The Pain of Waking: The Matrix at 20, The Stories We Tell Ourselves, and My Journey of the Self

Carolyn Petit
16 min readOct 10, 2019

I. The First Time I Woke Up

Last week, I went to a screening of The Matrix at the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco. It was part of a special Queer Film Theory 101 series, and although I would have said I already had a pretty queer reading of The Matrix, the film was preceded by a talk that made me think of it in ways that I hadn’t before. (I apologize to the speaker, who only gave his name as Michael, if I accidentally misrepresent any of his comments.)

Michael argued that, although some have used the famous red pill/blue pill scene as an allegory for the acceptance of the Judeo-Christian god, and although MRAs have embraced the imagery of this scene so thoroughly that “being red-pilled” became online shorthand for embracing the oppressive ideology of the manosphere, the scene is clearly about accepting a true, transgressive self in a world that doesn’t want you to. We see this in part by what the opposition to this acceptance looks like: the agents who serve as the enforcers of the matrix are always men, always middle-aged, always white. Agent Smith and the others, Michael said, like M*lo Y*annopoulos and his ilk, exist only in opposition to those they deem to be too free.

In opposition to the very gendered agents, Neo and Trinity serve up what Michael called “gender-nootch;” they could be gender-flipped reskins of the same avatar. He said that within the oppressive framework of the matrix, the demonstration a young child offers Neo in the apartment of the Oracle that “there is no spoon” suggests that rigid notions of gender, one tool the matrix uses in its attempts to maintain order, also have no basis in reality. There is no gender. There is only yourself.

The point in Michael’s talk that hit me hardest of all, though, was when he said that Agent Smith’s insistence on referring to Neo as Mr. Anderson is an act of deadnaming. The system, of which Agent Smith is a manifestation, refuses to accommodate Neo’s self-actualization. It demands that he continue to fill the role he was assigned. With this new…