Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This documentary premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. It won Best Documentary at the Frameline Film Festival, which is the LGBTQ film festival in San Francisco. It also won Best Documentary Feature at Outfest, which is the LGBTQ film festival in Los Angeles. It was appropriately made available online on a streaming service in June, which is Pride Month, the time of the year where a lot of LGBTQ pride marches and events occur, culminating in the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which launched the LGBTQ rights movement. Those riots were led by drag queens and transgender people, so this documentary is ever-more appropriate given that it focuses on three transgender people who in their own ways are fighting for their rights too.
Mack Beggs is a 17-year-old transgender boy who is a wrestler. Unfortunately, he lives in Texas, which doesn’t allow transgender student-athletes to compete in matches or games as their lived gender. As a result, Mack has to compete against girls. However, Mack has transitioned and is a boy who takes testosterone injections. It then becomes an awkward thing that the state has a boy wrestling girls, which is exactly the thing that people who oppose transgender people competing as their lived gender supposedly want to avoid.
Sarah Huckman is a teenage transgender girl who is a Nordic skier. She lives in New Hampshire. That state requires transgender students to undergo reassignment surgery before being allowed to compete in their athletics. She lives with her very accepting parents on a farm where she sees chickens and goats strolling around free-range. She’s also on social media where she does videos about doing her makeup.
Andraya Yearwood is another teenage transgender girl who lives in Connecticut. She’s African-American and she runs track-and-field. She’s the most lucky because in her state, there are no restrictions. Transgender students are free to participate in whatever sport based on their gender identity. Her coach is also open and accepting, but that doesn’t mean that everybody in Connecticut is open and accepting. When she competes, she often faces the jeers and rants from angry adults.
Director Michael Barnett’s camera is able to capture these angry adults as they deliver their rants. Barnett even interviews one or two of them to get their discriminatory and sometimes bigoted opinions. A lot of it seems to stem from antiquated ideas of sex and gender, as well as a stubborn and ignorant belief that transgender people are not the genders with which they identify.
The argument against transgender athletes is that opponents believe transgender girls have an advantage in sports because they were born boys. Most opponents who are mostly people on the right or Republican don’t talk about what would be the reverse, which is transgender boys being disadvantaged. What’s ironic is that Mack acknowledges the unfairness of a boy playing against girls or at least he doesn’t want to do it. Mack wins all of his matches when he’s playing against girls, but when he starts playing against boys, he starts to lose. He’s only able to play against boys once he gets out of the high school system, but would he have had a perfect record if he were allowed to play against boys in high school? It presents a bit of a paradox that the film doesn’t explore. The paradox goes to why girls and boys sports are even segregated at all.
The film remains firmly on the side of the trans youth. It acknowledges their pain and their trauma. It also relays that most of the bullying comes from adults and not fellow students. One notable adult, however, is Mack’s grandmother who raised him. She’s Grandma Nancy. She’s a deputy sheriff, a Republican and a Southern Baptist. Yet, she’s absolutely supportive of Mack. Hearing her support despite her background is incredible. I wish Barnett had interrogated her more on the issue or engage her on what her friends at church or wherever think. All in all, this documentary is a nice expression of trans youth in this country being themselves in the sports world, which has obviously become a contentious issue in 2021. Barnett is certainly relevant with his film here.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.
Available on Hulu.