There is a discussion to be had about LGBTQ+ representation in the media, and how poorly it has been handled, and it’s not a discussion I would avoid. However, this is not about that. This is me speaking of my own experiences. This is not me speaking on behalf of everyone. Please bear with me on a lot of this because it was all a long process about learning about myself and learning about the LGBTQ+ community. If someone comes to you and tells you that Silence Of The Lambs is harmful then listen to them. Don’t let my experiences dampen the experience of others. And my experiences with Silence Of The Lambs have been positive ones.
Setting aside the debate of whether or not it’s horror or to what degree it is a horror movie, Silence Of The Lambs was one of the first horror movies I saw. It was in the small but fun company of A Nightmare On Elm Street, Evil Dead 2, and Maximum Overdrive. I don’t remember exactly the first time I saw it, I was probably in the 8th grade or it was around that time. I knew at that time I was attracted to girls more that I was attracted to boys and I was stepping my way towards calling myself a lesbian.
I was instantly drawn to Jodie Foster’s Clarice Sterling and her story. I thought Hannibal Lecter was incredibly intruiging and suave on top of being a cannibalistic serial killer. I finally understood the “put the lotion in the basket” references that people would joke about.
As I was immersing myself more and more into horror movies, I was watching a lot of behind-the-scenes features on DVDs and if there was a show on TV about the making-of a movie then I would stop and watch it, not caring if I had seen it before. Watching a special on Silence Of The Lambs, the “coming up” spot before a commercial was showing people with signs protesting the opening of the movie. I thought to myself, “Why would people be protesting this?…ooooohhhhh.”
I could instantly see why someone would be against the character of Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb and how it is a negative representation. At first, I had just thought the character of Buffalo Bill was someone dressing in drag. I didn’t know the depth of gender identity or expression and that there is a difference between drag performers and someone who is transgender. The character is a combination of real life serial killers Ted Bundy, Jerry Brudos, and Ed Gein. Brudos and Gein were known for dressing in feminine clothing and Gein had actually made a “woman suit”.
Silence Of The Lambs and the character of Buffalo Bill were my introduction to the world of true crime and LGBTQ+ characters.
If you ask any horror fan in the LGBTQ+ community and they’ll tell you that there is an incredible lack of positive representation in the genre. If there is a “token” gay character then it’s a safe bet that they’re going to die or, in some cases, be the killer or helping the killer (why I did not like High Tension or the Scream TV series). We’ve never had a lesbian Laurie Strode as some sort of counterbalance.
When I was a child, I was very observant of those around me and what certain “norms” were. I wondered why it was ok for guys to walk around without shirts all the time and wondered why girls couldn’t. I felt weird having certain things done for me, such as men acting “chivalrous”. That was how I wanted to act. I was in that transition of “tomboy” to “trans”.
Over the years, I’ve probably identified myself in enough different ways to fill out a bingo card, and it took me a long time to accept that that’s ok. The first time someone called me “sir” in public I cried. I just sat in my car and cried. I didn’t know if that’s who I was. I knew about transgender people but I still thought the options were man or woman. I would have an identity crisis like clockwork my senior year of high school.
These were things I was feeling (and still feel) but I never felt wrong about feeling those ways until someone told me it was wrong.
It wasn’t until I was out of high school that I learned there was a grey-area in gender. Thanks to the internet, I learned about terns such as “genderqueer” and “non-binary”. I learned I didn’t have to decide to be one way or another. I learned about being agender and the areas of demigender/demiboy/demigirl. I had to move past what I felt was “acceptable” ways to be trans and just do as much or as little as I felt comfortable doing. I’m still working on that, too. I’m pansexual. I’m demigender and I use they/them pronouns but I will have no opposition if someone refers to me as “sir” in public.
Thomas Harris’ Silence Of The Lambs was published in 1988 and the movie came out in 1991. I wasn’t even born yet (I was born in 1992). Marsha P. Johnson and other black trans women rose up and The Stonewall Riots happened 51 years ago. So much had been happening before I was born and while I was still young. It’s 2020 and I’m 27 now and there’s still so much happening and still so much to learn.