Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Red Without Blue (2006): Biological ties that bind and strangle

Red Without Blue (2006)
dir: Brooke Sebold
Benita Sills
Todd Sills

Transgenderism is still something that we haven't fully learned about. It is a state of being where one person feels, deep within themselves, that they were born with the wrong set of biological organs. Some have said that this is from a flaw in the Y chomosome where it has a little tail, but not enough to fully ignite the set of organs that the rest of the body feels it should have.  Or, that it is too much of a tail that it full ignited the set of organs where they shouldn't be. And, then there are the people who believe that it is a mentality.  Or hormones.  Or, something else.  The root causes are still not fully defined, but the effects that it has on the person and on the family can be seen.  

Red Without Blue looks at what the effects of growing up as identical twins, and what the effects are when one of those identical twins comes out as transgendered.

Alex and Mark Farley are a pair of deeply close identical twins who grew up in Missoula, MT.  Alex had come out as gay at a young age, and both were severely outcast as a result.  When their parents split up, and pursued other relationships, they were left to largely fend for themselves.  Even in current times, as Jennie Farley, the pair's mother, is saying that she held herself responsible, she just as easily dismisses it and says that she feels no connection to the two people who are her children.  They are just two people who she knows.

At one point as adolescents, the pair were doing a variety of drugs, including cocaine and marijuana.  They got in a relationship at the age of 12 with a gay teen DJ who was 5 years their elder.  The DJ raped a 10-year-old boy and also probably had relations with them as well. The drugs were part of that relationship, and also part of an escape from their real life.  Eventually, they made a histrionic suicide attempt by driving up to a bluff that overlooked Missoula and using a hose to connect the exhaust to the inside of the car and running it.  But, they kept shaking each other so that neither would die before the other.  And, finally, they gave up because they wouldn't die.

Eventually, they would both be sent to separate boarding schools for two years.  Upon return, Alex came out as transgendered and wanted to be identified as Claire.

I'm not saying that either the homosexuality or the transgenderism is related to the terrible parenting or bad adolescence that they experienced.  I'm also not suggesting that either are related to the drugs or to the possible molestation with the older DJ.  The movie hesitates to draw any lines as well, and addresses all of these things as unrelated events that built to the life that we see.  Jennie is the only one who sees the transgenderism as a slap in the face to her.  As a final grand fuck you to her as a parent.  Jennie sees the transgender identity of Claire as something Alex is playing with in order to piss her off.

The movie, in the present, shows Mark as struggling with his own identity.  At one point, he wants to be called Oliver instead of Mark.  At another, he is trying to fall in love with fellow gay art student David Suarez in San Francisco.  He is lamenting the loss of his twin Alex as Blue, who has moved to New York and is exploring her transgendered identity as Claire there.  Their father seems to be accepting of the new identity and helps with the surgeries.  Mom is still...well...mom.  She comes off as struggling the most in this film, but also as the one who has the most problems experiencing anything outside her own existence.

Red Without Blue has many issues it is dealing with in a small time frame and without tackling any of them head on.  What does it mean to be a transsexual?  How does it affect your family and friends?  How does one come to realize that they are transgendered?  Is it genetic?  Do you grow up trans?  How does your life affect your decisions?

Without being a clinical dissection of transgenderism, Red Without Blue manages to address all of these issues and not be preachy about any of it.  It doesn't draw any final conclusions, or resolutions.  It is as messy as life is.  It doesn't come out and judge the mother like I did above.  It doesn't come out and say that anybody is a bad person.  It allows everybody to have their say, regardless of how right or wrong it seems.  

While the primary strength of the film is to not judge the characters in the film, consequently one of the soft spots of Red Without Blue is the unwillingness to question some of the characters and their conclusions. When their grandmother comments that she has been living with a woman for years, but is definitely not as a lesbian - and, they have been sleeping in the same bed, but not as lovers - the movie doesn't really question her assertions.  It's almost too unbelievable to question.  When we learn that Alex came out as transgendered upon returning home from an academy after being separated from Mark for two years, the movie doesn't question whether the transgenderism in his case is the result of this separation, his being molested as a boy, absent parenting, or drug use.  Nor does it ask if it is biological either.

It is the lack of conclusion that makes me want to keep up with Claire and Mark.  Is Jennie actually right that Claire's decision to come out as a woman is just a phase?  Is it the result of her deeply problematic childhood?  Claire claims that she has always felt that she came out of the womb without a defined sex.  Is it transphobic to wonder if this specific case might be the result of severe childhood trauma?  What about Mark?  He gets lost in all of these movements, even though he goes to Prague to teach and to be near his boyfriend who subsequently dumps him.  These are questions that won't be resolved in three years.  These questions will take a lifetime to answer, instead of the three years Red Without Blue spends with this family.

These are people - needy, troubled, full of emotion - with a history that makes you sympathetic to their situations without demonizing any of them.  But, they're fleshed out people who aren't pushing an agenda, and these are two people I would love to catch up with in a 7 Up format.  In all, it is problematic because it doesn't question anybody.  It leaves those questions to the audience, who don't have a vehicle to question the subjects.  On the other hand, it does allow things to be without a political agenda.  I'm not sure which is more important, but these are issues that exist.

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