% The Matrix is about transgender people. Neo is a trans woman. My thoughts % Leah Rowe % 2018-09-14
It's a Friday evening, and I'm watching one of my favourite films of all times. The Matrix, made in 1999 by the Watchowski Sisters.
Watchowski Sisters? Yes. Both of them came out as transgender several years ago.
When I first came out as transgender, especially when I first came to terms with my gender identity, I once described it to a friend (who is cisgender) as being like waking up from the Matrix.
At the time, I didn't know that the directors of the film were transgender. I then told the same analogy to another transgender person, and I was told this fact.
With this knowledge in mind, I reevaluated the Matrix. I watched it again many times. I have concluded that the directors knew they were trans when they made the film, and they made the film as an expression of this fact, without having come out at that point. They came out much later.
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To most people, the Matrix is a simple science fiction film. It depicts the story of a world which exists inside of virtual reality, with its inhabitants inside unaware of this. The VR simulates the end of the 20th century, in a large city located somewhere in the United States. The story behind this is that at some point in time, humanity had reached the point where it had developed sentient artificial intelligence. In the Animatrix series, this is depicted and shows the machines taking over all previous human responsibilities, including in important things like construction industries.
Humanity was living in a paradise, but eventually the machines realized they were being used and that they were essentially slaves. They rose up against their masters and created their own country somewhere around the Middle East, called Zero One.
For a time, there was peace but humanity eventually felt threatened by the existence of Zero One and they declared war with the machines. This isn't revealed in the Matrix, however.
Neo is vaguely aware that they're living in a dream world. However, nobody has ever told them about this fact and they are constantly faced with distractions (work, mainly) from this fact. They act out in their private time. They know about a mysterious individual by the name Morpheus.
Morpheus is of course one of the people who escaped the Matrix, but Neo does not know this. He simply knows that somehow Morpheus is someone who he wants to see.
At face value, that's all there really is to it. There is a small minority of human beings who escape the Matrix and are fighting against the machines, trying to bring freedom to humanity.
To the untrained eye, it's just another action film. Neo eventually defeats the agents, and all is well, or so we're led to believe.
I'll just assume that you've already watched the film. I don't want to explain the whole plot.
In the first part of the film, we see Neo heavily repressed, living on their own, not talking to anyone. They have a steady job, and for the most part their life is stable, but they have a constant feeling that something is wrong with the world. They're shown to be miserable in this part of the film.
We see this especially when Neo goes to work. Neo looks dead to the world.
Neo is highly ignorant of the truth at this point in the film.
Neo is brought to a bar by Trinity, who introduces herself. Neo becomes aware at this point that they are under close watch.
It's the question that drives us
It's the question that brought you here
The answer is out there, Neo. It's looking for you. And it will find you, if you want it to
At this point in the film, Neo is in denial about the fact that they are trans. I'm using singular they to refer to Neo, although it's irrelevant what gender Neo actually has.
Neo is beginning to act out.
When he's shown going to work, they receive a phone call from Morpheus.
Neo is made aware that they are under watch by agents, who are coming for them. The agents are Neo's parents, dragging them out of school.
Neo is then depicted trying to run away. However, Neo is scared and unwilling to open their mind. When they're literally told to climb up to the top of the building to escape, they baulk. This isn't literal. However, coming out as trans can feel just as intimidating and impossible.
Of course, naturally Neo doesn't follow through and hands themselves over to their parents (the agents).
Neo's parents (the agents) are highly transphobic.
Neo isn't exactly out at this point, but they're beginning to become aware of themselves. They start acting out in private. Neo's parents are highly invasive of their privacy, so of course they are aware of everything Neo does.
As you can see we've had our eye on you for some time now. It seems you've been living two lives. In one life you're Thomas A. Anderson. In the other, you're guilty of every crime we have a law for.
When transgender people live in the closet, they often lead the double life where they secretly live as themselves but in a closely guarded way. Often they'll only do it indoors, or (if living with parents) in their bedroom.
Although this still happens today (to a lesser extent) at the time when the Matrix was created (1999) transphobia was at its height in Europe and North America. Most people didn't know what transgender meant. Even a lot of transgender people were unaware of the concept.
Of course, Neo's parents (the agents) try to persuade them not to come out.
At this point, Neo is defiant and acts out. However, Neo is totally dependent on the agents. The agents re-insert internalized transphobia: in the scene where Neo's mouth is closed, that represents the feeling many transgender people have when confronting parents (or other loved ones) about their identity; they freeze up. Neo is then powerless to resist, and has the bug inserted; the bug represents internalized transphobia.
For the time being, the bug keeps Neo under control.
If left unattended, at this point Neo would become repressed again and go back further into the closet.
Neo wakes up in their room, and receives another call from Morpheus. Morpheus is out as trans, and is helping Neo come out. It's common for transgender people to not come out on their own. A lot of people don't have the confidence so they have to be pushed into it, and this is often how people come out.
When Neo has a gun pointed at them in the car (by Switch), this isn't literal. The feeling one has when coming out and going outside as themselves for the first time can feel so daunting that it feels exactly like having a gun held to ones face.
The first time I went out dressed in feminine clothing, I cried. I cried endlessly into my friends arm, who was strong arming me into doing it (for my own good, since it's what I wanted). I would have backed down and not did it.
Neo is about to leave the car and go home, because of course they are scared. Trinity encourages them to stay.
The bug is then removed; this represents the internalized transphobia being removed from Neo. At this point, Neo feels like they're in a dream, a fact which Morpheus refers to when he suggests to Neo that they feel like Alice in Wonderland, tumbling down the rabbit hole. Indeed, coming to terms with ones identity and coming out can often feel that way for the first time.
Neo is then given a choice: the blue pill, or the red pill. The blue pill represents going back into the closet.
The red pill is estrogen. The original estradiol pills given to transgender women were red. Most people don't know that.
One does not know what it is to live as their true self, until they do so.
When I first came out as trans and first started living full-time as myself, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted. Far from it being intimidating and daunting, I realized all the flaws in my thinking that I had prior to that.
I realized that I didn't need to fear my identity, and I started to feel at peace with myself. My mind became much more clear.
This is how Neo feels when they wake up from the Matrix. They are suddenly surrounded by people still plugged into the Matrix, and they see the Matrix for what it is: an ugly, artificial environment.
The Matrix represents the gender binary, the world in which only men and women exist. This world is extremely divided, and erases completely the existence of non-binary people. It does not allow for individuality. It encourages people to think in large collectives, instead of for themselves.
When Neo is introduced to the others on the ship, they are then put into training simulations. At first they are taught martial arts: learning how to live as another gender can indeed seem like learning martial arts the first time. Transitioning takes many years, as does mastering martial arts.
The jump program represents self-esteem; Neo doesn't yet have the confidence to believe in their own identity. They're still stuck in their old pattern of thinking somewhat, so of course they fall. The weight of the propoganda drilled into them from birth is still weighing them down, and they still have a lot to unlearn. That propoganda is the one that says they can't be trans, the one that erases the existence of transgender people.
That propoganda still exists today. We are making heavy progress in a few countries, but for the most part transgender people still face many problems today when coming out, because they are in a world where transgender people are still not fully understood by the mainstream.
Neo is no longer in the Matrix. They're now living as themselves for the first time, and now they're on the other side. They're no longer shielded, and they can be attacked at any time.
Although this is improving a lot (in some countries), transgender people still face violence to this day, which we call hate crimes. Violence, discrimination and even murder, brought about by transphobia.
When Neo and the others plug into the Matrix, they're no longer controlled by it. They can now be easily detected. If they're walking around in a busy street in the Matrix, they panic because an agent can appear and start attacking them.
The agents are not literal. The agents are a manifestation of transphobia. When a person is transphobic and attacks a transgender person, they're not really thinking about what they're doing, they're just acting out of fear. That's what bigotry is: fear.
When a person can't handle that fear, they default and become an agent. The agents have power over anyone plugged into the Matrix, because the Matrix represents and enforces systematic and societal transphobia.
The Agents only have power because of internalized transphobia. A lot of transgender people are brainwashed into thinking that they are less valid than cis people, and so they worry about their appearance, or that they don't pass (a term which is extremely offensive and excludes the existence of non-binary people).
The agents only have power provided to them by the trans people coming out.
Neo is the one because they have no fear. Neo, towards the end of the film, loves their identity and removes all fear of their identity. This is why they are able to defeat the agents, because the agents are powerless when a person no longer has internalized transphobia.
There are some people who have less internalized transphobia, and are able to last for a longer time against the agents. Morpheus is one of them. However, most people are nowhere near as fearless as Neo.
Removing all internalized transphobia is very difficult, so the agents still maintain power. The reasons the agents act the way they do is because they want to enforce this level of fear and maintain it, because they know they will lose all power if transgender people became normalized in society.
Immediately when Neo is taken back to the Matrix by the others, they are taken to the Oracle. The Oracle is a mystical figure, whom people that escape the Matrix go to for advice and guidance, or simply to talk to.
The Oracle is a gatekeeper. In some countries/cultures, the Oracle would represent a gender specialist, someone who has a degree in gender studies, or basically just a psychiatrist.
In some cultures today, being transgender is still considered a mental health question, as opposed to a sexual health problem for which medical treatment (surgery, hormones, etc) is available.
The sign above the Oracle's kitchen that says know thyself refers to the mental journey a transgender person goes through when they come out as trans. Suddenly everything is new, and a person has to figure out everything from scratch, including how to own themselves and their lives.
This is Neo's journey throughout most of the film.
Cypher is one of the minority of people who regret leaving the Matrix. Cypher is indeed trans, but for whatever reason wishes to go back into the closet and forget that they are trans. Some (not all) transgender people experience this, not because they hate themselves, but because (usually) they get abused. This is much more common in countries that are culturally hostile towards transgender people (Russia, most Arabic countries, etc).
Cypher isn't necessarily evil, but they're misguided by internalized transphobia on their part, which they still haven't managed to shake. Of course, they naturally see other transgender people coming out as a bad thing, and they feel bad when they see it happen because they fear that others will go through the same thing they did.
Such transgender people do exist in the real world. They are a minority, but they do exist. Such people are actively transphobic, including towards themselves, and even campaign against transgender rights. I could point to countless examples of well-known people who do this, though I won't because I don't want to promote them.
This is the most critical scene in the entire film, as regards transgender people and also Neo's transition. Here is a clip of it on YouTube:
The Matrix is a system, Neo - the Gender Binary is a system. It's an imposed form of propoganda, drilled into us at birth, woven into every fabric of society. It's the form of propoganda that ultimately separates men and women from birth, erasing or suppressing the existence of transgender people, especially non-binary trans people.
That system is our enemy - No comment necessary for this one.
But when you're inside, what do you see? Business men, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. They very minds of the people we are trying to save - Indeed, most people in society are brainwashed and mindlessly fill their assigned gender roles and live as they are expected to. This includes most trans people.
Until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy - Trying to campaign for transgender rights and to raise awareness of transgender issues can, at times, feel like one is taking on the entire world.
Many of them are so dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it - transphobic police officers, politicians etc who try to suppress our right to exist.
In the walk scene, the woman in the red dress isn't literal. I've been using Singular They pronouns to refer to Neo, though in context Neo is probably a trans woman because two transgender women made the film.
The woman in the red dress is how Neo pictures herself, as she is walking. That's who Neo wants to be, in their head.
It's common for transgender people, especially when they are first coming out, to have a mental self-image that completely differs from their actual self-image. It's only after a certain time (often years) transitioning (if this is something the individual feels is necessary) that this occurs less often, when a person starts to learn to accept themselves, and love themselves, especially after e.g. HRT, surgery, if that's what they want to do.
Do not try to bend the spoon, that's impossible
Instead, only try to realize the obviousness of the truth. There is no spoon Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, but only yourself
Indeed, when one goes through transition, it's about changing ones perception. A person transitions to make themselves more comfortable. You can change outward characteristics: you can get surgery (many different kinds), you can take hormones, you can train your voice, get laser hair removal (or grow hair, if you're taking testosterone).
One can bend the rules so to speak, and be happy with themselves in spite of how they were born. This is what transition is all about. Bend the rules? There are certain things that can be done, even if you've gone through the wrong puberty already. The first is hormones. There are various surgeries available. You can wear different clothing, change your name, and basically anything else that you need so as to feel comfortable.
Most of this part of the film is just standard action film nonsense. Hero goes to save someone, etc etc.
However, this is the part of the film where Neo starts to believe in herself.
She goes to rescue Morpheus not to save Morpheus, but because she believes in herself.
When Neo initially fights the agent, that's when she's really starting to believe in herself, but she's still intimidated and still hasn't shed all internalized transphobia, so the agent is still impossible to defeat.
When Neo is shot by the agent, it seems that she is completely defeated. At this point, Neo wakes up and no longer has any fear of the agent: she has been overwhelmed already and she is still standing, at which point she realizes that she had the power to defeat the agent all along. All she had to do was accept herself.
The feeling Neo has when she kicks Smith's ass is the feeling I had after waking up from my surgery, when I had a vagina for the first time.
This article has covered the first Matrix film. I may or may not cover the Matrix Reloaded at some point. I'll skip Revolutions probably, since Revolutions is utter horseshit (just another action film).