I’ve been pondering a lot lately what it is I write about. This is intimately related to what I like to read about, given that part of my reason for writing is to create something that Reader-Me craves.
I’ve realised that my major abiding obsession is about the revelation of self.
When I first started thinking about this question, I initially decided that my books were all about discovery of self – essentially, “Who am I?”. But whilst that is certainly true of the characters in my latest three books, the Enlightenment trilogy, it is not true of my first two books, in which I wrote about women whose true selves were concealed. These were not characters who didn’t know themselves, but rather characters who struggled with revealing themselves.
I’m not suggesting at all that all romance is about revelation of self, but for me, this is something I crave and greatly love. This theme speaks to me so very deeply – it is, for me, a golden thing and when I think of many of my favourite romances I see it there: from Pride & Prejudice to this year’s Dabwaha winner, Captive Prince.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post, namely, the beautiful film I watched last night, Romeos. This gorgeous German movie, directed by Sabine Bernardi, is the story of Lukas, a young pre-op female-to-male transexual and his struggle to find a place for himself in the world. Within the wider story is a romance between Lukas (who is not only transsexual, but gay, two things that he angrily tells his best friend are “completely separate”) and a physically beautiful man called Fabio.
The movie is very sparse on dialogue but the acting is powerful. Rick Okon is wonderful as Lukas. His depiction of Lukas’ feelings through facial expression and body language is beautifully observed and heart wrenching.
There were many many rich and wonderful things about this movie but I’m going to restrict my comments to this stuff about revelation of self and how that was explored.
Lukas is a man in a transitioning body. He has female sexual organs but thanks to the drugs he’s been taking, he looks male. His sense of his own masculinity is both robust and fragile and this is shown beautifully in his angry insistence on being treated like a male, his heartbreaking loathing of his female body and in a number of scenes in which other characters’ actions and reactions make him feel bad or humiliated or less than in some way. That none of these scenes feature violence or anything egregiously traumatic is a testament to the power of the acting and storytelling because these scenes just wrenched at me. And this was merely the ordinary, everyday stuff of life: people teasing each other, showing prurient curiosity, showing disapproval and barely concealed disgust.
I’ve been thinking about trans people a fair bit recently – for various reasons – and this film came along at an apt time for me. I can’t tell you how much it moved me – beyond anything. It took me somewhere I’d tried to imagine and made it vividly real to me.
Art is the greatest teacher because it can make us understand things beyond our experience. Because it shows rather than tells. If you’re willing to open yourself up to it, you can live another life in a small way, for a little time.
It can change you, and I love that.
Whilst Lukas is the main focus of the film, he is not its only subject. Fabio also has a hidden self that is slowly revealed. I adored the way the film both contrasted and aligned Lukas and Fabio. They are both men, attracted to one another, wanting the same thing. But whilst Lukas is gauche and lacking in confidence, Fabio is all unselfconscious beauty, male arrogance, sexual confidence. Early on, he is dismissed (by a seemingly more sensitive character) as a man slut who is only good for one thing. But it is Fabio – brash and thoughtless as he is at times – who comes to ultimately see, and love, Lukas’s true self in one of the most beautiful love scenes I think I’ve ever seen on film. One of the reasons this love scene is so good is that it follows a prior sex scene between Lukas and another gay man. Whilst that character is willing to have sex with Lukas despite his female body, his ‘acceptance’ takes the form of mingled shock, amusement and a sort of prurient arousal over Lukas’s exoticism. In other words, this not acceptance at all.
I didn’t think about this character’s reaction in anything like that detail when I was actually watching that scene. It only occurred to me later, after the subsequent love scene in which Fabio and Lukas come together. They do so, not as a man and a man, or as a man and a woman – how they should be classified, scientifically or otherwise, just doesn’t come into it. They come together as themselves, as Fabio and Lukas. What you see, in that final scene, is very lovely. Revelation and discovery. Deeply personal and individual.
It’s difficult to find a scene on You Tube that gives a good sense of the film. The scene I’ve embedded here is an odd dreamlike sequence from the middle of the film – but it is thematically representative. The blue lighting, and choice of song, are very deliberate. There is a running metaphor of a watery voyage of discovery – dangerous and elemental – to a new land, a rebirth, that runs through the film. The drag queen in this scene is a sort of kindly siren. Beckoning Lukas, acknowledging how hard the journey is. Telling him it’s worth the fight.