I WANT WHAT I WANT: MILESTONE OF TRANSGENDER CINEMA
by Melanie Yarborough
In the same year that Dr. Harry Benjamin published The Transsexual Phenomena in 1966, novelist Geoff Brown published a fictional story about transsexual Roy/Wendy, entitled I Want What I Want. Christine Jorgenson's autobiography was made into a motion picture in 1970, and I Want What I Want was filmed the following year.
It's important to remember that this was the heady Post-Stonewall time of social awareness. Along with the black civil rights movement and the feminist movement, sexual minorities were also actively fighting for their rights.
A Raymond Stross-Marayan Production, the I Want What I Want occasionally slips into melodrama. Yet on the whole, it's a moving and sensitive portrayal of a young transsexual woman's pain and self-discovery. It's a landmark in the development of transgender film, and a link in the chain leading to another recent English film Different For Girls.
Actress Anne Heywood, a genetic female, plays the transsexual lead role. Many have expressed disappointment upon learning this. Shouldn't the role be more appropriately played by a man? Yet viewers should not let this blind them to a touching performence in a remarkable film. Ms. Heywood ably brings to the screen the anguish and longing many pre-operative women feel.
The conflicts and rites of passage are all too familiar to the transgender community. However, to a film viewer or reviewer of 1972, it presented the first glimpse into another world. It addressed such issues as family abuse and rejection, struggles over sexual orientation and legal documentation issues.
Roy is a shy and melancholy young man working as an unremarkable agent at the EHB Estate Agency. Yet he gazes longingly from the window of his office at the miniskirted and buxom young girls of early 1970's England. It might seem that he's wistfully attracted to them. But a more knowing audience realizes it's his ache to be a woman himself.
His battle is not long in coming. His brutal, womanizing widower father (Harry Andrews) comes home one night to find his son en femme. Roy is in his mother's pink evening gown, with a brunette buffonted wig, copious blue eyeshadow and heavy lipstick. Father's response is cruel and unmerciful: "I've heard about people like you, but God knows I never thought my own son...." After slapping Roy across the face, he roars "Look at me! Hold up your head like a man, even if you aren't one! Have you no pride? You make me sick, you humiliate me...."
In his macho world, Roy's father cannot understand why anyone would want to give up the glory of manhood to be like (in his words) those "stupid bitches". On the off chance anyone might miss the link between sexism and fascism, Father bellows at his son "The Germans used to send people like you to the gas chambers." Roy retorts "And they decorated people like you!"
Roy moves out immediately. Alone in a hotel room, living off money left by his mother, he works to transform himself into a woman. He practices walking in heels. He tirelessly works at the art of makeup. He lets his hair grow. Finally, completely en femme, he tells the mirror "Roy, this is where you and I part company!" Wendy Ross is born. She moves to another town and rents a room in a boarding house. She successfully presents as female, and alone in her new dress and identity, she happily whisks around her room.
But reality intrudes. One of the other boarders, Frank (Michael Coles) shows a boorish macho interest in her. Wendy's fear of being found out mingles with other questions. She finds she's attracted to him as well and grapples with the question of homosexuality. At the employment agency, she's asked to show her work card, birth certificate and references from previous employers. She sees a psychiatrist, only to learn to her quiet dismay the many hurdles she must pass through to achieve the necessary operation.
In one of the film's most poignant scenes, Wendy revisits her sister Shirley (Virginia Stride). Shirley is initially as angered and disgusted at Wendy as their father. She acidly asks "Have you been dressed up like this since you left home? Your makeup's dreadful!" But now, newly confident Wendy matches Shirley word for word:
"Couldn't you be cured?" -"I am cured".
"Please go and put on your own clothes" -"These are my clothes".
"You look awful!" -"That's not true".
Shirley later muses "Well, men's clothes are like women's these days..." Wendy replies "I still don't want to wear them...because they're men's clothes." In one of the film's most important distinctions between crossdressers and transsexuals, she says "If woman's clothing were made out of old sacking, I'd want to wear them".
Women's garments hold no eroticism for transsexuals. They're an expression of identity. However, this does not mean that transsexuals are somehow more "real" or "authentic" than crossdressers. It merely indicates that each has individual motivations. Each is equally valid.
I Want What I Want is, in spite of some sensationalist moments, a very realistic film. While the clothing and language may seem dated, the themes are timeless. It should be an indispensible part of any transgender film library, as well as a powerful educational tool for teaching others about transexualism.
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