Imagine waking up in the morning knowing that something isn’t right, that people expect something from you every day that you can’t provide. Then imagine being the parent of a child desperate to become who they really are meant to be, but being scared of what that means for both the child and the family.
This story of searching, transition, and familial transformation is at the core of “Real Boy,” a documentary by filmmaker Shaleece Haas. It follows 19-year-old Bennett Wallace during his first two years of gender transition. California singer-songwriter Bennett started his life as Rachael, an effervescent little girl given a “princess” name by his mother, Suzy, but thrilled about getting a pint-sized suit jacket as a present.
Over the years, Bennett as Rachael struggled to fit in and suffered from substance abuse, but found a community of transgender young people telling their stories online that helped him understand that he needed to go through a physical transition.
“I am literally a boy with the wrong body parts,” Bennett says to his mother in late adolescence.
“What if,” Suzy replies, “you’re not?”
Suzy’s journey from ambivalence to acceptance is not an easy one, but it is a powerful centerpiece of the film. When we learn more about Bennett and Suzy, his friends Joe and Dylan, and others in the LGBTQ community, we can see their courage and hope and the strain that their decisions cause, and relate them to the impact of our own individual choices in life.
With California at the center of the struggle for transgender rights and visibility, this film provides a window into a complex and emotionally charged topic. It sheds light on the growing community of trans youth in cities across America, including Bakersfield.
The subject has recently become more front page, from award-winning television shows like “Transparent” to transgender bathroom laws and policies on trans youth in schools.
The film demonstrates how documentaries can take on important national and global issues and use the power of people’s individual stories to open up a healthy dialogue that includes multiple perspectives, and help us better understand each other in the process.
We invite you to join us for a screening of the film from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday in Forum 101 East at Bakersfield College. It will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A that includes director Shaleece Haas, California Humanities’ John Lightfoot, and a representative from the Gender and Sexuality Awareness Club at Bakersfield College.
This event is free and open to the public. Funded in part by a 2014 grant from the California Documentary Project, a program of California Humanities, “Real Boy” has screened at more than 70 festivals worldwide, received more than 15 awards, and will be broadcast on PBS’ Independent Lens in June 2017.
California Humanities (www.calhum.org) is a statewide nonprofit and state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and makes grants and delivers programs to promote the humanities as relevant, meaningful ways to open hearts and minds, connect us to each other, and help build a stronger California.