MA VIE EN ROSE: TRANSGENDER, THE CHILD AND THE FAMILY
by Melanie Yarborough
Belgian Director Alain Berliner's recent film Ma Vie En Rose (My Life In Pink) deals with an aspect of transgender until now little explored: the world through the eyes and family of a transgendered child.
To 7-year-old Ludovic, it's perfectly natural to want to be a girl. He idolizes the Barbie-like children's television character Pam. He dreams of being a princess like her and marrying his best friend Jerome. ("We walk down the aisle, I look gorgeous...") With fairytale-like faith, he knows he'll grow up to be a girl someday. Even when confronted with parental confusion and hostility, social ostracism and physical violence, he remains steadfast.
Yet he struggles to make sense of his feelings. "Am I a boy or a girl?" he plaintively asks his teenage sister Zoe. She's sympathetic, but finds it difficult to explain. She finally explains it in terms of her High School biology class: girls have XX and boys have XY chromosones. "But doesn't God decide?," he asks. "Yes," his sister tells him.
With a child's typical creativity, Ludovic's conjures up a blend of classroom science and Sunday school religion. He pictures an on-high God dispersing from a fluffy cloud X and Y chromosones to houses awaiting babies. He was slated to be a girl, but his other X chromosone bounced off the chimney and fell in the trash. At last Ludovic happily has an explanation. He's a girlboy, a "scientific error". Someday he'll get his X back and be the girl he was meant to be.
To his father Pierre, his son's crossdressing is at first a joke. He nervously tells the neighbors "That's our son, the jokey one" when Ludovic appears at a party in his older sister's princess dress. But in private, Pierre warns him "Never again!" At first, he assumes a stereotypical critical father's response. He seeks a psychologist to "cure" his son, hurls accusations at his wife for not trying to change him, and once comes close to physical violence.
To his mother Hanna, Ludovic's behavior seems an eccentric phase he'll hopefully outgrow. "You're seven, too old to dress up like a girl", she soothingly tells him. Later, she more concernedly asks "Don't you want to be a man like your father and brothers?" and tells him "Boys don't marry boys". She's initially patient and understanding, staying his fathers angry words and upraised hand. But her patience soon wears thin, and she later sputters "I know you have to find yourself, but really!"
Then, midway through the film, the inexplicable happens. The father becomes compassionate, and the mother becomes hardened. The crucial event is when the father loses his job over the growing scandal. This frees him to identify with his son as another innocent victim, and he actually develops compassion for him. Yet for Hanna, the loss of economic security embitters her. She blames her son for their dislocation, and shrieks at him "You really mess up our lives!" Angered, she even cuts his beloved long hair, to the sorrowful gaze of the rest of the family.
Only his grandmother Elisabeth seems truly compassionate and understanding. She's a sexy older woman who rejects the stereotypes of the doting grandmother in the sunset of life. She drives a bright yellow sports car, likes vibrant dance music, and plays poker. She's a free spirit who can relate to her grandson's differentness, and talks openly and honestly with him, never criticizing. She counsels the family "Don't overreact like those idiots....Girl or boy, above all, he's your child". And when Pierre and Hanna seem to feel their son is taunting them, Elisabeth reminds them "We've no idea what goes on in his mind".
The rest of society is much less compassionate. Schoolmates snicker "He plays with dollies", and in a locker room confrontation, beat him up. Sophie is another little girl who has a crush on Ludovic's friend Jerome. When Jerome spurns her advances, she spreads the word that he's "queer". Parents sign a petition to have Ludovic expelled from school. Neighbors give dirty, scornful looks when they pass by. As his world comes apart, Ludovic becomes self destructive. He walks out in front of a car, deliberately unseeing. He slams down a glass of wine, and later makes a tragi-comic suicide attempt.
The film makes clear that society quickly extends the transgender stigma to the entire family. To many, no child could honestly want or choose to be transgendered. Therefore, it must be the parents' fault. What did they do to make their child this way? From there it's a short step to seeing the entire family as pariahs. Parents of transgendered children, take note: we're all in this together.
Religion is also invoked by the intolerant to condemn those who are different. Jerome's authoritarian father Albert gravely intones "God took one of my children away. He won't take the other". Jerome asks to be seated away from Ludovic in school, offering as explanation "Otherwise, I'll go to hell." And in one scene, Jerome's father Albert tells Ludovic's mother in unbelieving and shocked tones "You poison everything....You're Satan!"
Transgendered children don't live in a vacuum. The reactions of those around them play an important role in their development. Because transgender is so alien to most of a child's family, friends, and society, nobody has any idea how to react. Gender is a given, never questioned. People around Ludovic are incapable of explaining to him why it's wrong for a boy to want to be a girl. They can only respond by blaming and persecuting him.
In perhaps one of the film's most poignant scenes, Ludovic's schoolteacher tells his sniggering classmates "Some of your classmates may be different from you. You're all different. You must accept people they way they are and respect each other. At your age, you're still all finding yourselves." It's a lesson most adults need to learn as well.
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