I saw this movie last night and I did not know much about it other than the fact that I had heard the title many time from people talking about the film. Laverne Cox mentioned it. Friends of mine had mentioned it. I had seen it show up in Facebook reviews. I had wanted to see it for a while but couldn’t find it playing in theaters. So I was very excited to learn that it had finally been released on DVD. I sat down last night and my partner told me that he had seen a review stating that the acting and story were bad. I had also seen a trans identified person on Facebook give the film a bad review because it apparently focussed too much on the typical negative tropes of ‘the trans experience’. Mainly the person alluded to the self harming, the depression, misgendering, lack of acceptance, and other things that are thought of an accepted negative norms of living as trans.
All this being said, I went into the movie not knowing really what I would think. The actors were all attractive in my opinion. The leading lady was actually a trans woman who made me feel more comfortable with the presentation to start. I found myself liking it from the beginning even if I thought that the acting in the initial meeting between the female leads was awkward.
As the movie continued I was drawn in more and more by what I found to be some very not “normal’ representations of trans people. The fact that sexuality was not displayed or assumed to be finite and was discussed as such throughout the film was refreshing to me. Gender was used as a tool to show how labels of sexuality are destabilized when gender is not represented in a clearly binary fashion. This is something that I can identify with. As a trans woman who prefers to date male identified individuals but often times feels that the term straight is not an accurate term for her sexuality it was nice to see sexuality not taken for granted.
I also felt that the use of depression, self harm, and general insecurities surrounding a person of trans experience were handled well. Never did I feel that it was out of context or simply done for shock value. We are talking about a movie that is made to entertain. That being the case there will always be a level of excitement that is applied to topics in the film in order to keep the audience engaged. But again, as a trans person with a history of self harm, depression and anxiety, and issues maintaining a positive self-image I never felt that anything was done in a gratuitous nature.
Of the flaws that I found in the film, I would have to say the lack of people of color and the non US cultural references were some of my larger concerns even if they might have been presented as such to further the character development and justification of their actions and viewpoints.
But this is a situation where the good far outweighs the bad. I was particularly taken with the film’s climax and resolution. Although it was fairly ‘hollywood,’ meaning expected, the way in which it played out was very shocking to me in a good way. When Robby and Ricky have their resolution it takes place on a lake where Ricky has gone to get away from the conflict. She is swimming when Robby finds her, and as a test to his declaration of love and acceptance she faces him naked to gauge his reaction. For me the use of an authentic trans body presented as such was flooring. I do not recall seeing anything like this before. Yes, I have seen cisgendered people being made to look ‘trans’ for entertainment value, or even seeing trans people being used but censored for the comfort of the general audience. But I don’t recall ever seeing such an unapologetic and straight forward presentation of a trans body on film.
Oddly, this was the moment in the movie where I felt most uncomfortable. I had an urge to cover her up, to look away, to be ashamed. Rather than being in the position that I have found myself in before where I am envious of a passable trans woman I was faced with the reality of what trans looks like when stripped down and laid bare. It brought into question all of my insecurities. It brought up every time I have laid naked in front of a partner and questioned my worth or their desire. It brought forth feelings on my every day routine of molding my form with the use of push up bras, and form-fitting attire to try to push and pull my body into a more ‘acceptable’ image of femininity. It brought up every time I have stood in front of a mirror exposed to the truth of my own existence and the internalized social stigma which has left me with unending doubts about my worth as a woman, as a lover, as a daughter, as a person, as a human being. One moment in a movie completely blew my mind and made me feel both vulnerable and vindicated. Bare and terrified but also proud and represented.
I will not ignore the fact that less than 24 hours after seeing this movie I gained the courage to use this forum to put forth my own words and thoughts for others to take or leave. I am grateful for the courage of Michelle Hendley for exposing herself so very simply and yet so very completely in a way that made me feel like there was a place for me to exist as a sexual being and a human being and let go of some of my insecurities.
Realistically I will still question my worth and my partners desire. I will still shape my body to more accepted forms of expression. I will still look in the mirror and fight off internalized hatred of my identity, my body, my home, my self. But I hope that in those times I can find some peace in the knowledge that courage and truth while not always easy to accept are beautiful and possible.