AGLIFF review – ‘Real Boy’

Bennett Wallace (left) and his mentor Joe Stevens

                                                   Bennett Wallace (left) and his mentor Joe Stevens

All I want is to be loved by my family but for them, it’s not as simple as that.

While it can still depend on where you live in the United States, coming out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual is now a much easier process than it was a decade ago for most Americans. The same cannot be said for those who are transgender. There may be more visibility now for the trans community, but that does not necessarily mean that there is as much understanding or support for people who are coming out.

The latest documentary from queer filmmaker Shaleece Haas introduces us to Bennett Wallace. At 19-years-old, Bennett has been undergoing his transition for two years, having been born female. It is not something that his family can process – his father and sister stop speaking to him entirely. For his mother Suzy, things are more complex. She wants a relationship with her son but tends to misgender him and, at least initially, cannot stop grieving for the daughter she’s lost in this process. Suzy doesn’t really understand what is happening with Bennett and she doesn’t really seem to want to.

After bouts of depression and addiction, Bennett gets sober and finds solace through the video diaries of other trans kids who openly post about their milestones and struggles on YouTube. It’s the kind of support system that until fairly recently just didn’t exist for people questioning their gender identity. Writing and performing music is also a big part of how Bennett processes his feelings. With the help of his mentor Joe Stevens, frontman for the folk trio Coyote Grace, Bennett writes honest and compelling songs that chronicle his life and relationships. We hear a few of them in the film including a stunning track called “Fear Not My Love” which is broken down on screen with lyrics and animation.

With the help of his best friend Dylan, the two travel to Florida to undergo female-to-male “top surgery” in order to remove their breasts. As an outsider, it’s hard to fathom the relief one must get from finally undergoing this procedure. Not to mention the agony of knowing that when you’re done with the surgery, your family may alienate you further.

For many LGBT people, the family that supports you often turns out to be one that you make from a tight-knit circle of friends. “Real Boy” is a powerful document of one person’s attempt to live their truth with a handpicked family. It’s an uplifting journey of discovery and self-awareness that perfectly set the tone for a great weekend of LGBT cinema.

“Real Boy” had its Marquee screening as the Opening Night film of AGLIFF. It will air on PBS’ ‘Independent Lens.’ in 2017.


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