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COMMENTARY

Together in a time of change

`Another Woman' and `Red Without Blue,' to be shown at Outfest, see gender reassignment as a group transition.

July 13, 2007|Christine Daniels | Times Staff Writer

WHEN ANNE MET LEA — a very different proposition from "When Harry Met Sally," on virtually every conceivable level -- the occasion seemed ordinary enough. Anne was the mother of a teenage musical prodigy. Lea was a journalist researching a profile on the girl.

Or so that was the facade, not the first Lea had shown to Anne, as we quickly discover in the film "Another Woman." Anne senses something familiar about Lea, wondering if the two had previously met, perhaps at a museum.

Facing this line of questioning, Lea appears as if she is about to jump out of her skin. "Maybe I have a double," Lea says as she abruptly bolts from the table, nervously jams her fists into the pockets of her stylish trench coat, and leaves Anne sitting behind, just as she had done a decade before.

Ten years earlier, Lea was Anne's husband, Nicholas.

This 2002 French film, featuring Nathalie Mann as Lea/Nicholas and Micky Sebastian as Anne, is one of eight transgender-themed films showing at this year's Outfest. "Another Woman" debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Directors Guild of America Theater 2 and, along with the new U.S. documentary "Red Without Blue" (debuting at 8 tonight, same theater), keenly captures the inherent contradiction of transsexual transition: a journey that is usually begun in isolation -- both physical and spiritual -- despite the inescapable reality that no one ever transitions alone.

As a transsexual woman, I realize I watch trans-themed movies through a different filter. Minor details that clank off-key can ruin an entire production for me. In both of these films, there is dialogue that rings so laser-beam true to what I have experienced and what my friends have experienced, it made me squirm with discomfort.

At the heart of both films is the very real struggle over language after a transsexual comes to terms with the truth and works up the courage to announce it. Those closest to the transsexual will often exclaim, "How can you do this to us?" The transsexual will often respond, "How can you not understand that I have no choice? I was born with this."

There is always someone collaterally affected by this profound life change, which is not readily understood, even by the person being prodded down the trans-journey path. What do you do when a force more powerful than anything you ever could have imagined grabs hold of you in midlife and shakes you and rattles your inner core and demands you step up to the trade table -- leaving you no option other than sacrificing your past and present in exchange for a future? Not necessarily a future of self-actualization or inner peace, although transition often brings that. At some point, the gender dysphoria reaches a pitch so excruciating, the transsexual will barter anything and risk everything, just to have a chance at a future, any kind of future.

In "Another Woman," Nicholas/Lea abandons her family and her career because she can no longer abandon herself. But at what a cost! Lea initially overcharges herself, fearing she will never be able to explain her condition to Anne, to their children Emma and Lucas, to her mother, Rose. In her mind, the best thing she can do for her family is to stay away. So in solitude, she changes her body, changes her name, changes her residence, changes her profession.

However, Lea can never change her past. Reaching back to reconnect, however traumatic and painful, becomes essential to Lea's transition, because her family, friends and colleagues must psychologically and emotionally transition as well -- an impossibility in the absence of the truth.

"Red Without Blue" examines the same notion -- when a family member transitions, the entire family transitions -- by studying the lives of identical twins Mark and Alexander Farley, who were born minutes apart in 1983 in Missoula, Mont. It is a harsh and rugged landscape for Mark, who is homosexual, and his twin, Alex, who begins in her late teens her transition into Clair.

When the initial revelation is made, the inner-circle reaction is just as harsh and rugged.

Clair's Christian Scientist grandmother lovingly taps Mark on the cheek as she glares at Clair. "I learned very young that you make your own hell," she says sternly, informing Clair that her transgender angst is merely a sin of the child's own commission.

Clair's mother, Jenny, initially doubts Clair's sincerity about transition, treating it almost as just another phase teenage kids go through. "I am not convinced," Jenny says with a dismissive air, "that at 40, Clair will be Clair."

In "Another Woman," Anne is horrified when Lea, during their third visit, breaks down and finally tells her the truth. "I'm begging you," Lea pleads as she approaches her ex-wife, "don't reject me." At that moment, Anne can do nothing but order Lea to "go away" and "never come back."

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