When we posted the new Arcade Fire “We Exist” video the other day, we thought the story of the character played by Andrew Garfield was a touching tribute to the struggles that many people with non traditional gender identities go through. But one of, if not the most prominent trans stars in the music world has taken umbrage to their casting of Garfield, a straight man, in the role.
Dear @arcadefire , maybe when making a video for a song called “We Exist” you should get an actual “Trans” actor instead of Spider-Man?
— Laura Jane Grace (@LauraJaneGrace) May 22, 2014
Grace, who came out as transgender after a long career in the strident, pointed punk outfit Against Me! has sung powerfully and movingly about her own experiences on recent songs like “FUCKMYLIFE666” and “Black Me Out.”
It’s a similar debate to the one that cropped about around Macklemore’s “Same Love” and Jared Leto’s performance in Dallas Buyer’s Club: Do the gay and trans communities need to be represented by straight white men? An essay by Leela Ginelle in PQ Monthly that Grace tweeted out makes the case.
As I’ve written before, music acts don’t have to portray transpeople as victims in order to convey their support. “We Exist” clearly isn’t one of those videos, however.
Instead it’s a retread of transphobia’s greatest hits: transwomen hate themselves; transwomen want cisguys who don’t want them; and, worst, transwomen attract physical assault like magnets.
These are not new tropes. I’d learned them subconsciously by puberty in the 80s. The reason they’re rehashed here, seems to be to highlight the band’s response. “We’ve heard life is shitty for transwomen, and we don’t think it’s cool,” the clip says.
Is that terrible? No. Were their hearts in the right place? All evidence suggests they were. What exactly is a transperson supposed to take from it, though? “I’m certain to be viciously bashed for being who I am and pursuing love . . . and Arcade Fire and Spiderman like me.” Um, thanks?
The general consensus seems to be that the band had their hearts in the right place, but shouldn’t be speaking for a group that they don’t belong to. I’m certainly sympathetic to that point, but there’s also a tendency among marginalized people online to dismiss allies that can help bring their concerns to a much larger audience than they would have gotten otherwise. Either way, I think we can all agree, straight, gay, or trans, that Arcade Fire is overrated and the Spider-Man films are garbage.