What Would Make You Risk Everything About Your Life?
If you could successfully hide a part of yourself — have a good life, employment, faith, and family — why would you change? What would make you risk it all? What price would you pay to be authentic?
This is the central question posed in Presenting Lisa, a film about the transformation of a man named Larry to a woman named Lisa.
When Cailtyn Jenner first came into the news a few weeks ago, I was shocked by the intolerance so many people felt towards her. Comments ranging from skepticism about her motives to outright hatred of her very being splayed themselves all over the internet.
That’s why I decided to pen this blog post, which generated far more controversy on Facebook than I ever would have imagined. Hey, I’ve been writing on the internet for seven years now. I know when I’m stirring up some smack. But man, I didn’t expect this to be one of those times.
As the discussion unfolded, and as I continued to read through spiteful comment after spiteful comment, I realized there are two basic reasons people refuse to accept Bruce’s transformation into Caitlyn:
The first is that Caitlyn is connected to the Kardashians, a family with an established reputation for basking in the media spotlight like… well, like a Kardashian in the media. I think the recursive metaphor is simply the best metaphor here. Many people resent Cailtyn’s decision to reveal herself in such a public — and clearly lucrative — manner.
The second — and more disheartening — reason is that people simply don’t understand what it means to be transgender. They see Bruce wanting to become Caitlyn as the middle-aged equivalent of a kid watching Star Wars and wanting to be Han Solo (not that I would know anything about that). To them, Bruce’s decision was nothing more than the passing fantasy of an imaginative man-child — only one with a mountain of cash to massage his fantasies with.
People who fall into this second group have no clue as to the biological basis for transgenderism. They don’t realize that science is only now beginning to understand that gender isn’t black-and-white and can in fact cover a spectrum. Their outdated perceptions of transgenderism run akin to the beliefs our society had towards homosexuality decades ago — and is still learning to accept.
In short, people can’t fathom why a person born with the physical features of a man could possibly be a woman.
After I blogged about Caitlyn, an old fraternity brother of mine directed me to Introducing Lisa. The film was written and directed by Sean Bloch, also a fraternity brother, but one I had lost touch with over the years.
Sean is an avid cyclist and ended up training with Larry for several years. When he grew closer to Larry and learned of his decision to become Lisa permanently, Sean decided to document the ensuing struggles that she went through — struggles that those of us who were born with matching physical and psychological genders could never imagine.
The film shows us how Lisa’s decision destroys a marriage, prevents her from finding a job, and effectively exiles her from her own church that she had attended for 32 years. As I watched, the question posed at the beginning of the film continued to strike at me.
Larry’s decision to become Lisa wasn’t some passing fancy. It came with huge costs to the life he had built for nearly six decades. Lisa had to risk everything in order to be authentic. And I realize now how far we as a society still have to go before we become truly accepting of all the Lisas and Caitlyns of the world.
But hey, enough with the spoilers and the preaching. If you were one of those people who rolled their eyes at Caitlyn on the grounds of her being a Kardashian, maybe you’ll give Lisa a chance. Although Lisa’s condition, known as intersexuality, differs slightly from Caitlyn’s transgenderism, her struggles are the same.
Well, maybe not. Lisa’s transition was made privately, with no fanfare or magazine covers, and unlike a celebrity athlete with millions of dollars to aid in her struggle, Lisa has to face her challenges as a normal, everyday person, far from the spotlight.
Ultimately, though, I want to share Lisa’s story because the film’s final message resonated deep within me:
Maybe it’s not her that needs to change, but the world around her.
And that’s why I hope we can all learn to feel a bit more empathy for those whose gender identities aren’t as simple as “man” or “woman.”
Presenting Lisa hasn’t been released yet, but if you’re interested in learning more about it, you can do so at the film’s website. You can also add yourself to their mailing list, or at the very least, give their Facebook page a “like.”