversy in Europe (Jyllands-Posten and Hebdo).

But the personal side of her transgender experience becomes quite telling. As the film opens, she is hesitant to start the interview process with the filmmaker, as there is an exchange of emails about the utility of time.  She says that sometimes transgender women who have completed the surgery believe they are “better” or more entitled that those who have not.

About 20 minutes into the film she talks about removing male body hair, and says doing so revealed a new person underneath.  This observation seems more relevant because she is Caucasian (European Portuguese descent) than it would be if she were any other race.  There is a shower leg shaving scene that reminds me of a bathtub scene in Sydney Pollack’s 1982 comedy “Tootsie” (Columbia) where Dustin Hoffman plays an unemployed actor who depilates and cross dresses to get work.  Actually there is a similar in “Magic Mike” (2012, directed Stever Soderbergh (Lionsgate) where Channing Tatum’s character winds up explaining to his girl friend why he “shaves his legs for work”. And don’t forget what happens to Troy McClain when he “took one for the team” on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”. In fact, Serbian author Bazhe, who escaped the violence after an eldercare situation, explains his forays into cross-dressing in his 2003 book “Damages”.  In fact, modifying one’s body to join the group used to be the point of hazing ceremonies, like the “Tribunals” at William and Mary in my lost semester in 1961, where “they” shaved the (freshman) boys’ legs.  I played hookey on that one.

She gets into some ruminations about “the body” as I have.  But I tended not to pay enough attention to my own appearance until I was old enough, 29, to come out a second time. (“My Second Coming” in my DADT-1 book). I was already going bald.   I didn’t have the experience of other gay men of being “desired” for a CIS body.  Ironically, I went bald in the legs in middle age.  No I didn’t smoke or have diabetes.  It all seems like a moral reflection.

Laerte has two cats, one of whom becomes a constant character in the film, demanding attention a lot.

The film (100 minutes) ends with a rather shocking nude scene of Laerte and one other woman not completely done with transition.

Sao Paolo long shot picture (Wiki).

Picture: “Lady Valor” Kristin Beck at gathering in Arlington VA December 2016.

Name:  “Laerte-se
Director, writer:  Lygia Barbosa, Eliane Brum
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1  (in Portuguese with subtitles)
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length: 100
Rating:  NA (“R”)
Companies:  Netflix (first from Brazil)
Link:  Metacritic

(Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 1:30 PM EDT)

“Front Cover”: in the fashion world, a young gay man of Chinese descent explores multiple identity issues when he works with a charismatic actor from China

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Name: Front Cover
Director, writer:  Ray Yeung
Released:  2015
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Vimeo screener from Strand, private
Length 87
Rating NA
Companies: Strand, Fortissimo
Link: official


Front Cover”, directed by Ray Yeung, poses a situation familiar to me:  a young gay man is “invited” into the life of a somewhat charismatic and strange (supposedly) straight man who tantalizes him  Jorge Ameer has explored that theme in the shorts series “Straight Men and the Gay Men Who Love Them.”

But this film transposes the situation to the world of other races and ethnicity – non-white males, where the ideas of attractiveness so familiar to me don’t necessarily apply.

Ryan (Jake Choi) works as a fashion designer in the garment district in New York, who fights off his Chinese heritage which his parents want him to be proud of.  He says he dates only Caucasian men.  (I sometimes heard this when I was living in NYC in the 1970s (sometimes in conversations about Filipinos).  His flippant boss (Jennifer Neala Page) pulls him off an assignment he likes to style a photo shoot for a flamboyant young Chinese actor Ning (James Chen), who has starred in a popular genre film “Springtime in Nangking”.

Ning plays the “China is your friend card” (which we know Donald Trump detests) of geopolitics, and insists that Ryan come to his palatial hotel suite to work with him.  Ning insists he is interested in women but keeps teasing Ryan with somewhat intimate situations, such as a situation on an outdoor dock shoot where Ryan has to wash his feet (Biblical style) to clean up the shot.

The film also sometimes brings up interesting sidebar scenes, like when a female model gets a sudden allergic rash to a bra she has to wear.

The basic plot setup structurally parallels my own story “The Ocelot the Way He Is” in my own DADT-III book, although I go in a totally different direction.

The screen credits mentioned Fortissimo Films, which was present at a screenwriting pitch seminar in 2006 in Washington, where I pitched my “Titanium” screenplay.

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016 at 8:45 PM EDT)

“The Intern”: a comedy about a 70-year-old retiree who seeks “real life” in a fashion firm

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Name: The Intern
Director, writer:  Nancy Meyers
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length 121
Rating PG-13
Companies: Warner Brothers, Dune-Ratpac
Link: official site


The Intern”, written and directed by Nancy Meyers, opens with 70-year-old Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) appraising himself in a ritzy New York apartment and explaining what it feels like to live as a retired widower, having already seen the world and finished his bucket list.  He keeps his suits and ties in immaculate order, as well as his NYC coop (in contrast to me).  He needs something to do, involving real people.

He finds an e-commerce fashion firm in Brooklyn, “About the Fit” (a little snazzier than the real life “Bindle and Keep”, July 29), which has an “outreach” to senior citizens by letting them “intern”.

He goes through the interviews and demonstrates his “people skills”, especially when the youngest manager, Justin (Nat Woff) asks him what he wants to be doing in ten years and then apologetically withdraws the cookie-cutter question. Other young managers include Jason (Adam Devine, the “Man-o-Lantern 2”).

But most of the film revolves around his working with CDO Jules Olsen (Anne Hathaway). He own husband (Anders Holm) had become a stay-at-home dad to give her time to grow the film, but her personal life is creating enough noise that Wall Street wants her to step down from the startup.  She’s inclined to do so to save her marriage.  In the meantime, Whittake has developed a romance with massage therapist Fiona (Rene Russo).  In one sequence, he participates in a fake home breakin to save Jules from an embarrassing email on her own computer (remind you of Hillary Clinton’s server scandal?)

The film is stronger as it starts than as it follows through its 121 minutes.  There’s a real question of whether you need to join with other people in a bureaucratic environment to accomplish things.  There are real issues of keeping up appearances.

The film should be viewed in light of Ross Perlin’s 2011 book “Intern Nation”.

(Published: Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, at 3:15 PM EDT)

“Suited”: a tailoring business in Brooklyn meets the needs of hard-to-fit customers (including transgender)

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Name: Suited
Director, writer:  Jason Benjamin
Released:  2016/6
Format:  standard 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  HBO GO, 2016/7/28 thru Xfinity
Length 76
Rating NA   (PG-13?)
Companies: HBO Documentary, Sundance
Link: official site 

Suited” (2016, directed by Jason Benjamin, produced by Lena Dunham)  , a new HBO Documentary (premiered in June), traces the setup and work of a tailor company in Brooklyn called “Bindle and Keep”, which emphasizes making custom suits for people, especially transgender men (female to male).

The company’s niche is based on the idea that many men cannot easily find a suit that fits off the rack in conventional department stores of men’s shops.   The earliest scenes depict the entrepreneurial owner (himself a female-to-male) examining the new work space, apparently near Liberty Center in Brooklyn.

Later he works with various clients and finally helps with a wedding (which is female to a female-to-male trans, which I could have viewed as heterosexual – the marriage might have been “legal” even in the past, before gay marriage became legal in New York and in all 50 states).

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I can remember, as a teen and college age person growning up in the DC area, going to Schwartz, a factory  in Baltimore for most of my suits.  When I started working, I think I had seven suits: chartreuse, gray, brown, dark blue, black, and plaid blue, and then an ultra-cheap second gray.  I do remember the fitting rooms.  I used to hate them as a child (all the accidental needle pricks).  There was some mild pressure when I worked for Sperry Univac (1972-1974, in New Jersey) to dress up better and be willing to spend more on clothes – which you never really had to do.  I never bought the idea that you could make a less “desirable” (according to the notions of a few decades ago) bod by “covering it up” with snazzy clothes.  But even in the 70s, some progressive women tried to encourage less “competitive men” (like me) to “go hippy” in order to “make up for it.”

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The film reminds me of the 19th century meta-novel or poioumenon, “Sartor Resartus” by Thomas Carlyle (“The Tailor Re-Railored”).  I can remember plenty of little jokes about “sartorial taste” early in my own working life.

HBO had created a “Get Suited” contest , where (LGTBQ) youth were asked to submit videos to win a trip to NYC and get a suit from the company.

Here are three clips from the contest:

Brenda:

Will:

Jaehla:

Published: Friday, July 29, 2016 at 11:15 AM EDT.

First picture: Redhook area of Brooklyn, mine, Feb. 2013;  second: BargeMusic in East River, near Brooklyn Bridge, mine, June 2011.