If ever there’s a film that takes a contentious topic and treats it with some long overdue respect, it’s Boy I Am. The documentary, directed by Sam Feder and Judy Hollar, examines the issue of female to male sex operations with courage, clarity and conscience.
Women, lesbians, gays and male-to-female transsexuals have fought hard for the right to be loud and proud about their personal sexual preferences, but still not included in this celebration are the women who feel like they were given the wrong package. FTM transgenders still lack the communal support enjoyed by other groups; it is a new frontier of sexual acceptance.
Boy I Am follows three women on their transformational journeys. Keegan, Nicco and Norie have long known that they should have been given male bodies; they’re all in their 20s and planning to have top surgery &- or breast removals &- in the near future.
Keegan has the most inner strife: in turn this transformation seems most critical to her. She is tired of “passing” as a boy only to not be able to follow up with it. “As soon as I open my mouth and speak, they start to apologize,” she says, for mistaking her as a man. This confusion only leaves her feeling half-way towards the body she knows fits her.
Norie is an amazingly compassionate woman with a wonderfully understanding girlfriend, Lucey. Norie’s transformation brings up all the paternal issues that her girlfriend has chosen to distance herself from. “Some insecurities I have about men are being triggered a little bit,” she says. They’re such a happy couple that are so obviously in love, you can only hope the sex change won’t affect this.
Nicco is the strongest of the girls. Her confidence is admired by her friends, but her choice to inject testosterone &- starting her transformation – and to have top surgery has them perplexed. “How can [she] be the strongest woman I know, if [she] doesn’t want to be a woman?” one of her friends asks.
Like Nicco’s friend, the idea of FTM transformation doesn’t sound right to many women. Explored in the interviews interspersed throughout the film, female LGBT activists voice their allegiance either for or against the idea of FTM. The reasons against have merit: it could be seen as a cop out, an escape from being part of the collective movement to gain women’s rights. Some women say that undermines what has been achieved, and isn’t doing other women &- the ones who want to make the most of themselves as women &- any favours.
But the reasons to support the acceptance of FTM are undeniably human. Nicco, Norie and Keegan are all people who are trying to forge their identity and feel good in their own skin. They just want to love their bodies so they can love themselves. After years of “binding” their breasts as not to be noticeable, and suffering the pain and tissue damage that ensue, they know what they want, and they want it without the suffering.
Boy I Am never feels preachy about the subject matter, and maintains a satisfyingly intellectual debate concerning FTM transformations, the reasons why it’s so contentious still, and what the limits should be regarding the operation’s availability.
Admitted, the long string of interviews can seem a bit stale at times, and the film doesn’t have much in the way of production value, but this just goes to prove that you need little more than a decent video camera and a good story to make something important.
One line from the film summarizes how the movement operates quite succinctly: “feminism has been fighting for generations against the notion that biology equals destiny.” This line is challenged throughout, as women from the LGBT community have difficulty accepting FTMs as their own. Ultimately, they are just people who have the courage to demand to be accepted the way they want to be.
Boy I Am screens at Cinema Politica, Monday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m. in H-110. Playing along side this is Girl Inside, a doc that portrays one man’s transformation into a woman. As always, admission is free.