In their introduction to Trap Door, Reina Gossett, Eric Stanley, and Johanna Burton explore the question of whether trans visibility in the media “is a goal to be worked toward or an outcome to be avoided at all costs” (Known Unknowns, pg. xx). This questioning is a necessary product of the simultaneous increase in transgender media representation and anti-trans violence, leading many to view representation as “doors” that provide access to “resources, to recognition, and to understanding” and as “traps” that “accomodate trans bodies” so long as they reinforce “dominant narratives” of otherness, and marginalization (pg. xxii). To understand this discrepancy, it is important to revisit the impact of prior trans representations that have produced a hostile climate of backlash and reaction.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) contains within it a representation of transness, one that works to link gender deviance to an underlying psychosis, one built upon seductive deception, and that culminates with an overwhelming message “that being queer is worse than death” (Osenlund, 2014). The film came out in the early 90’s, a time of supposed progress for the LGBTQ community, the era of a New Queer Cinema and of broader strides of mainstream representation. As evidenced in big features such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and The Crying Game (1992), the cultural fascination with linking gender transgression to criminal psychosis or as an inherently deceptive act was conceptually thriving. Ace’s gender “criminal” is Lois Einhorn, a typical no-nonsense police lieutenant who, frankly, has no time for Jim Carrey’s asinine antics. As the film progresses, she is revealed as a former kicker for the Miami Dolphins, Ray Finkle, and is linked as the perpetrator of the films’s central mascot heist. Following this reveal, the locus of criminality shifts entirely from the theft to the sexual deception of Lois having kissed Carrey in an earlier scene, leading to a grotesque reaction of disgust in which Carrey attempts to undo the penetration of his masculinity to Boy George’s “The Crying Game”, linking the two films scenes of revelation fueled disgust. The ending of the film replicates this disgust with a public shaming and dehumanization of Lois, who is essentially discarded at the film’s climax, seen as a less than worthy life-form than the now recovered Miami Dolphins mascot.
While the film doesn’t necessarily add anything to already prevalent transphobic/homophobic strands of American culture, its legacy as cult-status among a largely male audience reveling in the “Finkle is Einhorn, Einhorn is a man!” mantra has undoubtedly reinforced, and is reinforced by the “trans panic” phenomena that motivates the killing of transwomen. As put by Cece McDonald, the idea of warning people against the “danger” of being tricked or “made to believe [a] person was a different gender” is an act that motivates violence towards trans people, and itself “is violence” (p. 32). This film is a prime case study example of how harmful trans visibility can frame the marginalization and dehumanization of trans bodies as a socially acceptable, and even a celebrated form of violence.