Funeral Parade of Roses

Funeral Parade of Roses

I cannot speak for every gender non-conforming person in the world; I can only speak for myself. Firstly, I use "gender non-conforming" simply because I don't know a better term for it. Secondly, every time I see a film like this, I am trapped between feeling like I've dodged a bullet, feeling like an imposter, feeling jealous, and feeling like there should be more in art and media than the dark side of trans-life.

[Edit 6-23-21: for those who don't know me, I have since resolved much of my identity questions and begun my medical and social transition as a trans woman.]

The film is a complex mess of imagery, a menage of docudrama, Warholian observation, theatrical hyperbole, and Greek tragedy, all of which capture the drugs, sex work, and dizzying nightlife of Japanese LGBT (mostly G & T) culture of the late sixties. Seeing the inherent violence, exclusion, and self-destruction of that subculture is what makes me feel like I've dodged a bullet. My own self-dejection manifests in a slothly aversion to the effort it takes to own the part of me that feels dysfunctional in the body I was born with. By neglecting it, I have escaped much of the prejudice against and the darker sides of gender non-conformity that America still harbors. I am left feeling solidarity and sympathy, but not identity.

Which is why I also feel like an imposter. Despite my rare efforts to understanding, accepting, and ultimately, living the bent gender role that rests nebulously somewhere in my psyche, I have never really felt the full sting of oppression directly. Obviously, the fear and angst that prevents me from pursuing the matter is derived from a lifetime of indirect oppression and repression, but it's a different matter to meet it head on. The men and women in this film are beautiful both superficially and metaphysically to my perceptions--that each one expresses contentment and happiness hits me hard. That this is juxtaposed with graphic scenes of sexuality, violence, and suicide tells me I don't even begin to know the pain that I fear so much.

That beauty inspires jealousy. To call my gender issues superficial is unfair, but a significant part of gender is about presentation. I cannot say whether I am a woman, or if I want to wear drag or if I want to be some sort of androgynous person, or if I just want to wear feminine things, but I do know that I want to be pretty. Films almost always gloss over the incredible amount of work most transgender people and gender non-conformers must undertake to pass. Passing is not important to everyone, but in film, unless the trans person is being used as the butt of a joke or a symbol of horror (both things that I abhor), the individual invariably passes. That most (if not all) of the drag queens, trans people, and others in this film not only pass, but do so as beautiful butterflies makes me weep inside for the amount of effort it would take me to even come close to that. I don't know if Japan's gay scene at the time this was filmed just shone with beautiful trans jewels, or if the casting was just dedicated and had a good eye, but they succeeded in painting a community, so to speak, of genuinely beautiful people.

I have mixed feelings about the representation, of course. On the one hand, it's mostly positive. On the other hand, it's not entirely accurate--and therefore othering to those who don't feel like they fit in. But it's not an issue I will dwell on, given that the film is an avant garde collage of plot and reality and counter-culture imagery; to take it as an attempt at an objective representation is unfair.

That said, ultimately, this is another film that focuses on a murderous gender non-conformer. That it seems to derive from the inner turmoil is something I sympathize with right now, as the difficulty in coming to terms with sexuality, gender, and one's parents and their roles in all of this currently taxes me. The film is not exactly clear on how everything fits together, but it is clear that Eddie's mother mocks her and violently discourages her exploration of her/his feminine side (I say "s/he" simply because some reviews refer to her with different terminology; the movie is ultimately unclear). Her violent reaction is shocking, but the life Eddie leads between that and the conclusion of the film has its ups and downs. Eddie is not wholly condemned for the violence of the past, but like Oedipus before, it all comes crashing down in horror and blood.

What does the film suggest by tying the Oedipus Rex myth to LGBT youth culture? The blending of this with the counter-culture protests, drug use, and more frowned upon parts of life could be taken as a condemnation, but there's too much sympathy in the filmmaking for that to be true. The characters are real human beings. The camera finds their souls as best it can in the sharply edited kaleidoscope of clairvoyant visuals and epileptic flashes. It refuses to be simply explained, which is perhaps for the best. There is no simple psychological explanation of gender, conforming or not, nor would there be one of the psyche of Japan in the late sixties, which is what the film is probably truly addressing.

"Roses were her favorite flower. They had to be artificial, too."

This quote, from the funeral of one of the trans characters, does sum up much of the tragedy of the film's subjects and my own experiences: no matter how much I admire and seek beauty, my circumstance imposes limitations in how far I can go. In the film, the drugs, drug dealing, sex work (the depiction thereof leaving something to be desired but also probably accurate to the patriarchal antagonisms the sex workers face), sexual quid pro quo, and dejection (self-imposed and not) all spell doom for the characters, limitations of circumstance and society. In small moments, it finds the grace of these characters despite all of this.

edited 4/13/17

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