Film festivals worldwide are suffering rapid onset gender dysphoria, because every single one carries at least one or two trans-themed films. This time it was the turn of the Raindance Film Festival, which featured two documentaries about men who identify as women – Against the Current, reviewed here, and this film Girl Like You about an Australian couple in their early 20s.
You can watch the trailer here.
About the documentary
In this touching and insightful documentary, filmmakers Samantha Marlowe and Frances Elliot follow a couple battling to stay together as one of them transitions genders. Girl Like You captures the ripple effect as the couple confront the effects of new body parts and navigate their own evolving sexual identities.From the blurb
Girl Like You has to be seen to be believed. I find it absolutely staggering that the filmmakers have produced this but appear to have no understanding of their subjects or the underlying issues. Like, it’s really really incredible. Keep the blurb above in mind always as you read my summary – ‘touching and insightful’ have never more badly applied.
A content warning that suicide and depression will be discussed is the first screen, but not that a young woman will be humiliated and pushed beyond her comfort zone by her abusive boyfriend and camera crew repeatedly over years. So that’s my content warning.
Par for the course with the genre, it begins with home film footage (1998) of Lewis as a young boy. Mum knew something was wrong, Lewis assures us. Usual story, he began cross dressing early teens and by age 18 ‘knew’ he was transgender. He keeps a video diary of his transition. It moves forward in time through the course of his ‘transition’ and their dissolving relationship.
Boy meets girl – 2014
When Lewis met Lauren she didn’t know he was trans-identified. They hit it off immediately and spent hours talking. He told her six weeks into the relationship that he was transgender. Right up front she admits that she finds his crossdressing overwhelming at times. She’s a very likeable confident and happy woman. She works as a mechanic in sports car racing and is no push over.
The camera captures what seem endless discussions over what he would like to wear. A voice over from her: Lewis needs constant support and care. And I already hate him.
How he feels
Lewis explains to us in his video diary from 2014 that he feels somewhere being androgynous and transsexual. He has watched a lot of internet vlogs by men on the the subject of their transitions and the amazing effects of hormones. He wants to do it but is scared.
How she feels
Lauren is asked how she feels that he might start taking hormones. Speechless and crying she says, ‘I’ve come to terms with it’. She’s scared it will change his personality.
How he feels
He quotes a statistic that only 7 percent of relationships survive a partner transitioning. What’s stopping him at the moment is that Lauren is straight, however luckily Lauren is preparing herself for any possibility. Sometimes he feels really blokey inside and he’s a drummer in a band.
He spends a lot of time on the internet looking at vlogs, and in an entry from 2015 it’s clear he has also watched detransitioner vlogs too.
By 2016 he reports he’s still confused and worried about how hormones might affect this sexual function. His issues are dominating the relationship but the sex is still good.
His quandary is also impacting his friendships. His bandmates are sick of hearing about his dilemma, Lauren is also visibly waning. It is then implied that this is why he decides to do it – for others.
In a video diary he tells us that he isn’t absolutely sure about the hormones, but that he hasn’t shared that with anyone because he knows that’s the only way he’ll get his hands on them. The night before he takes them we see him excited and the sound of a didgeridoo reverberates. However he tells us he isn’t excited, he’s scared, it’s very poor little boy lost.
He’s so happy
Of course, hormones make him so happy, and Lauren is happy he’s happy. He has some breast growth (which really never amounts to much), his face fills out as he gains weight. Lewis decides to become Eloise – Elle for short. They do a whole bit where he fills out the paperwork and goes to the postbox. ‘He’s fucking dead, I killed him,’ Lewis says and laughs triumphantly.
His mother, on the other hand, is going through the greeting cards she got when he was born. She’s finding it difficult and hasn’t changed his phone entry in her mobile to the new name. Lewis believes the relationship will be more rewarding now that he is a ‘daughter’.
Lauren however is fully onboard and wants Lewis to be ‘her wife’. Lewis is clearly less keen and says he feels like she treats him too much like the man in the relationship (which I took to be a sexual reference).
The bandmate candidly admits he’d really love to hang out with ‘Elle’, but is stopped by the thought of being engulfed in his ongoing dilemma. Lauren is also feeling less sympathetic.
Therefore when Lewis decides to burn his boy clothes and other bits and pieces, he does it alone on a beach, albeit the camera crew in tow to document it.
Lauren doesn’t want to be a lesbian
Lauren is finding it more difficult to deal with the public face of their relationship, especially with the filmmakers a permanent feature of their relationship. She tells people that she dates someone called Elle, but that Elle is a man. She doesn’t want to be regarded as a lesbian, which is understandable since she isn’t one and still only feels attraction to men. She is experiencing imposter syndrome.
Lewis, turning the knife, remarks to her that he likes being gay more than he likes being trans.
Alone with the camera he admits that this is a fundamental shift of identity for her. But guess what? He has some lesbian friends and couldn’t be happier. The dippy couple are neighbours and we see them briefly indulging him in a way which confirms they know he’s a man.
Lewis informs us that he is finding it difficult to get erections and that he wants a different kind of sex now; he wants to be touched softly. He’s happy if she wants to sleep with other men, since he has now decided it’s time for him to date some real lesbians.
Lauren is clear that having an open relationship is absolutely off limits.
Lauren gets a dog
Lauren is looking for joy, and makes a really good decision. She gets a dog.
We see them sat out on the porch with the dog and he quips the dog ‘protects us from homophobes’. Her face is glazed over.
It’s now May 2018 and she’s working very long hours. She says she’s numb. She’s been financially supporting Lewis now for the last four and half years (it’s a real WTF moment, believe me). It’s difficult living off the money and she’s exhausted.
She's been financially supporting Lewis for the last four and a half years.
Lewis admits that it was ‘calculated decision’ to hone in on Lauren because of her financial potentiality and nurturing skills.
August 2019 and Lauren has relented and their relationship is now open. She slept with a man first but looks far from happy about it. Lewis smugly reminds her that it was his idea originally. She’s besides herself with anxiety, body language going into overdrive, the filmmakers all too happy to leer over her discomfort.
I went on a date a while ago. It was the conversation and the flirting. Meeting someone new and interesting. This is what I want.Lewis
I’m mildly numb inside. Nothing phases me anymore. It doesn’t matter how hectic things get, I need to be stable for her. I’m dead inside – Lauren (Lewis smirks)
Welcome to the club – Lewis (starts laughing)
Lewis is having electrolysis for his beard. He thinks he left transition too late and that facial feminisation surgery is his only hope of passing. There is disappointment that changes haven’t been more dramatic. He is worn down by being correctly sexed all the time. His band breaks up, but he doesn’t care because it frees up the time for him to concentrate on himself.
He goes back to the gender clinic to up the stakes and they prescribe the anti-androgen agent cyproterone, which ‘nukes your testicles and your testosterone’ says Lewis. We see shots of Lewis’s internet search pages which confirm the potential side effects: ‘hallucinations’, ‘suicidal thoughts’ then finally ‘accelerates gender transition’.
Once on the drug Lewis testifies he now loves his body but his mind is a wreck and he is suffering night terrors and volatile mood swings.
In the kitchen, late at night, the cameras catch Lewis and Lauren arguing. She pleads with him to contribute more financially. He has only paid rent twice that year.
In a video diary, his hair in pigtails and hands clasped together in a I’m a lady type way, he tells us he hasn’t got time to deal with someone who is angry with him, when he’s so worried that he’s going to kill himself.
He says that he first planned to commit suicide aged 11 and now wishes he had done it, as he’s so sick of people staring at him all the time. Lauren is completely fatigued because she’s worried she will come home and find him dead.
The things I would do to not be trans. I would literally kill myself.Lewis
We see Lauren crying again for the umpteenth time. She doesn’t want to talk about it anymore not to the crew, not to anyone.
Lauren finally manages to dump him and we see Lewis, tail between his legs, return to mum (and the never seen dad) and his small Australia hometown since he isn’t able to support himself and reflects that he ‘lost the house’. His room is a mess of pills, cans of lager and clothes. Sad music plays. Poor poor baby.
Without irony Lewis states that he didn’t see it coming and thought they were happy. He wanted to marry her.
Bare face lies
As mum shows him photos of himself as a kid, Lewis points one out and says, ‘that kid got beaten up a lot’. Mum purses her lips and we suspect that this is not true.
‘I reckon it smacked the queer into me,’ he continues, goading mum.
‘You’re not queer, you’re transgender,’ she corrects, and ‘don’t use that word’.
‘Yes, I am. I’m a lesbian!’
Mum’s face is an absolute picture. It says it all.
Of course, the idiot filmmakers make no attempt to follow up this incredible claim that he was repeatedly physically assaulted in childhood, so we learn nothing more about that.
Back to Lauren
Her faithful dog still by her side, Lauren explains ending the relationship was the hardest thing. She’s still respecting his pronouns and says that he ‘deserves all the love in the world’. She begins crying again and the dog instinctively comforts her, and it reminds us no one has done that for her on camera so far. She’s still broken and traumatised.
The final section is a montage of clips, mainly from the very beginning of the relationship showing them happy and in love (which reminds us it was a vanishingly small window of time) as a way of wrapping up things, and showing look how how hard transition is. But the film doesn’t explain anything.
It doesn’t explain why a reasonably normal young man embarked on a kamikaze dive into chemical substance abuse. His internet use is never questioned, nor are there any reflections how the internet has shaped this generation’s attitudes and their identity. Lewis’ claim to have gender dysphoria is never explored, neither its aetiology nor any basic fact checking of his story. His abusive behaviour towards Lauren is very gently probed and excused at the very end.
Worse still their treatment of Lauren is unforgivable and breaches what I would consider ethical. It is particularly unfathomable how two women could have so little empathy for the emotional and financial abuse she suffers at the hands of Lewis. They clearly believe that Lauren’s role is as Lewis’ support human and nothing else.
I did actually wonder if the project wasn’t just a ploy to show how damaging gender identity is on the human psyche and on the wives and girlfriends, but it’s really true that the filmmakers believe they have made a bittersweet documentary – see their interview here – they describe Lewis as ‘responsible’ in the podcast and are clearly batting for him. Idiots.
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