Image Nation 2008: She’s a Boy I Knew

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She’s a Boy I Knew (dir. Gwen Haworth)

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After a shaky start, She’s a Boy I Knew emerges as a keenly felt doc on the consequences of replacing one person with another. Director Haworth charts her progress from her life as a handsome young man named Steve to her new life as Gwen by interviewing those closest to her at length. The first twenty minutes are messy, with Haworth’s narration feeling overly present, suffocating the opinions of her external subjects. Over time, however, her grip loosens, and the film explores tricky emotional ground, particularly when we spend time with Malgosia, Gwen’s beguiling ex-wife, who admits both her initial anger towards Gwen (then Stephen) for her decision, and later confesses her diminishing sexual interest, finding herself unable to convince herself of the “superficiality” of Gwen’s changing body in the face of the still-present “essence” of the person she loves. There’s also a lingering sense of heartbreak in scenes with Gwen’s tight-lipped Mountie father, who looks for clues in his parentage as to how his son may have gone “astray” – yet simultaneously recognizes something in Gwen that he himself withheld in his youth. Through it all, Haworth exhibits a sense of inclusiveness, fleshing out their histories as well as her own, always seeking to empathize even when there is a lack of mutual understanding. I could have done without the animated segments, but they’re brief, and are made up for with the inclusion of some surprisingly frank images of Gwen’s post-op transformations – an important inclusion, reminding us that the ignominy that may come with her emerged gender awareness is hardly the only trial she faces.

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