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David Duchovny will revise his role as transvestite DEA Agent Denise Bryson in David Lynch’s upcoming Twin Peaks revival, Entertainment Weekly reports.
In the original early ‘90s cult mystery/soap opera/collective hallucination, Duchovny played a character who had a history with protagonist Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan. Interestingly, Duchovny’s character wasn’t so much a trans woman as a straight man who simply enjoyed dressing in women’s clothes. “I found that wearing women’s clothes relaxed me,” Denise tells MacLachan’s Agent Cooper in the first of her three-episode arc.
In another scene, Cooper assumes that Denise wouldn’t be attracted to women — that is, until Denise responds, “I may be wearing a dress, but I still pull my panties on one leg at a time, if you know what I mean.” It was a confusing, conflicted portrayal, to be certain. (No, we don’t really know what that means.)
Years ago, Duchovny spoke with The Advocate about how he connected with the ’90s TV character:
I really didn’t think about it in terms of sexuality, because it didn’t seem like that was the point. I thought, What is it in a woman that a man would want to be? There’s a certain kind of expressiveness that’s allowed women in society, whereas men are traditionally closed off and shut down, so I thought, Well, that’s probably what it is — he just wants to be expressive. That’s the only way I went at it.
The portrayal has not aged well in many ways, but there are some bright spots in it. Bryson is portrayed as a brilliant, highly competent agent. And though Agent Cooper is startled by Denise’s appearance at first (Cooper originally knew her as Dennis), the heroic, pure-hearted Agent Cooper quickly comes to accept her (though he still gets the name and pronouns wrong sometimes).
As the original series is 25 years old now, looking back it seems Lynch and the show’s producers didn’t really understand the difference between being transgender and being a transvestite. It’s a confused portrayal, for sure.
But what about now? We’ve made tremendous strides in trans rights since then (though we still have miles to go), and the choice of a cis man to play a trans character — if that is now how Denise is portrayed — might not sit well with people today.