Movie Review: Transamerica

transamerica1

Unfortunately, I only just recently discovered this interesting and well-made 2005 film starring Felicity Huffman (from Desperate Housewives).  The movie tells the unique story of a transgender woman, Bree Osbourne, who’s in the process of preparing for her sex reassignment surgery when she discovers to her shock that she has a son. 

The thought of being a father wasn’t easy for Bree; she was in the final process of fully embracing her female identity, so finding out she had fathered a son while in college was more than a little untimely.

At first she wanted to just send her son, Toby, a nice check to help bail him out of jail and then never see him again.  But her therapist insisted that Bree make contact with her son.    

As a result of her therapist’s encouraging, Bree bails Toby out of jail.  Transamerica follows Bree and her 17-year-old  son, Toby, on their unusual road trip across America while Bree tries decide how to tell Toby that she is actually his father as they slowly get to know each other. 

Daily Challenges for Transsexuals:

The film does a great job of highlighting some of the challenges Bree encounters due to her pre-operative transsexual status.  While having lunch at a small diner a little girl turns around in her chair, looks Bree over curiously, and then asks, “Are you a boy or a girl?”  Bree awkwardly looks at the girl, unsure how to answer because her biological sex is still male but the gender identity she has chosen for herself is clearly female. 

Later in the film when Toby runs off, Bree encounters another awkward situation when the police officer asks her, “What is your relationship to Toby?”  With a deep breath she admits to being his father, completely blowing her cover and possibly subjecting herself to further embarrassment or even discrimination.  I cannot even fully imagine what it would be like to deal with the daily challenges of being a pre-operative transsexual; not knowing how to explain your life to others and afraid they’d only respond curly if you did bother help them understand.

Family was definitely a huge challenge for Bree in the movie.  When she was at her parents’ house her dad told her, “We both love you.”  While her mom added, “But we don’t respect you!”  What a horrible thing to have anyone say.   

Bree’s decision to identify as a woman and undergo a sex-change operation frightened her mother because it was so different, completely outside the box.  Her mother seemed to also fear the idea of other people “finding out” because she wanted her family to appear “normal.”  She was afraid of the reactions and embarrassment that might follow if people found out that her son was now her daughter.  But in focusing so much on what “other people” thought, Bree’s mom made an already difficult, isolating situation even worse. 

Learning to Empathize:

Transamerica deals with some mature and complicated themes surrounding Bree’s pre-operative transsexual status, and briefly related to Toby’s part-time job as a male hustler.  It’s not for children, but the movie is a great opportunity for teens and adults to learn how to empathize with members of the population that are often misunderstood and marginalized. 

It’s a unique and entertaining film, but Transamerica’s best feature is how fully developed Bree’s character is because it allows people who would normally never even think about some of the challenges transsexuals face to see how delicately something like a decision to identify as the other gender needs to be handled.  When issues like gender identity aren’t handled carefully, people who are already severely marginalized end up hurt even more. 

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