I thought I would slip in a quick movie review because I do think the film on CNN about Kristen Beck, the ex-navy seal who has come out as MTF is worth watching if you get a chance. I think the filmmakers, Mark Herzog, Sandrine Orabona and, in particular, cinematographer Jen White, have done a surprisingly good job of documenting some of the issues that society faces as it struggles to make meaning of the wave of people now identifying as “trans”.
The filmmakers allow Kristen to tell “her own story” throughout the film, through her running commentary about her life growing up, her decision to transition, what her life is like now and what her plans are for the future. Although it is clear that they have compassion for Kristen, I believe that they have not let that obscure their duty as documentarians to provide their audience with the larger story that often directly contradicts what the onscreen dialogue is saying. “Lady Valor” plays like a long series of extremely awkward moments. That is no coincidence—for many trans people that is the world they live in. It is fascinating to watch as the non-trans people in this film seem painfully stilted as struggle to say what they believe they “should say” as opposed to the sincere and honest emotional freedom when they let their “guard down” and refer to “Chris” in a way that still feels authentic to them—as a man.
Most of the people Beck encounters use male pronouns when speaking with “Kristen”. They are not doing this because they are “transphobic” or “transmisogynistic” or “cis-sexist”. Most of them are clearly good people, many of whom love Beck very much. This is just their natural reaction to use this term—and when watching this film one has to wonder if it is ever going to be possible to “reprogram” them to speak in a way that is not in direct contradiction with what their natural intuition is telling them. And if they are able to “train” themselves to speak this way, will the wall that comes when people can’t speak honestly with each other ever allow Kristen to feel the sincere connectedness with others that I believe all humans need in their lives for basic survival? I am not going to answer that question—but I believe it is part of the subtext of this movie. We see many people forcing smiles and patting Beck on the back saying “good for you”—and yet to what end? At one point Beck laments that even though she is meeting lots of new people, her new friendships feel superficial and very different from the sustaining friendships she formed with others before her transition.
As the documentary shows, when Beck first came out with her story she had a nice house and seemed to have at least some kind of future ahead of her. The Beck we see in this film is now living out of a van, driving from LGBT event to LGBT event to speak out for the “cause” and sell whatever “Lady Valor” chotskies she may have so as to eek out a living. She speaks of how she connects online with young people to let them know that being trans is ok, and yet I wonder exactly what uplifting stories she has to tell them. The film ends with a postscript that basically says Beck is now broke.
So much of what I find interesting in this movie is what is NOT included in the film. First and foremost among the missing is any definition of what it means for Beck to be a woman. It is clear that she likes short short skirts, make up and very high heels—but those aren’t definitions of womanhood are they? Or are they, to Beck at least? Beck presents a common narrative of how dressing as a girl was always a way of coping with stress. I think the most awkward moment in the film was Beck showing her young niece the closet where she had stashed her pilfered female wardrobe when she was a kid. The child’s father utters probably the most unconvincing “that’s nice” I have heard in a looooooong while.
Of course, the people who are missing in this film tell a story of their own. Beck’s mother and two of his sisters, that refused to be part of the film are the most obvious absentees. (Beck’s ex-wife and two young sons are also not featured in the movie but this is much less surprising, especially since the film strongly suggests that there were other “situations” that had nothing to do with transgender that has led Beck’s ex-wife to seek distance from Beck.)
Actually, for me personally, the most interesting “absentees” from this film were the people in the various scenes who have their faces digitally obscured to prevent their being seen in this film. Why did the woman standing next to Beck at the football game sign a release so that we would see her face while the guy she is with obviously did not want to be associated with this film? (A few seconds later we see her embracing Beck.) Maybe it isn’t so much “why” (which is kind of obvious) but more of a curiosity on my part about what how the conversation between the couple about the decision to appear or not went down. There are many little moments like this throughout the film and I find them all fascinating.
One last little moment that somehow got my attention was the credit for “Excecutive Producer”, Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. Who was this? It turns out it she is an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University who co-authored the Beck’s recent semi-autobiography. Surprisingly, a person who appears to be Beck herself has taken to social media to request people not buy her own book. A person who identifies herself as Beck has this to say on Amazon.
The worst day of my life is when I signed a contract, with no legal counsel…
I was just divorced, came out transgender, thrown out of my house, punched in face by my sister… THEN a psychologist who was an author/publisher and claimed “many great books” patted me on the back and told me that she was my friend and would save me.
She then shook hands on a contract that would be for a book and only a book…now it turns out that contract gives her my entire life with no say over the quality of the “stuff” she puts out…hence the poorly edited book with various fallacies and incorrect data…She owns me like a slave from my birth until I die….
she is NOW trying to make a movie in hollywood about my life without me, totally cutting me out of my life story.
The worst day in my life was the day I met Advances Press and was swindled into a very very very bad contract. Evil, deceit and greed at its worst.
That is the truth.
The same user also gave the book a one star review, writing, “All I can say is sorry about this book. 3rd person narrative of me laying on a psychologists couch….. ”
If this is indeed actually Beck who posted this comment, one has to ask some serious questions about the quality of psychological care Beck received. Of course I am sure Dr. Speckhard has a very different version of events, but all the same it shows that Beck probably sees herself more as a victim of the medical, entertainment industries than of a transphobic world. (This probably would extend to some of the political groups out there who seem to be more interested in the unique branding opportunity their partnership with her brings them rather than true compassion for Kristen Beck the person.)
The movie uses the open road as an ongoing motiffe. The opening sequence is a montage of endless highways, in America and the various countries where Beck saw “action”. There is a brief film clip of her in the cab of her little trailer shown each time the film returns from commercial break. Where is she going? Beck herself doesn’t seem to know. More importantly, what is she driving away from? Apparently Beck is not ready to look in the rear view mirror.
Blog note: There are a few more posts that I had hoped to push out this weekend. Because they seemed more timely, I decided to get to this and another post that is still coming out first, but please know I have some thoughts to share now that I have reached the one year milestone with this blog. I hope to see you tomorrow if I can.