Last Wednesday my floormate and I ventured out of the university bubble to partake in the Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival here in Kingston. Seated in a cozy theatre sprinkled with locals throughout the mass of my fellow Queen’s students, we watched Eric Schaeffer’s latest work. His film, Boy Meets Girl is sex-positive, coming of age tail of a transgender girl, Ricky and her friends, both old and new.
The film was designed to cater to any viewer. The lead was instantly relatable with universal problems as a twenty-something, with her problems consisting of getting into school and finding a new relationship. Eric Schaeffer slowly introduces turbulence as the film moves forward, intricately weaving in problems unique to Ricky being transgender. The small southern town became less of a safe heaven and became more pronounced as a cultural hegemony when Ricky became involved romantically with a young, politician’s daughter, Francesca. Francesca’s conservative Republican mother goes as far as to tell Ricky that transgender is an “ugly word” to which birth defect is preferable. Her heterosexist fiancé flies into a rage, pushing Ricky to the ground when he learns of Ricky having a sexual relationship with Francesca; not because of her infidelity but rather because Ricky is transgender. In the film, small-town, southern, old-fashioned ways of thinking clearly reign outside of the small bubble Ricky has created for herself.
This newfound turbulence all culminated in a poignant scene, which stood out to me. After a fight in which her best friend Robby tells her she is neither a boy nor a girl Ricky seeks refuge in a familiar spot, a lake that her and Robby frequent. It was in this scene that I feel both Ricky and Robby came to wholly accept Ricky as being transgender. Ricky went from being unable to verbalize telling someone she was transgendered, resorting to writing it on paper or in a text, to being able to exclaim it unashamedly. Robby finally was able to admit his feelings for Ricky knowing that being with her meant being with her as she currently is, not having undergone a sex-change surgery. In this scene Eric Schaeffer decided to include a shot that included Ricky’s nudity. It’s easy to accept Ricky when she is presented as someone just like you and up until that scene the audience was never forced to make a conscious choice to accept her in her entirety. It was then that the audience was delivered the final reminder that Boy Meets Girl is more than a feel-good comedy, but a film with a statement to be made in the realm of gender politics. Eric Schaeffer made sure Ricky gradually goes from a girl just like you to someone slightly different, which in my opinion allows the audience to explore Ricky’s issues in their own time and accept her on their own terms.
While I felt this film did its job as a sex-positive film, I still questioned its message to girls in general. Boy Meets Girl had the opportunity to break gendered stereotypes and I felt, failed to do so. Eric Schaeffer made a commendable decision in casting trans actress, Michelle Hendley. However, I do not think it is coincidence that she also happens to be a model with a particular set of body and facial features we’re bombarded by the media to value. Ricky is a character created with a host of emphasized femininities. She’s often presented in dresses, with flawless long hairstyles and her one hope is to get into fashion school, a hyper-feminized degree. Her estrogen pills allow her to grow breasts, yet it is not enough for her and she wants implants, again conforming to another idea that men only value women with larger breasts. The film in a way reinforced our binary thinking. Every character in the film stayed neatly within the lines of what we think a male is and what we think a female is. Robby working as a mechanic, always needing to defend his female friend to Francesca forgoing school to be a housewife to her marine fiancé.
Another transgender female who watches this portrayal may feel she won’t be valued or accepted as Ricky had been because she may not feel she lives up to such preconceived standards of beauty and desirability; comparable to a cisgender female looking at airbrushed models in a magazine. No racialized minorities were represented; again possibly making a transgender who is racialized feel undervalued or less than those that are white. For a cisgender watching they will simply be bombarded with yet another show of binary thinking drilled into us from birth. I felt that adhering to these emphasized femininities and misrepresenting the diverse world we live in detracted from the overall message of the film.
Overall, my first experience at the Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival was a positive one. It was great to see members of the Kingston community so engaged and excited to watch the film as they exclaimed aloud to the more comedic or hard-hitting scenes in the movie. Their energy was easy to feed off of and ultimately I felt became reflected in myself and those watching around me.
“Trans Actress Michelle Hendley on Trans Rom-Com Boy Meets Girl.” Advocate, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/2015/01/01/trans-actress-michelle-hendley-trans-rom-com-boy-meets-girl?page=full>