I had a very unique, delightful and emotionally fraught experience on my birthday recently. I invited a friend of mine who just happens to be transgender to go with me to see The Danish Girl, a movie about one of the very first people to go through gender reassignment surgery.
First of all, if you deprive yourself of this movie, it will be a tragedy. Not since Doctor Zhivago have I seen such epic cinematography that sweeps you up and places you right in the time and place, in this case Copenhagen, Paris, and Dresden in the late 1920’s. Every single frame of this film is a work of art.
And the costumes are luscious, the color vivid, the music spectacular. And the acting? If this movie doesn’t bring home a boatload of Oscars, especially for Eddie Redmayne, then there is something wrong in the universe.
So now let’s address the elephant in the room: the controversial subject matter. I can’t pretend to understand what it must be like to be transgender. I can’t imagine the struggle for acceptance, the feeling that you’re being forced by society to be someone that you really aren’t and never were, the utter confusion as you try to make it to selfhood despite the resistance of pretty much everyone around you. But this movie helped me imagine it more clearly than ever before.
And then try making this type of transition in the 1920’s, when many women weren’t even allowed to vote. Talk about piling on. It must have felt like trying to embrace being a sub-species. No doubt about it—Lili Elbe was very brave. And I just discovered, thanks to Wikipedia, that she shared my birthday! That makes me proud. While I watched that movie, celebrating my birthday, I was unknowingly celebrating hers, too.
The experience was all the more intense because of the friend sitting next to me. Every tear shed on screen, every physical blow endured, every yearning moment, seemed to be radiating outward from the seat beside me. It made me want to cry. And all I could do was hold her hand. In the face of such brave struggle, that gesture seemed pretty darned pathetic.