🇺🇸 USA/Glamorizing the “Trans” Style/Review of Suited HBO

By Jess Grant/USA

HBO’s documentary film Suited (2016) is an infomercial for the Gender Industry, selling (and celebrating) the amputation of heathy body parts in the pursuit of an “authentic lifestyle.”

Told in the style of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the film follows the co-founders of a tailor shop in Brooklyn NY (Bindle and Keep), where they craft suits for transgender clients whose lives will, by the end of the show, be uplifted through the magic of bespoke tailoring. Though the movie is five years old, it’s still available for streaming and buoyed by the success of its co-producers, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner (Girls).

Suited is a good example of how American media normalizes body dissociation. The wide-scale marketing of gender-identity products and services (drugs and surgeries) uses a ruse as old as capitalism itself – plant a dissatisfaction in the mind of the consumer, then offer a fee-based solution. It’s an old trope, even in television. FX’s Nip/Tuck (2003-2010) always began with the plastic surgeon asking a new patient, “So tell me – what don’t you like about yourself?”

Why would an otherwise respected media outlet like HBO stoop to shilling for Gender Inc? Might it have something to do with the fact that HBO was purchased in 2016 by AT&T, a corporate behemoth that’s been diversifying its portfolio with significant investments in healthcare and artificial intelligence?

Rachel Tutera, one of Bindle and Keep’s co-founders, is 31. She describes her personal “gender journey” (to transmasculine), shows us her tattoos and explains her pronouns. Their business’ mission: “It’s all about just feeling great in your body, especially when people have been struggling their entire lives and they finally get into something that really fits them, fits them the way they’ve always envisioned. It’s not fashion anymore. And that’s what we’re after.”

She and her partner Daniel are firm believers in Twain’s axiom that “clothes make the man.” But can fine tailoring accomplish what no amount of surgery and hormones ever could? Can a simple suit transform a woman into a man? This is Hollywood, so yes – anything is possible.

Their first client is Derek, a “trans man” in need of a suit for her upcoming wedding. She’s looking for something that will hide her hips; she doesn’t want anyone guessing she’s female. Rachel and Daniel assure her they can accomplish this magic. We meet Derek’s conservative parents from rural Appalachia, and marvel at how accepting they are of their daughter’s gender transition. They recount Derek’s gender journey and calmly discuss her “top surgery” ($4-12K).

“Top surgery” is a euphemism, used throughout the film and in our culture, for an elective double mastectomy, i.e. the amputation of healthy tissue for aesthetic or psychological reasons, rather than for life-threatening medical reasons (e.g. cancer). Nearly every client in the film discusses it, in the same casual tone that people used 20 years ago when they talked about getting a “full sleeve” of ink.

Everett is an African-American third-year law student from the south, a “trans man” just starting to transition and come out. She’s in search of a power suit that will help her land that first job out of school. She faces hiring discrimination because of her gender-nonconforming appearance, and everyone (including this writer) is rightfully outraged at the blatant bias.

Everett talks about coming out to her mom. “She didn’t approve of the fact that I liked girls. So I haven’t brought up my transitioning. But she’ll know once I start taking hormones.” In other words, Everett is a lesbian who’s decided it will be easier to love women if she’s living as a man. Her decision to transition is undoubtedly more complicated than that, but it’s hard not to see traces of lesbian erasure in the story of Everett’s coming out to her homophobic mom.

I feel I should mention the unnamed, middle-aged blonde woman who sews all the suits. She’s never introduced to the clients or audience, yet she appears in nearly every scene, ironing fabric, stitching seams, threading needles. The owners may pitch in and help, but if so, it happens offscreen. All we see them do is measure clients and flourish swatches of pretty fabric. As usual, the women’s labor goes unacknowledged, invisible while in plain sight.

Derek is getting a total hysterectomy ($26-43K). The doctors are going to remove her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and both ovaries. Mom sits by the bed, holding her hand. Derek explains her elective surgery. “For me it’s about congruency with how I identify as male. It’s strange having organs in my body I don’t really relate to, that I don’t have a purpose for. I think it’ll make me feel my body is more aligned with who I am as a person.”

Derek’s marriage resembles a “traditional wedding”; a string quartet plays while the father gives away his daughter to a groom in a sharp-looking suit. The relatives are lined up on their respective sides of the aisle. I couldn’t help wondering, though, if the marriage would have been so easily accepted if two lesbians had stood at the altar. There’s no doubt that the illusion of heteronormativity was facilitated by the appearance of a seemingly straight couple.

The movie ends with a large public fashion show. The female models are all outfitted in suits made by Bindle and Keep, each of them gender-nonconforming in some way. It’s a triumphant ending, with lots of happy queer folk feeling good about how they look. And they DO look fabulous. But for me, as a Boomer who came of age in the seventies, a group of women like that, wearing suits and short hair, look like lesbians.

I kept reminding myself that, no, they’re not lesbians. They’re "trans." And that made me sad. Because this movie unwittingly documents the gender industry’s deliberate erasure of lesbians.

Jess Grant is a songwriter and recording artist from Seattle WA. Jess was introduced to radical feminism by Nikki Craft in 1980, helping the Preying Mantis Women’s Brigade drive the Miss California Pageant out of Santa Cruz, CA. He is also a dues-paying member of North America’s only revolutionary labor union, the IWW. These days, gender critical activism is his primary form of political expression. www.jessgrantsongs.com

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