Trans Films For Transgender Awareness Week

9 min read

Poster showing all 5 trans film posters on the top, white background on bottom with title "5 Trans Films" with Trans flag icon

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Historically in mainstream media, trans folks are added purely for comedy. However, it’s usually at the expense of being trans so it’s not actually funny and rather demeaning. Or, like others in the queer community, trans persons are used as the “victims” – especially in crime dramas where the cliche storyline is the trans person was killed after their john realised “she” is actually a “he”. Perhaps worse, they films aren’t actually trans films, just films that include trans characters. Thankfully, the tides are slowly turning; trans representation in film has gotten better. [Though a newer issue has arisen in that trans characters are still played by cis straight actors instead of actual trans persons.]

Trans films are also a difficult topic for me to accurately review, because it’s an even smaller niche and one that I am not well-versed in. So please bear this in mind as I review each of the films below – I could be entirely wrong! (And if I am wrong about someone important, or misunderstand a part of the trans-central storylines – let me know so I can correct it and improve my own views.)

However, these five trans films are some of the better representations of trans characters on screen. They aren’t perfect; each has issues that are problematic if a film were made today. But to pinpoint key trans films that best cover the scope that trans persons face, I think these are great options to begin your own personal exploration of what being trans means. (However, please remember that these are fictional stories. If you want to learn more about the issues trans persons face, please reach out to the proper resources in your community.)

[Note: Not all of these films have full reviews yet – but they’re added to the quickly growing list of films I plan to tackle soon!]

5 Trans Films For Transgender Awareness Week

Based on actual events. Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) is the popular new guy in a tiny Nebraska town. He hangs out with the guys, drinking, cussing, and bumper surfing, and he charms the young women, who’ve never met a more sensitive and considerate young man. Life is good for Brandon, now that he’s one of the guys and dating hometown beauty Lana (Chloë Sevigny); however, he’s forgotten to mention one important detail. It’s not that he’s wanted in another town for GTA and other assorted crimes, but that Brandon Teena was actually born a woman named Teena Brandon. When his best friends make this discovery, Brandon’s life is ripped apart.

Perhaps the most important trans film of queer cinema, “Boys Don’t Cry” is iconic and an important film to begin with. The fact that the story is based upon the real tragic murder of Brandon Teena only drives home the powerful, haunting message of the film even more. This is a film that is mean to disturb the viewer, to make them question what they would do in a similar situation. And let’s not ignore Hillary Swank’s award-winning performance as Brandon Teena! But the director, Kimberly Pierce, actually had difficulty casting Barndon before finally landing on Hilary. For nearly three years, she tried to find a trans actor to play the part, but was unsuccessful. However, despite casing a cis woman in the role, the production team went to great lengths to portray a trans man accurately; Hilary Swank even lived as a man for a month!

Cinematically, it’s equally an incredible film that everyone should watch – even though it’s actually a difficult film to watch. In fact, in 2019 the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress selected “Boys Don’t Cry” for preservation as they deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. And I fully concur – if you have not yet seen “Boys Don’t Cry”, add it to the top of your watch list; especially if you are seeking to expand your trans film repertoire.

Watch “Boys Don’t Cry” on Amazon and Prime Video.

Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne) is a boy who can’t wait to grow up to be a woman. When his family discovers the little girl blossoming in him they are forced to contend with their own discomfort and the lack of understanding from their new neighbors. Their anger and impatience cave and Ludovic is sent to see a psychiatrist in the hopes of fixing whatever is wrong with him. A movie that addresses transgender and gender issues in general through the eyes of a child.

I have to confess – I still have not watched “Ma Vie En Rose”. Why? Because it was extremely difficult to find with the English subtitles! And I don’t trust my French well enough to fully comprehend the nuances of the film. While there are a couple of streaming options, they don’t work for me down here (even with a VPN). I recently found the means to watch this reported great trans film, however I haven’t had the time. Once I do, I’ll add my thoughts to this post.

Watch “Ma Vie En Rose” on Amazon and Prime Video.

A young transwoman, Patrick “Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy), comes of age in the 1970s. She leaves her Irish town, in part to look for her mother and in part because her transgender nature is beyond the town’s understanding. She’s taken in by a rock band, falls for the lead singer, has brushes with the IRA, is arrested by the London police, works in a peep show, and poses as a survey researcher for the phone company. Throughout, her nationality and her nature put her at great risk. In her search for her mother, she makes surprising discoveries of friendship and family. But, will she survive?

“Breakfast on Pluto” is a unique film. Based on a novel of the same name, this queer trans film is quite captivating. While there is an over arching storyline regarding Kitten’s life, troubles, and adventures, the film is told in tiny little vignettes; almost like short chapters of her own diary as she recounts her life in a quasi autobiographical retelling. In fact, she often gives us her own narrative as we skip from chapter to chapter. The film is brought to life rather vividly, full of colour and a rather modern soundtrack that nicely underscores Kitten’s life. Throw in quite a handful of well-known actors, this is certainly a queer trans film that’s worth watching!

Watch “Breakfast On Pluto” on Amazon and Prime Video.

Funny and provocative, Boy Meets Girl vividly captures the giddy excitement, sexual heat, and inherent heartache of “non-traditional” love in a small town. Ricky (Michelle Hendley) is a 21-year-old trans girl living in Kentucky. Her only real friend, straight-laced Robby (Michael Welch), has been her trusty, totally platonic, confidant for over 15 years. Her day job slinging lattes is merely a stepping-stone toward her goal of being a famous New York designer. She’s confident, cool, and completely ready for something new – and then her world is transformed when an enchanting debutante saunters into her life. Triggering fresh feelings and experiences, this unlikely connection conjures up intense questions about identity while uncovering ghosts from Ricky’s past.

“Boy Meets Girl” is a tricky film to review. We jump right the plot from the first scene, and it feels like we have to suspend reality a bit in order to get into the story. There are some moments that are extremely awkward – even cringe-worthy. Furthermore by the end of this trans film, all of the storyline conflicts are resolved and everyone is happy. (Again, only believable if you suspend reality a bit). However, the overall message of the film IS a positive one! The film ends with a message, one that was shared gradually throughout highlighting a darker message, yet actually ends up bringing a positive and supportive message to life. Despite some irks with the storyline, overall I enjoyed watching “Boy Meets Girl” and feel it’s a positive representation of trans folks on film.

Watch “Boy Meets Girl” on Amazon, Prime Video, and Revry.

Twenty year old Lukas (Rick Okon) is a female to male (FTM) Transgender man, taking the steps through his gender reassignment treatment. His friendship with Ine (Liv Lisa Fries), who is lesbian, is making the changes and assimilation easier. Lukas sees his romantic world open up for him as Ine introduces him to gay life in Cologne. As he becomes more and more interested in a local gay boy (Max Befort), things are getting more and more complicated.

I was pleasantly surprised by Romeos. Most queer trans films focus on male to female (MTF) transitions. So it was quite refreshing that “Romeos” chose to show the difficulties of MTF transitioning. Not surprising, the same hurdles are faced: discrimination because the outside appearance is different from what is on “paperwork”, such as as with being denied housing among the other guys at school. (And the subsequent issues it causes in the female dorm too). However, “Romeos” adds another level: Lukas is also working through his feelings and foray into the gay scene. Not only is Lukas dealing with gender issues, but orientation – and “Romeos” succinctly points out that they are two separate issues.

Some critics lambasted the film for casting an obvious-looking male as Lukas, it doesn’t do real justice to the FTM trans world (and even remark that it’s really a gay film instead of a trans film). However, while I do wish they would have cast a trans person in the role, I think it was a smart move to portray the FTM Lukas in a stereotypical manly image. Not only does it help create the drama with his gay crush, Fabio, but it forces the viewer to also question their own preconceptions. Unfortunately, the film has some cinematic issues along with an odd pacing that lost me a bit. However, I strongly encourage everyone to watch “Romeos.”

Watch “Romeos” on Prime Video.

So what did you think – do you agree with these five Queer Trans Films? Have you seen all of them yet? If so, let me know which one was your favourite. And if you haven’t watched them all yet, I highly encourage you to add these Queer Trans Films to your watch list ASAP!