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The Girl Inside

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Justine Pimlott, Maya Gallus, Red Queen Productions
Directed by Maya Gallus
DVD, color, 70 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Gay and Lesbian Studies, Gender Studies

Reviewed by Dan DiLandro, E.H. Butler Library, State University of New York College at Buffalo

Date Entered: 6/25/2008

Following Madison (nee Matthew) in her internal quest to “feel normal” as well as in her family’s and society’s reactions to her gender reassignment lifestyle and subsequent surgery, The Girl Inside presents a useful, evocative guide for viewers.

The documentary’s accompanying press information notes that the film “delves well beyond ‘Trans 101’ basics,” and this is surely true: filmed over three years , the audience can follow Madison from her “real life test” (that is, the pre-surgery medical dictate to live as the opposite sex for one year) until shortly after the physical gender reassignment has been completed. The temporal scope of the film allows for a number of scenes that might be considered key to understanding what Madison – and by extension, other transitioning individuals – is undergoing. Well-edited, the major plot points and story arcs that are shown progress Madison’s story in a linear and comprehensible way: Madison describes her early life, and many of the trials she faced therein. Living at the time of filming in Toronto, we follow Madison as she visits her mother in Florida and her father and his family in New Brunswick. Too, we meet Madison’s grandmother, Vivien, who shares (her own version of) the secrets of femininity with Madison, doing her granddaughter’s hair and expressing how to “regulate [her] behavior” in order to pass as a, presumably, proper woman.

Vivien is a great supporter of Madison’s and while she amusingly exposes her own (unconventional and, perhaps, outmoded) ideas about femininity, she is clearly willing to support her granddaughter. Significantly, though, the road trip to and meeting with her mother – which is somewhat telescoped to be a frightening and fraught experience – proves that Madison’s own mother is, while evidently reluctant, quite willing to support her child. So, too , with Madison’s father’s family and her own siblings in Maritime Canada. While a bit “dazed,” maybe, her family clearly wants to support Madison through her own emotional and physical trials.

Thus the film does provide some of the “’Trans 101’ basics,” but offers additional information as well. For instance, Madison is seen contemplating, discussing, and undergoing (graphically) a tracheoshave, the removal of her Adam’s apple. In this and other scenes, the protagonist’s voiceover and direct-camera interviews provide important logistical and emotional information that gives the viewer an insider view, as it were, as to more specifically what a transgendered individual is undergoing. Madison explains the use of and issues with hormone therapy – and even this provides some startling information. For instance, men undergoing the therapy are probably sterile for life after about three months of the medicine, even if they quit the drug. Other facts navigate the medical essentialities of transitioning, such as the necessity of written evaluations by both medical doctors and psychologists. This is useful information, all. Elsewhere, Madison discusses the exact costs of some surgeries as well as the financial toll her transitioning has taken on her income. (On this last point, though, the film is unclear: she made two to four times as much at work before transitioning, she says; it is unclear if she was fired from her job or if the temporal, emotional, or physical burdens of the reassignment upset her professional life. Viewers – especially those considering transitioning or their families – would want to know exactly what happened.)

A somewhat major criticism of the narrative is that the film focuses often and specifically on Madison’s emotional doubts. In a world where her family seems at least somewhat (though perhaps hesitantly) supportive and often extremely willing to applaud Madison’s complex personal growth, the protagonist herself is shown to be full of doubt. This is certainly natural, but this imbalance might also be antithetical to the experiences of other transitioning individuals – people who are often positive about their own feelings, but fearful of others’ reactions. While it is unusual for a film like this to present the anxieties of a trans portrayed against the backdrop of a generally supportive family and medical establishment, it highlights that the film might be even better targeted at families of transgendered people – not necessarily the transgendered themselves. Too, Madison makes it clear from the outset that she was never gay, though she seeks male companionship online (and, pointedly, does not discuss her transitioning from the outset, being weary of “chasers” who fetishize trans people); and later develops a tense—due to her physically transitional state—but ultimately, it seems, happy relationship with a man (who is also, of course, not gay). This equation might be surprising to many in both the GLBT as well as the larger heterosexual community.

In any case, stylistic quibbling and criticism of the protagonist’s self-identity is unfair, especially as the film makes it clear that this is one individual’s unique experiences. It is how the film “touches” and teaches others that is important; and The Girl Inside has much to tell and much with which to inform audiences.

Well-written, insightful, and informative, while the film is highly recommended for audiences of those who are confused by or wish to support people in transition, it is enthusiastically recommended for collections that focus on gay and lesbian studies as well as gender studies.