Is Avatar a Trans-Phobic Movie? Or Merely Staying True to Nature + Evolution?


Two weeks ago, a young transgender Bay Area blogger named Lara called for a nationwide protest against Avatar because, she claimed, the movie ignores “ignores the fact of Evolution. Humans are evolving to be being Transgender, NOT heterosexual.”

While Lara mistakenly confuses gender identity with sexual orientation, she’s hinged her debate on believing the film’s aliens should have all been one all-encompassing gender, instead of that weird male and female set we know of today.

The $300 million sci-fi remake of Dances With Wolves is strangely pro-terrorism and definitely misguided in its “white man leads minorities to victory” fantasy, but it doesn’t strike us as particularly exclusionary of trans people. Moreso, it seems that Lara’s using the blockbuster movie as a platform for trans-awareness.

And while lot of commenters on Lara’s Stop Avatar Movie blog have laughed off her gripes as ultra-PC militant trans-politics, biology suggests she might actually be … right.

To explore her claim, let’s look into Lara’s three main arguments against the movie.


Avatar assumes that the heterosexual, “male” and “female” attraction will still be the primary relationship basis in the future.

Though we hate hearing “the procreation argument” from gay marriage opponents and religious conservatives (namely that heterosexual marriage is superior to gay marriage because society needs heteros to produce kids), we assume that Avatar presents a heterosexual relationship between its hero and heroine because a) a hetero-majority of American theater-going audiences will emotionally connect to straight love stories; and b) a gay relationship would have changed the movie’s focus from “natives save their home planet” to “native homos save their home planet.” And while we would totally love the idea of transgender homosexual aliens destroying the bullshit Euro-centric patriarchal heterosexual militaristic paradigm, such a radical message would have shifted the story into different political territory.

“But wait!” you might protest. “Why couldn’t James Cameron have just created an alien race that reproduced asexually via parthenogenesis? Or something equally cool? Some varieties of plants and starfish do just that!”

An astute observation, but the short answer is that we and other multi-cellular vertebrates don’t tend to reproduce asexually unless there’s a lack of opposite-sex partners (of which there’s no lack in Avatar). Even if Cameron had been bold enough to make all his blue aliens one gender, asexual reproduction still isn’t the best way to keep a civilization thriving for millennia, because it results in low genetic diversity that leaves populations susceptible to adverse mutations and disease. In short, to survive over the long term, an alien race would need the genetic variation and robustness that heterosexual reproduction provides.

On the other hand, Avatar’s director could have envisioned the Na’vi aliens as hermaphroditic creatures. After all, hermaphroditism already occurs in one-third of animal species—including certain fish, snails, and most flowering plants—with some of these creatures deciding whether to be male or female during sex.

In another scenario, he could have given the Na’vi creatures both sperm and egg cells. And during sex, the Na’vi partners would both trade sperm to fertilze their eggs (like banana slugs, Hamlet fish, and earthworms do).

But in either case, an alien race with only one gender would still end up assuming biological male/female sex roles and using male sperm cells and female eggs cells which perpetuate the gender binary.

Furthermore, only in one case has a non-hermaphroditic species been altered into a hermaphrodite, when Japanese scientists inserted female eggs into the testicles of a male chicken. The findings — and the history of evolution on Earth — suggest the transition from male-or-female to hermaphrodite could occur only through scientific intervention, not nature.

And seeing as Avatar’s aliens hunt with bows and arrows, dogfight with pterodactyls, and talk to trees with their ponytails, it’s doubtful that Na’vi scientists will help facilitate the hermaphrodite revolution on Pandora anytime soon.

So while Lara has a weak case against heterosexual pairing on planet Pandora, she has a much stronger case about our eventually evolving into a single gender.

Avatar ignores the fact of Evolution. Humans are evolving to be being Transgender, NOT heterosexual.

The process of evolution takes millions of years, yet Avatar takes place in 2154, a mere century and a half from today, which is hardly enough time for our human species to evolve past gender entirely. And while it’s possible that the blue-skinned, cat-like people of planet Pandora could have evolved independently from Earthling, they still look and act a lot like us, and live in a world that, despite trees that connect to their hair braids, looks a lot like ours, so their continued heterosexual propagation makes sense.

Plus — or, arguably, THE BIGGER POINT IS THAT — Lara seems to conflate transgender identity and sexual orientation, which don’t always go neatly hand-in-hand. That’s how we end up with male-born, female-identified genderqueers who like to top fem straight boys in female drag. Neato, yes, but hardly neat. Transgender is not a sexual orientation, and homosexuality is not a gender identity.

So maybe what Lara means is that humans could one day evolve past the XY-XX chromosomal make-up that determines whether one is born male or female—and science supports her view. Right now, sex in humans is determined by a pair of chromosomes known as XX (for female) or XY (for male). But the male Y chromosome has degenerated slowly over its 166 million year existence for a variety of reasons. It has already lost 1,393 of its 1,438 original genes and could potentially lose complete function within the next 10 million years. Does that mean that “males” as we know them will one day no longer exist? The answer is probably not.

As the Y-chromosome degenerates, other chromosomes take over the genes and functions formerly associated with it. In fact, several species of rodents and reptiles currently determine male or female sex without using a Y-chromosome whatsoever; they merely attach the sex traits formerly associated with Y onto other X chromosomes or determine the sex during gestation. So men would still have dongs and women would still have cooters, scientifically speaking.


Avatar also assumes that intelligent beings on other worlds would be heterosexual.

Maybe Cameron’s been a little presumptuous in imagining that all his alien residents would be heterosexual. But to be fair, Avatar only shows three heterosexual couples in the entire movie; so there could be scores of homos and hermaphrodites in the background who never get camera time. Plus, it’s not just “the intelligent beings” that Cameron places into the male and female binary. While we don’t get a clear picture about the sexual life of Pandora’s plants (other than the floating angelic spores from the elder tree), the only horse and pterodactyls we get to know on Pandora are female and male, respectively.

Furthermore, of the creatures we see, most have six arms and legs, breathing flaps on their front halves, secondary sets of eyes, and strange ear stalks that allow Na’vi people to communicate with them. In comparison, the inhabitants of humanoid Na’vi tribe don’t seem to have evolved much beyond what we’d expect a human Earthling to look like.

Neytiri, the princess of the Na’vi tribe, pulls a Little Mermaid and bucks her birthright to fall in love with a creature from an entirely different species, the human Jake Sully. So maybe the Na’vi really are more mentally evolved in the way that Lara the transgender blogger would like.

Nonetheless, Lara’s argument still has its flaws. Until our Y-chromosomes finally degenerate and we all evolve into hermaphrodites a hundred million years from now, it’s likely that most mainstream Hollywood action films will continue to have vigorously “heterosexual” themes for the supposedly 90 percent straight audiences.

For those interested in supporting her protest, Lara suggests folks snap up tickets (a costly form of censorship that financially supports the film while theoretically keeping others from seeing it), refuse to see the film (keeping those who agree with Lara ignorant of what they’re actually protesting), or attend the film but stand in protest for its duration (a form of assholery).

Instead, might we suggest that everyone evolve into independently thinking creatures and discuss if there’s more we can do to support transgender inclusion in movies instead of standing up for a two-and-a-half-hour movie and potentially getting our asses kicked by fanboys in the process.