Friday, October 23, 2009

Gender Bender

:: claire-a-palooza @ laughing horse books ::

Lindsey organized this interesting event at Laughing Horse Books, with James inviting some of his friends as well. We had a good turn out. The movie documentary, Will: In Quotes, is boldly raw and would probably earn a TV-MA rating, even though visually it shows nothing more revealing than the occasional male torso, undergoing surgery in one scene (for breast implants).

The movie opens with Will frequenting karaoke bars in Boise, Idaho. He considers himself emotionally stunted or under-developed, albeit a decent singer. His strict religious upbringing in a polygamist Mormon household meant he wasn't allowed access to pop culture and now he's making up for lost time, seeking true love and a real family.

Even as a youngster, he'd picked up glimmers of a "trans-gendered" type of person and concluded that his enduring sense of alienation might be an indication that he belonged in this category. Whereas most who entertain such fantasies wouldn't act on them, he figured while he was still young with no children or life partner, this was his time to explore. He begins chemically altering his body, his dress, and finally flies to Thailand for the operation, taking his own video camera, which he gives to a nurse when it's time to go under. By this time she's Claire.

What made this experience especially dramatic and instructive for the audience was the star of this film had agreed to show up in person to answer questions. He's transitioning back to a male identity, is James now, having gone as far down the road being Claire as he wanted to go. He's somewhat embarrassed by the film and what people say to the film maker behind his back, so wanted to get a text message when it was over. This added to the theatrical nature of the event, plus the fact that he showed up in sunglasses with a scarf around his head, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Jackson. As the Q&A ensued, he shed the scarf, and by the end of the evening was minus the shades as well.

What impresses me about James, more than his personal journey, is his brutal honesty. He has no skeletons to hide, is out of the closet with his thoughts and feelings to a point most people would never allow. This is a somewhat constant aspect of his character, through all his transitions. One tends to inwardly cringe at some of his self-revelations, thinking "I would die before I revealed myself to the world with that level of unvarnished candor" and indeed that's what most of us will do. It's so much easier to talk about others than oneself.