She’s a Boy I Knew
By Gwen Haworth
70 minutes, color, Canada, 2007
DVD includes: Closed Captions, Chapter Markers, Bonus Scenes
They say that when someone comes out of the closet, they can’t stop talking about it. Vancouver filmmaker Gwen Haworth not only talked she made a movie. Using archival family footage, interviews, phone messages, and hand-drawn animation, Haworth’s documentary “She’s a Boy I Knew” begins in 2000 with Steven Haworth’s decision to come out to his family about his life-long female gender identity. The resulting auto-ethnography is not only an exploration into the filmmaker’s process of transition from biological male to female, from Steven to Gwen, but also an emotionally charged account of the individual experiences, struggles, and stakes that her two sisters, mother, father, best friend and wife brought to Gwen’s transition.
Under Haworth’s sensitive eye, each stepping stone in the process of transitioning becomes an opportunity to explore her community’s and our own underlying assumptions about gender and sexuality. When Steven starts to wear his wife Malgosia’s clothing, she struggles with whether Steve “wants to be with me or to be me;” when Steven changes her name to Gwen, her father comments, that’s “when I realized I lost my son;” Haworth’s gender reassignment surgery, or vaginoplasty, forces her sister Kim to grapple with her own experiences in the medical establishment and raises questions about the implications of the medicalization of gender.
In these tender and difficult moments, “She’s a Boy I Knew“ forces us to question our own assumptions about the role that names, clothing, and anatomy play in our constructions of gender identity. As her transition progresses, Gwen is forced to reckon with the end of her marriage and the loss of her status as son and brother. But in doing so, she also discovers that while the nature of personal relationships may change, the love and support present within those relationships can remain just as powerful and sometimes even more so.
At turns painful, funny, and awkward, “She’s a Boy I Knew“ explores the frustrations, fears, questions, and hopes experienced by Gwen and her family as they struggle to understand and embrace her newly revealed identity.
“Honest, intelligent and absolutely clear-eyed. Unlike most autobiographical docu helmers, Haworth has a degree in filmmaking, and her thorough understanding of the medium results in a well-edited portrait smoothly interweaving talking heads with home movies while steadily moving forward both chronologically and emotionally. Humor is another unexpected plus, picked up on by brief animated segments (‘How to Be a Girl’, etc.) that provide just the right amount of leavening.” Jay Weissberg, Variety
“Witty, brave, and vulnerable, Haworth gave us the most affecting and memorable documentary of the year.” Vancouver Magazine
“Haworth creates an emotional space that engulfs the viewer in a way that’s extremely rare in any film, whether fiction or non-fiction.” Kevin Griffin, The Vancouver Sun