Contains spoilers for Alien (1979). That’s nineteen seventy-nine. Spoilers. For a movie from NINETEEN SEVENTY-NINE. But the Internet says I have to warn you about it, so, yeah.
“The trouble with modern sci-fi is how it’s being taken over by the LGBTQ Agenda™. Why can’t we just have films like we used to in the old days when it was just a good story? No politics, just action and aliens and lasers! Like in Alien! They didn’t have to have all this WOKE® stuff in Alien! No gays or transgenders in there! It was just a really good story!”
Hm. Alien, you say? No gay or trans stuff, you say?
As Billy Connolly once said: “Oh, d’ye bloody THINK so?!“
Well, I admit, I come a little late to this revelation. I think people had cottoned on to this at least a couple of years back, and it’s been on the relevant Wikipedia pages for I don’t know how long (I mean I could look: Wikipedia literally keeps timed records of every update; but the point doesn’t warrant the effort). Still, though, it caught me completely by surprise just today.
In the sequel film Aliens (1986), there’s an early scene where Ellen Ripley, the protagonist of the Alien movie series, is being interviewed by shady corporate types from evil megacorp Weyland-Yutani. They want to know why the Nostromo, one of their very expensive space haulers got all Blowed Up Real Good (© Roger Ebert) in the previous film, and what happened to the rest of the crew. And while they’re giving Ripley this going-over, and she’s stamping round the room being all frustrated and annoyed at boneheaded suits questioning the prima-facie implausible story the sole remaining witness to the death and destruction has come back with, there’s a big screen at the back of the room scrolling, for reasons unclear at this point because nobody seems to be reading any of it, through the bios of the dead crew.
And it gets to Joan Lambert. Lambert, played by real-life human Veronica Cartwright, was the only other female member of the Nostromo crew in the original movie. She was portrayed as nervous, slightly panicky, and as events unfolded and the alien creature began to threaten the crew more and more, Lambert essentially broke, remaining only barely functional until the alien finally kills her. Which it does, incidentally, in a very unpleasant way which many have pointed out carries strong connotations of sexual violence. The sexual, and sexually abusive, undertones of the Alien movies, and Alien in particular, have been very well-studied and much commented-on. The killing of Lambert is one of the more prominent examples; I’m not going to comment on that general theme much. There’s a lot of stuff there to go through; but I’m interested in one very specific aspect that, as I say, had escaped me before today.
I’m going to go back to the crew bio files as shown in Aliens and highlight a particular line in Lambert’s record:
That’s a little blurry; you can’t really make out much. But fortunately, someone’s found a cleaner copy of the image. Still a bit of a squint, but much more readable:
In case you’re still having difficulty (I am terrible with close-up focus these days, so I’m not criticising), it says:
“Subject is Despin Convert at birth (male to female). So far no indication of suppressed trauma related to gender alteration.”
There was a trans woman in Alien.
Obviously I realise even in 1979, the idea of the “sex-change operation” wasn’t entirely new. More so if you argue, as some no doubt would, that this wasn’t explicitly referenced or indicated in the first film but only showed up retrospectively in the 1986 sequel. My reaction isn’t so much surprise that someone thought to include this tiny titbit of info in the background of this major Hollywood movie at a time when trans issues weren’t nearly so well discussed as they are (for better and worse) today.
My reaction is more that someone thought to include this tiny titbit of info in the background of this major Hollywood movie at a time when trans issues etc etc.
It could well be that they felt they had to present the information in a way that made it unlikely to be noticed in the censorship culture of the day. I can appreciate that. Foregrounding it would have made for all sorts of problems with movie certification boards at the time, I’ve no doubt. But it’s that they felt motivated enough to put it in anyway, even this small, this discreetly, when they didn’t have to put it in at all. Because it plays no part in the story: Joan Lambert is, simply, Joan Lambert. It’s made no fuss of whatsoever. Everyone simply accepted her as Joan Lambert; even the company record mentions it only in welfare terms: has she experienced any residual trauma? And no, she hasn’t. Beyond that, it doesn’t seem to be considered any kind of issue at all, by anyone. Which is pretty much what we’re aiming for, in the end.
…the record does point out that she experienced an ’employment discontinuity’ at the end of the first movie. An ’employment discontinuity’. So I don’t think Weyland-Yutani even now can claim all that many Treating-People-Like-Human-Beings points, despite their apparently enlightened transgender policy.
Also, I’m deliberately not dwelling too much on what Alien is trying to say if we watch Lambert’s story again, including her death, with her transgender background in mind, because, ah… we might end up having to use the P-word, and I don’t have the energy to light that particular blue touch paper today.
Still. Turns out Alien wasn’t “a good story despite having no trans people in it”. It turns out it was “a good story that had a trans person in it”. So there you go.