About Ray is an upcoming film about a young trans boy who is just beginning their transition, and follows his journey as his family come to terms with it. From the trailer (below) it actually looks like it could be a really good, positive film, which tackles some of the interesting and realistic difficulties faced by trans teens.
However, once again the director has decided to cast a cis actress in the lead role. Now normally this would just make me roll my eyes in disgust and move on, but I found the justification given by director Gaby Dellal downright offensive.
The explanation given was the usual excuse of needing to have a well-known actor in the lead roll in order to get the movie financed, but in addition to this the director explained that:
The part is a girl and she is a girl who is presenting in a very ineffectual way as a boy. She’s not pretending to have a deeper voice. She’s just a girl who is being herself and is chasing the opportunity to start hormone treatment. So to actually use a trans boy was not an option because this isn't what my story is about.
Immediately she has misgendered Ray, calling him a girl, and using female pronouns. However, Ray never was a girl. He is, and always has been, a boy, who happened to be assigned female at birth. He may have once presented as female, but this is not 'a girl being herself', it is a boy being himself finally after many years of not being able to be.
In this statement Dellal is implying that trans men should at least try to pretend to have a lower voice in order to be seen as men and that trans men are not male until they have at least had hormone treatment. It takes a lot of work to constantly try to lower your voice, or to go through speech therapy, something which I have not tried to do as I face enough anxiety when speaking without worrying additionally about whether my voice sounds low enough. For Dellal to say that Ray is a girl because he isn't even trying to lower her voice, is insulting to all trans people who may not have what is deemed an acceptable pitch for their gender.
To say that Ray is presenting as a boy 'in a very ineffectual way' is insulting to all trans people who may not 'pass' or present in a way which is deemed acceptable by society for their gender. Some people may be waiting for medical treatment, not want or be able to get medical treatment, or even with medical treatment may not fit into society's expectations for their appearance. Someone's appearance does not dictate their gender, and that is the fundamental point she is missing here.
Gender is based on self-identification - someone is the gender they say they are, no matter their outward appearance. They don't need to do anything to earn respect and recognition for their gender. This idea that trans people must 'pass' as their gender is archaic and oppressive.
Saying using a trans boy was not an option, makes it seem as though she never really considered it, and never really looked for a trans actor for the role. If she had, then perhaps she would have found that trans men are far more varied than she thought and could have been groundbreaking in destroying this notion that 'post-transition' trans actors cannot play pre-transition trans people.
Then at the end, she is saying her story isn't about a trans boy? Oh right, so a story about a young person assigned female at birth transitioning to male, isn't about a trans boy. That seems like a huge contradiction to me.
I'm Catholic, trans and bisexual, but becoming comfortable with all of these parts of my identity didn't happen overnight. It's been a long process, with many bumps and difficulties along the way including many times where I've wanted to give up completely on at least one aspect. There have even been times where I have given up, but God means so much to me that I always seem to find my way back to them.
I was brought up Catholic, having been baptised when I was just over a year old. We attended church pretty regularly on sundays. For almost my entire school life, aside from 3 primary school years, I went to Catholic school. It was pretty normal to me, and I don't really remember questioning whether I actually believed it or not until I was around 11 or 12.
I started to dislike church at this age because I found it boring, and I was also forced to be an altar server, which I hated because it meant I had to sit up at the front and remember what to do at the right times. I remember trying to find excuses not to attend, or not to have to serve.
However, I then began to become more engaged with my faith. I started following the mass more closely, reading some of the Bible, and learning more about what the Church taught. I began to read books and articles and listen to podcasts with a Catholic or Christian theme. I started almost exclusively listening to Christian music, and soaked up a lot of the views of American purity culture. I found some kind of comfort in all the rules I think, and to my shame now, became fairly judgemental of others' behaviour. I also held myself to a very high standard.
I still believe that it was only through prayer and my relationship with God that I was able to get through some of the toughest periods of my life. With God's help, I gained the courage to reach out again to find new friendships after being bullied for years. My faith provided solace to me, and I believe it kept me alive at this time, if only because I was too scared of going to hell to kill myself.
I continued to attend church regularly, even when the rest of my family stopped going so regularly. I was confirmed when I was 15; it was a lovely service which I got a lot out, but this was to be one of the last times for a while that I would feel this close to, and at peace with, God.
Everything I knew came crashing down when a few months later I finally admitted to myself that I liked girls and watched porn properly for the first time. I couldn't see how my faith and my sexuality could coexist and I felt so immensely guilty.
I went to church to ask God for forgiveness and I remember walking home feeling lighter. However, it soon happened again, and the guilt was back. It led to me self harming and sinking down into a dark place. According to everything I had believed up to this point, I was disordered, and could never have a healthy relationship with a girl.
For a short while I nearly lost my faith entirely, and questioned whether I was even a Christian anymore. However, I only briefly stopped believing in God I think, because I felt that they were a large part of my life and I couldn't imagine doing life without them there, supporting me. I was self harming regularly by this point, and continually struggling with questions of how God could make me like this, and what they wanted me to do with it.
I began to really pray in earnest, seeking an honest answer from God, rather than parroting the book knowledge I had gained. I realised I had a lot of the head knowledge about religion and God, but I was lacking a deeper connection with them. I spent a lot of time in tears, begging God to reveal to me what they wanted me to do, and a lot of time shouting angrily at God.
Then things slowly started to change, I began to get messages of love, in my private prayer times, and through other people. It took quite a while for them to begin to get through to me and make a difference to me. I found it hard to comprehend, but I felt God really wanted me to know that they would always love me, and that there was nothing I could do to make them love me more or less.
Knowing I was loved was incredibly powerful, it gave me a foundation to stand on to ask the more complicated questions, about what to do next. It had never crossed my mind to ask for my identity to be changed, I think I always knew that this was a part of me that I somehow had to live with. The question was always how.
The sticking point was I didn't know whether it would be okay for me to have a relationship. Eventually I found I could break this issue down into three possibilities. Either:
- God is a dick and had created me attracted to girls and also didn't want me to have a relationship with them, thus putting me through a lot of pain and suffering deliberately.
- God didn't create me attracted to girls, and I was wrong and/or something had happened to make me this way and thus I should try to resist it because it was a sinful part of me.
- God created me attracted to girls and there was nothing wrong with this. My desire for relationships was the same as any heterosexual person, and the Church was wrong in its teaching.
I dismissed the first, because I continued to believe in God's love. They had supported and got me through some of the hardest times in my life up to this point, and I couldn't believe that They could be so cruel. So I was left with trying to figure out whether I was wrong about my sexuality, or whether the Church was wrong.
I knew what I wanted my answer to be - that it was okay, and that I could have relationships. However, I didn't know whether this was what God was telling me or whether I was just projecting my own thoughts onto them. I spent a long time exploring this with the school chaplain, and it was so helpful having someone to talk about it with.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that God had created me this way and so I decided to pursue relationships for a while, ignoring the remaining uncertainty I still felt about my sexuality and gender.
Several months later, I came back to discussing sexuality, and I spoke for the first time about how I'd been feeling that I wasn't female, and how I wanted to transition to present as male at school. I spent a lot of time with the school chaplain exploring gender, talking about things like whether the soul has a gender, and whether transitioning is against God's creation or plan for me.
I couldn't find a great deal of teaching on this, but through prayer I began to form my own view on how this fit into my faith. Now, I believe that the soul, the very essence of our being, may have a gender. For most people this aligns with their physical appearance, but for some people like me who are trans, it does not. To begin with my view on this was very binary, because Christian teaching tends to be, but I can't see why it has to be.
I came to realise as well, that even if God created us male and female, that does not mean that we are all completely one or the other. We all have a mixture of typically masculine and feminine characteristics, and gender is far more complicated than a some of the simple definitions provided by parts of mainstream Christianity.
I became very angry with God again over this, however. I couldn't see how if they 'knit me together in my mother’s womb' (Psalm 139:13) they had managed to make such a fundamental mistake. Again, it took a lot of prayer and talking to people to reach a conclusion. I realised that there are many things in this world, that people can be born with that I do not believe are God causing them, or the result of God being neglectful, and so this is similar. It's the result of the fallen, imperfect world that we live in.
The conclusion to this is that I can pursue the medical intervention I need with a clear conscience. I feel safe in the knowledge that God does not want me to suffer, and they helped us to create medicine so that we could alleviate suffering.
My identity is in God, and I know that they see me for who I truly am.