Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Jane Adams and Thomas Jane as Tanya and Ray on Hung
After I posted on Hung, I watched a few more episodes, catching up with a recent story-line (Episode 27, “What’s Going on Downstairs or Don’t Eat Prince Eric“) about Ray’s encounters with Kyla (Jamie Clayton), the transgender client Lenore introduces to his services without telling Ray that Kyla, who presents as a woman, is “actually” a man.
The debate about Kyla is set in the context of Ray’s apparent aversion to having sex with men, which Tanya’s new worker, the happily omi-sexual Jason, is willing to do. When Charlie, Tanya's erstwhile lover and fellow pimp, suggests that joining forces with Jason and his wife, Sandy, will allow Tanya and Ray to expand their services, Ray grudgingly agrees to bring the much younger man on board.
Later in the episode, the revelation that Kyla is transgendered turns the tables on Ray and forces him to examine his narrow-mindedness.
The story-line presents a rather lame, liberal excursion into transgendered experience. Ray’s dismay when he learns that Kyla is trans seems calculated to address mainstream viewers’ presumed discomfort.
But when Ray accompanies Kyla to her high school reunion—and paid handsomely, even though he insists that sex is out of the question—he sees his date through her former classmates’ eyes and realizes his bigotry.
At the affair, Kyla aims to pass as a woman, and successfully mystifies former friends who have no idea who she is. Then, in a double reveal, just as a table full of men recognizes Ray as a local if faded basketball hero, they also recognize Kyla as Dan, an old classmate they remember with derision and righteous ridicule for his new gender performance.
Kyla is humiliated and plans to flee, but Ray comes to her rescue, chivalrously suggesting that they dance as the others leer. Kyla is appeased and comforted. Ray’s voiceover suggests that he’s become too old not to let himself and others be what they are, whatever that may be, securing the liberal message of tolerance for the episode’s end.
Obviously, this isn’t the treatment transgender people deserve from a show that otherwise takes a more progressive view of women’s sexuality. Given how much the producers seem to know about feminism, I’d expect them to present a more complicated story about the show’s first trans client. Because the story proceeds from Ray’s perspective, his anxiety about homosex determines his reaction to Kyla, and steers the viewers’ response.
At the same time, the episode is one of the first in the series to underscore that Tanya and Ray are middle-aged. Charlie reminds Ray that however large his dick, it won’t last forever, startling Ray with this foreshadowing of his inevitable loss of potency.
And when Tanya and Ray try to work with Jason and Sandy, they’re both chagrined that they can’t follow the younger couple’s pop culture references. The show’s attention to their ages increased my affection for the characters. After all, how often do explicitly middle-aged characters talk about generational issues on television?
On the next episode (#28, “I, Sandee or This Sex. Which Is. Not One.”), Jessica (Anne Heche) continues to find herself excited by Tanya’s instruction at the Wellness Center. Although her presence there throws Tanya and Ray into fits of anxiety, because they continue to think they can hide Ray’s sexual activities from his former wife, Jessica is taken with the theory and the practice of embracing her own sexuality.
She enters Tanya’s office clutching a book, breathlessly trying to say the author’s name, which Tanya explains is “Irigaray.” The book is the famous French feminist’s This Sex Which is Not One. I think this is the first time I’ve seen French feminist theory happily referenced on television (let alone used to suggest how women might sexually empower themselves). Jessica can’t quite follow Irigaray’s ideas, but Tanya is delighted by her enthusiasm and eagerness. The two women bond over the book, hugging one another thankfully.
This level of insight into the post-structuralist critique of sexuality and gender should have allowed the producers to handle the trans story-line more gracefully. But I continue to revel in Tanya’s feminist sex pedagogy and her intellectual savvy, which more than outweighs her dismal business acumen.
Argue with its lapses, but do watch Hung.
The Feminist Spectator