DISCLAIMER: This article is an examination of the internal (and transphobic) logic of “The Silence of the Lambs,” and thus the ambiguously transfeminine character Buffalo Bill will be referred to with he/him pronouns, as in the film.
Is “The Silence of the Lambs” transphobic?
Most certainly yes.
Is it worth watching and examining critically? Also yes.
The 1991 film from director Jonathan Demme is a hard watch — particularly if you’re sensitive to deeply problematic portrayals of trans and gender-nonconforming people. It has received unrelenting scrutiny for its portrayal of transfemininity, and it was at the center of a controversy that exploded immediately upon its release.
The year? 1992. The place? The Oscars. Police in riot gear descended on the gay rights protesters outside Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as it hosted the awards show. Reporter Neal Broverman recalled that “this was the scene at the 1992 Academy Awards, where activist group Queer Nation staged a protest that devolved into chaos, with objects thrown at vehicles, punches thrown, arrests made, and “Fag” stickers slapped on 24-foot-tall Oscar statues. Queer Nation and many other LGBT people were furious at Hollywood for what they saw as a pattern of demented, homicidal queer characters.”