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The Laugh of the Psycho

I saw Psycho at the absolutely wrong time of my life. When I watched it, probably at around 12 years old, I was that combination of immaturity, imagination, and pubescence that is particularly prone to absorbing the wrong aspects of the world around him or her and laying a path for the rest of a life. More on this in the fourth paragraph.

Psycho became famous for, among other aspects, terrifying many a shower-taker for years to come (including Janet Leigh, who legend has it took baths for the rest of her life). The stabbing scene in the shower did indeed get to me. However, as luck  would have it, the shower in my house had sliding glass doors, so I was only frightened when in hotel rooms. Now I’m over that, but it did take years to shower without peering outside to make sure I wasn’t about to die.

I still haven’t gotten over the end scene, though. I refuse to acknowledge a spoiler alert for a 50-year-old movie, so I will tell you that I’m referring to the scene when the woman in the basement realizes that Mrs. Bates  is a skeleton, and Norman comes down the stairs at her, dressed as his mother, knife up, and with the scariest look on a face I have ever seen. I don’t know why that scene jumped into my consciousness so deeply, but I can tell you that I refuse to even look at a story about Psycho to this day, just in case I’m unlucky enough to see a still-frame of that scene. I might start shrieking on the spot. (And heads up to anyone who seeks to use this information against me: you will no longer be my friend. I am serious.) Anthony Perkins had a look of derangement and anger that I’ve never forgotten, and I can still see him walking down the stairs in my mind. I remain a fan of horror movies, both suspense thrillers and campy monster flicks. It’s just Psycho that got to me.

I write to you about this today to share an unfortunate side-effect to this event: I belive that this scene has affected my perception of gender switching, whether as simple as cross-dressing or as transformative as the transgender community. I consider myself a rational person who is as open to differences in people as anyone else, yet I carry a stupid bias with me. And it is stupid, a stupid and nonsensical association. But it’s there. When I see or talk to men or former men who now either dress as women or have become women, there is a specter of fear within me. Because it’s not based in anything logical, my mind can overcome the association (not that I have that many folks in this camp in my life, but there are some). It bothers me, however, that I feel something negative for no good reason. It’s like having a mean teacher who always wore yellow leading to a dislike of those later in life who wear yellow–a coincidence of detail rather than a legitimate root cause.

Then I start to wonder if there is more to it than this. I don’t know my psychology well enough to self-diagnose if this association is only a coincidence or some representation of a fear for some aspect of men dressed as or becoming women. Helene Cixous’s The Laugh of the Medusa may have some answers. My inner monologue may have more. This is a rare piece of writing where I don’t, with authority, give my version of exact answers to the unknown. I have neither the knowledge nor the confidence to explore this further, at least with you. I always write to you with honesty and openness. Sure, I may exaggerate for effect at times, but I give you the straight truth. So, I can tell you that because I am open with you in most matters, I do not care to be so with this. I write with you to make connections, not to expose my inner workings for entertainment or for shock value. I’m old enough to have some modesty.

There are times for public inquiry of visible people. There are other times where we have to sit alone and uncover who we are. See you next month.

12 responses to “The Laugh of the Psycho”

  1. Avatar ebbillings says:

    Interesting take, I wonder how many others out there have the same association, but have never explored (or realized) it.

    • Jason Jason says:

      Thanks very much for the response. I've carried this for awhile. I remember an episode of Hunter (!) in which the end revealed the the killer woman was a man. I know it wasn't a scary scene, but I freaked. I think all the associations build up over time, making for such ridiculousness in adulthood.

  2. Avatar SusanJBigelow says:

    Sadly, your reaction is not uncommon… which isn't surprising, given that portrayals of transgender people in any shape or form in media are almost universally negative. I mean, remember "The Crying Game?" The big "reveal" leads to disgust and vomiting… and how are we supposed to feel about that? Who is the audience supposed to sympathize with?
    There are plenty of examples of gender variant people being cast as somehow mentally unstable. I mean, I recently read a story by Mercedes Lackey (!) in which the villain is a transgender woman, and the reason why she's a villain is that she's trans or something. It sucks, because I loved Mercedes Lackey's books… but now I don't know how to feel about them.
    That doesn't even get into how the media plays transgender people, transgender women especially, either as total freaks or as punchlines, when they're not portraying us as either dangerous or deceptive.
    For a much more thorough feminist exploration of all of this, read Julia Serano's "Whipping Girl."
    In any event, I'm glad you're able to identify this sort of feeling as being irrational.

    • Jason Jason says:

      Thank you so much for responding, Susan. I've carried this Psycho connection with me for so long, I never considered that it may have been bolstered through the years by other allusions that transgender equals not just difference but disgust or punchlines. I know in my lifetime there has been a seeming sea change of exposure and understanding toward more common ares of the LGBT community, but I'm sure from your perspective the progress feels like it's at a crawl. Here's hoping in 20 years we all look back at how backwards people were in 2011 because we've progressed so far.
      And thank you for your most excellent monthly columns about parts of your life. For what it's worth, they've been helpful toward putting an end to this irrational feeling of mine. Take care.

      • Avatar SusanJBigelow says:

        I'm sorry I didn't respond more quickly… I hope I didn't come off as curt or anything above! I did want to say that it means a lot to me, and shows an awful lot about you, that you're willing to try and face this sort of thing and try and understand why you feel the way you feel. That is, frankly, awesome.
        And thank you for reading my stuff, too… I'm really glad it helps.

  3. Avatar disperse says:

    I think the irrational fear that trans-gendered or cross-dressing people are going to hurl themselves at you wielding a kitchen knife is somewhat less worrying than the more common prejudices. At least you can be fairly certain it’s an _irrational_ fear and not be tempted to rationalize it.

  4. Jason Jason says:

    Very nice response, Ed-in-Chief–thanks for this.

  5. Avatar scott says:

    Yesterday in my pediatric dental office, I was crowning the tooth of a 7 year old child and telling him a story to distract him. The story I chose was of a classmate of mine who had worked at a car wash fundraiser all day and sunburned the tops of his feet. He was unable to pull on shoes the next day, so his clothing of choice was…stocking caps. So, in a way, he was a dude wearing stockings. Kinda Trans, in a way.
    Funny that I hadn't thought of it for 20 years, and then I thought of it yesterday. Just in time for your story.
    Have a great weekend,

    • Jason Jason says:

      I never considered myself a fashion trendsetter, Scott, but these facts make a strong case. Thanks for a great start to my Monday.

  6. I appreciated reading this, and your willingess to share in this way. Though it's not really connected, I can't help but think back to when I was 7/8 and I was *petrified* of The Elephant Man. If I saw anything connected–a write-up in TV guide, or a picture in a movie magazine (I used to flip thru music and movie magazines at the grocery store), I was afraid to the core. Instead of the bogeyman I thought TEM waited for me in closets and under my bed. My stepfather knew, and he even called me into the room when it was playing on HBO. We all laugh now but its not a good memory. Nearly 30 yrs later, I still don't know what was at the core of that fear. Maybe you will be more successful at figuring it out for yourself. Since writing this, have you had any further insight?

    • Jason Jason says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Stacy. Since I wrote this, one insight is that I'm not alone–not only have you shared your fellow irrational fear with me, but many others have as well. I guess in that way these are no different than the bogeyman, only that they happen to be based in pop culture or history. Another insight in my case came from Susan Bigelow, who wondered if my association is typical given the lousy presentation the transgender community has gotten and still gets in the news. I do have a couple more insights, but as I mentioned I've decided to keep certain trains of thought out of this discourse. I can tell you overall I'm so pleased to be a part of piece that seemed to have equal meaning to me and our readers; so often the balance shifts one way or the other. Thanks for your time. PS Why isn't it the boogeyman? That spelling is far more sinister.

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