Two years ago, performance artist Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, an artist, screened a project called American Reflexxx. The premise was simple: Pierce was to don “stripper garb and a reflective mask” and saunter down a touristy part of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Only after the experiment was complete were they to communicate. What followed was a sobering—if not downright terrifying—example of how transphobia, transmisogyny, and misogyny fuel crowd mentality.
The video, which was released earlier this week on YouTube, is a tense 14-minute watch. Pedestrians are confused by Pierce’s presence. Some immediately sexualize her and blatantly say they would “love to make love to you with that on” to her reflective masked face. Immediately, a woman off camera can be heard telling the man that Pierce isn’t a woman. From there, transphobic slurs like “shim” are thrown at Pierce. Her gender is continually questioned as more and more tourists follow her. But Pierce remains silent the entire time, and instead rotates between sexually suggestive “feminine” poses and squared-off, forward-facing “masculine” ones. Only after the deeply unsettling climax does the crowd begin to back off—away from themselves, really, considering the mirrored mask.
Though conditions for the transgender community have improved in the two years since American Reflexxx was filmed, transphobia still exists. Misogyny, too, is still very real. What Pierce and Coates have done is create a complex commentary on both. At one point, a street preacher yells that God “will laugh at your calamity.” He was speaking directly to Pierce at the time, but perhaps he was really speaking to us, the crowd. It’s fascinating how inhumane humans can be.