Film Review: Real Boy at BFI Flare

There is no doubt that at the age of 22, Ben – short for Bennett – is a Real Boy, but try convincing his family of that and this story about a trans man and how, like most of us trans folk, will find acceptance, love and understanding with our chosen families rather than the family that the God who hates us assigned us to.

The film Real Boy starts out like any other documentary type project, a small child with a camera making a home movie about their family life; Mom and Dad are in the kitchen making dinner and a child named Rachel is screaming, laughing and seemingly having another typically fun evening at home.  Fast forward to the age of 19, and Rachel, now Ben is making a YouTube video after only two weeks on testosterone [T].

Real Boy

Sometime between those years, the happy little family fell apart and his parents divorced living coasts apart.  Ben was cutting himself, drinking and doing drugs while his father began to gamble and now, with the exception of an occasional confrontational phone call or text, Ben no longer speaks to his father or sister.  “I just want to be loved by my family,” Ben says sadly, “and it’s not as simple as that.  It’s complicated for them.”

“I got sober because I could no longer deny there was a solution to what I was going through.”  The realization that you are transgender will in most cases lead to two things; a huge weight being lifted off your shoulders and a sudden wave of euphoria followed by the sudden panic that you know your life will change forever, and not always for the better.  Parents in support groups all over the country have often said, “I would have rather my child come out as gay instead of transgender,” and Ben’s mom is no different.

It’s rare that you get to see a Trans person coming out on film, but as expected, this one went exactly as expected.  The scene is tough to watch as Ben’s mother denies him his existence.

Ben: “This is how I’m going to explain it…I am literally a boy with the wrong body parts.”

Mom: “I just think that there is, you know, the argument that….<long pause> you’re not…what defines what is a boy?  In our hearts, you are Rachel <long pause> and that’s a hard habit to break. You are who you are and you get what you get.”

Ben:  “Is that why you got plastic surgery?” he says to his mother who is now stunned into silence. “Where do you draw the line with you get what you get? Stop getting haircuts and hair dye, stop putting on makeup, what I have is a body that doesn’t fit.”

Mom: “You are Rachel. That is who you are.  This whole flip to, you know, it’s not just quirky, I’m in the wrong body is, I think we all have that feeling.”

“The greatest gifts I received while browsing [online] was that I knew that I wasn’t alone.” Ben says about his journey through the YouTube Videos his posts.  The age of social media has created a community of Trans people that are able to connect in ways I never had available to me.  Ben has met a Trans man named Dylan online and anxious for top surgery and a way out of his situation, the two plan to move Santa Cruz to start college – and their new lives – together.

Against his mother’s will, Ben hits the road and viewer is left with the feeling that this will suddenly become one of those ‘buddy on the run’ films.  The itinerary is lengthy; after packing his green VW bug with his belongings, he heads towards Sacramento to see one of his musical inspirations he was introduced to at a sober youth conference where they felt an immediate bond.  “”we are both addicts, we are both Trans and musicians…the three things that define me most.”

Joe shows him how to cut his hair, trim a beard, tie a tie and other mannerisms of being a male, or the way we all learn to assimilate into our new gender, through community bonding and sharing.  There is no instruction manual on being transgender and Ben realizes that as his network of chosen family expands, he feels more comfortable in his new role as a male in society.

It’s December 27th and Ben and his best friend Dylan, who he met up with in Santa Cruz, are in Florida for top surgery.  Dylan’s mom accompanies the boys for comfort and support when Ben’s mom shows up unexpectedly.  Honestly, it was a jaw dropping moment to see her next to Ben’s hospital bed using correct pronouns; she’s still not on board with the surgery, but Dylan’s mother says it best, “We don’t have to necessarily understand it completely and fully, we just have to love them and support them through it, that’s all you can do. There are so many other people in this world that would love to bring them down, we just have to make sure we are not any of those people.”

It’s said they we as people who are transgender want to be accepted, not the exception and with the current run of bathroom bills hitting legislative floors all the country, it’s difficult to understand how lawmakers, let alone our own families, would be the ones to deny us rights, acceptance, love, understanding and deny our existence, but welcome to being transgender and as Ben grows, so does his mother.

The film gives you a good idea of what it’s like to be transgender. Simply look in the mirror and realize that you are exactly the same person you have always been, only to everyone else, you are different and if you correct them, at minimum you will be mocked and denied and at most you could be killed.  A Real Boy is one of the very few movies that places you in that mirror as we are allowed to watch a lifetime of living a lie unfold into moving forward with the truth.

Skip a head another 3 years and Ben is 22 years old.  Joe Stevens is rebounding from a setback, Ben and Dylan are in college, and Ben’s father and sister are still a visible absence from his life.  His facial hair is coming in nicely and the [T] has given him the one side effect every boy has to deal with…acne.  Ben grins widely into the camera when he says, “Check out whose working in the merch department making T-shirts!”  He pans the camera and it’s his mom, screen printing, ironing and folding ‘Real Boy’ T-shirts.

She’s proud of her son and the smile on his face is a smile that’s been on my face, “It’s like opening a door to nowhere, I’m happier, and I think that means something.” – Ben, A Real Boy

5 Stars

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All pictures reproduced courtesy of Shaleece Haas

Claire-Renee Kohner

Claire-Renee Kohner

Trans Activist Journalist
Claire-Renee is a Minneapolis based transgender journalist, activist and mother of three. She is published on Bustle, TheNewYorkTimes, PlanetTransgender, TheAdvocate, Original Plumbing and syndicated across multiple media platforms. A former music industry veteran, she has attended more than 6,000 live concerts and often complains about that constant ringing in her ears. Needless to say, Claire is either listening to music or writing her next article…or both. – Those are advantages of working from home.
Claire-Renee Kohner


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