In a black room, dimly lit and fit with only two chairs and a projector, Orlando Fagin and Mikael Johansson sit down to discuss their journeys through a gauntlet of gender bending operations.
“Do you have to be either a man or a woman? Can’t you just be you?” asks Fagin. He and Johansson are the two subjects of the Swedish documentary film Regretters. Both are transsexual, and have either completed, or are in the process of completing a male to female, and back to male transformation. “I don’t know who I am,” says Fagin. “Sounds complicated,” responds Johansson. Fagin replies, “No, it isn’t, believe me.”
Fagin, who underwent one of the first successful sex reassignment surgeries, spent 11 years as a woman, married to a man. Once it was revealed that Fagin was a transsexual, his marriage collapsed. Johansson, who always felt he had more feminine qualities, decided to have the operation late in life. Post operation, Johansson admits he felt immediate regret, and spent the next eight years trying to come to terms with his decision, and planning its reversal.
The whole movie takes place in one room where Fagin and Johansson sit and talk about their lives while going through old slide photos of themselves at different stages of their procedures. Johansson, reserved, modest, and caught regretfully between his transition back to becoming a male, contrasts with Fagin, a self-assured exhibitionist, flamboyant and openly proud of his sometimes unidentifiable gender. Their differences make for an insightful discussion, peppered with moments of lament, reflection and the occasional whip of Fagin’s sense of humour. “My new dick is bigger,” he says, smiling. “I guess I got an added bonus!”
“Identity, and the search for identity, is far more complex than you might think,” explained Marcus Lindeen, playwright, journalist and director of the film. “It is certainly not so black and white.” Regretters is Lindeen’s debut documentary film, an adaptation of his play of the same name. The film is a conversation through which we are told the story of two people and their journey through their lives, questioning gender, identity, and attempting to come to terms with who they are, and what has brought them to where they are now. “This is a very respectful portrait of two human beings,” said Lindeen.
The director explained that although Regretters is about two transsexual men, he did not want the film to be directed towards the gay, lesbian and transsexual community, but rather to stand as a metaphor of all kinds of changes in a person’s life. “These are universal issues that I think everyone can, in some way, relate to,” said Lindeen.
Regretters had its international premiere at London’s Lesbian & Gay Film Festival this past year, and was featured in a multitude of other gay and lesbian film festivals and other documentary film festivals around the world. Lindeen admited that in the beginning there was some tension within the transsexual community about the film. “There were people in the audience who said they came to the screening with their guards up, feeling a potential threat that this film was going to be the one to put fuel on the fire and make things harder for them,” said Lindeen. “But from my experience with the people who have seen it, there has been a much better reaction.”
The film is a beautiful portrait of two people sharing their stories with one another and relating on common grounds that may, to most people, not be so common. It aims to take the concept of identity, of gender, who you are and who you are trying to become, and blur the lines.
Regretters screens at Cinema Politica on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. in H-110. For more information, visit www.cinemapolitica.org.