In the third episode of the tenth season of The X-Files, Mulder wonders if there is a need for the X-Files in the modern world, and he’s promptly shown there is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The X-Files.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of transphobia and transmisogyny.
You know, I can’t even say that I got to “enjoy” The X-Files uncritically as a kid. Even as someone without a smidgeon of the knowledge and awareness I have now, there were plenty of episodes that rubbed me the wrong way or outright offended me growing up. (In one sense, I think the show prepared me for what I do now, so that’s cool!) “Gender Bender” always felt weird to me. “Fresh Bones” felt unnecessarily unsympathetic to the refugees. The double shot of “Teso Dos Bichos” and “Hell Money” in season three were like a slap in the face, but season four’s “El Mundo Gira” was one of the more horrific things I ever experienced from the show.
I wrote about this nearly two years ago for a series commissioned by Jim C. Hines. That essay, “Parched,” touched briefly on why The X-Files hurt me so much with a single episode. The writers attempted to use the framework of migrant work to comment on the invisibility of worker suffering, but ended up crafting an episode that largely makes all the brown people an unending joke. Whatever intent they had was lost on the white members of my family, who openly hollered and poked fun at every single immigrant onscreen, apparently since the script itself seemed to support it. I re-watched it last week alongside my boyfriend, who was flabbergasted at how openly hostile it seemed. The characters could not exist on the screen without the show reminding us that they weren’t white:
[Image description: Facebook screenshot that reads, “Watching an episode about Latinos and when a Flamenco guitar isn’t playing a Mayan flute is. X-Files seems to have a heard time doing episodes about POC without exotifying.]
[Image description: Facebook screenshot that reads, “If I see a mariachi band I’m quitting this show.”]
I want to focus on that word – exotifying – because I think it’s a great way to lead into why Darin Morgan’s script utterly fails trans women. “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is inherently a story about weirdness, absurdity, about change, and about how the world doesn’t fit into neat little categories all the time. If we remove Annabell from the story, it’s nearly perfect. It’s the kind of episode that belongs on The X-Files and demonstrates why this show is still relevant in 2016. It’s a biting satire of modern life, and that is precisely why Annabell is both a disgusting offense and bad writing.
I thought her use early in the episode was pretty bad, given that a cis gay man was cast as a trans woman who was both a drug user and a sex worker. It was like Darin Morgan was playing Transmisogynistic Bingo and aiming to win as soon as possible! But the moment passed, and I thought that this was it. An awkward and terrible scene, but otherwise, the episode didn’t rely on it. Of course, it comes up again in a horrifying conversation that isn’t even remotely scientifically accurate, nor is it at all necessary! I’m sure Darin thought he was trying to represent this well by having Mulder say that transition doesn’t require surgery, but this doesn’t cancel out the harm done.
Look, this is an episode about freaks. Weirdos. People who don’t fit the mold. It’s about an entire set of characters who take things to the extreme. It’s absolutely related to Mulder’s mid-life crisis, to Guy Mann’s similar crisis when he’s turned into a human, and to Pasha’s compulsive need to eat people. At no point should trans people be included in this equation, and I cannot fathom what possessed Darin Morgan to have a character state that trans women take it “too far” when they transition. WE CIS PEOPLE DON’T GET TO DECIDE THAT. Ever! And this makes it all the more offensive because Morgan tries to compare this experience to Guy Mann being forced to exist in the wrong body.
It’s really, really, awful. It stains an episode that brings The X-Files into the modern world in a way that’s hilarious, touching, and necessary. I kept trying to think of other things while watching this, and pretty much only Scully (AND HER BEAUTIFUL DOG-NAPPING) distracted me from my disappointment. Look, if this show can do research on WERE-CREATURES and create evolving, realistic mythologies concerning extraterrestrial life, then it can write real-life trans women with just the same respect. End of story.
Let’s move on to Scully, because every single goddamn scene she is in is so perfect it’s about the only here that isn’t tainted by that terrible joke. I love that Scully exists here to be endlessly amused by Mulder’s relevance, not because we needed that joke. It makes sense. She’s been pulled back into the world of The X-Files and learning – as she says – just how fun it is to work on these cases. She drifts from scene to scene like a goddamn fairy of humor, dropping one sly smile after another, reminding Mulder that everything he does amuses her to no end. But her role here matters because it’s a reflection on the kind of life she’s led since the X-Files were last closed. She doesn’t experience a mid-life crisis like Mulder because she never quite devoted her life like he did.
As it turns out, she was missing something: AN ADORABLE DOG.
The video for “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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