Warning: this is my most emotionally intense article ever, in the multiple-year history of this blog.
I watched this movie last night. I have never felt so moved by any movie, ever — and I have seen a lot of movies.
“The Danish Girl” movie is mainly about two ladies, one of them a trans girl. I related to the trans girl so much that this factor alone made it a very hard movie for me to watch — hard but good.
Much of the anguish and difficulty that the trans girl experienced … those are well-known to me albeit to a far lesser degree and a less-difficult context. I’ve been there, done that, and I survived. Even so, the movie was a replay of the essence of the entire sequence of events, with its stratospheric highs and deep lows. My coming-out years were so intense that I could barely stand it at its normal pace and dosage. Plus, whatever I experienced was the mild version of what the trans girl in the movie experienced. Plus, her experiences were condensed into two hours … total emotional overload for me.
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As to other main lady in the movie: bear with me, because I’ve been up all night trying to explain this in fewer words and I can’t. I wrote this article essentially nonstop over a period of approximately five or six hours – maybe longer since the sun is already up but I’m still not done writing yet. (And yes, I added this paragraph later, five or six hours into the project.)
Those who know me tend to consider me a strong girl whereas my romantic partners (all ladies, because that’s how my preference is hard-wired) saw the three-dimensional version of me, which has bad days, bad habits, bad weaknesses, bad traits, and bad judgment much more often than they or I would have preferred. I’m certainly a work in progress.
Nevertheless, I strive to be strong and principled, with good and consistent principles. If I can maintain my general trend for another few thousand years I might actually end up being a downright impressive human being. Even now I’m fairly hard-assed as a general level of functioning. I fall apart relatively rarely. My point is that if a movie makes me fall apart, it’s a rare event. In fact, as of last night, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.
I’ve seen movies that came close. “Saving Private Ryan” was one of them though in a different way. But this movie, “Danish The Girl,” is in a class of its own — for me.
I’m overly endowed with empathy and even when I hurt someone for whom I care to any extent, it’s rarely without (in anticipation, at the time or subsequently) feeling much empathy for their plight … while I might nevertheless still not have chosen a different path; I’d wish that my choices didn’t have as painful a consequence for those affected and whom I care about. Unless you’re my enemy or have thoroughly burned me out, the phrase “I don’t care” would rarely be heard from my lips when the context is such that the phrase implies a lack of empathy.
During the time that I transitioned from trying to live (miserably) in a male role culturally to where I’m now (cheerfully) living as a girl openly 24×7, there was a period of several years during which three strong and brilliant ladies were my mentors.
Even mentioning them in the same article, much less the same sentence or phrase, seems to do them an injustice — because in a great many ways, it’s hard to imagine three more diverse ladies. All that they have in common is being lovely, being brilliant, being wonderful, being strong and having chosen me as a romantic partner.
And yes, sometimes concurrently. I’m polyamorous. That means that my brain is like the Windows NT core operating system in that I can and do compartmentalize whatever’s going on. As far as I can tell, and feedback tells me, I can and do love multiple people as deeply or more as many people do in a monogamous relationship. And no, it doesn’t mean cheating. I’m open about it. And no, it also doesn’t mean wild orgies involving multiple participants. It means time-slicing, a laser beam pointing in a particular direction at a particular instant while simultaneously melting two or more thick different pieces of steel at opposite ends of the room. It’s not for everyone. And it’s certainly not consistent with conservative culture (but then again, by my choice, hardly any part of my life reconciles to conservative culture).
None of these ladies was Mother Teresa in the sense of having chosen me out of altruism. Each of them chose me for value, not lack of value. Each of them lives according to the principles of rational long-term self-interest. Each of them chose me so as to choose joy, not misery. Unfortunately, each of them got both – and not in equal portions.
Each of them chose me for whatever strengths and virtues I had at the time — and saw much of that wear thin or unravel, at close range.
Two have understandably checked out though they continue to have my deep benevolence. One remains involved in my life to fill my every day with delight.
From generally seeming to having good answers, I dissolved into someone who was seriously struggling to connect the dots … ANY dots. The hope, help, guidance, support and inspiration that each of these three ladies gave me could fill a book.
There’s a point to all this, I promise. Remember how I mentioned that the movie is about two ladies?
The other lady (not the trans girl) was so close a match to each of my three wonderful benefactors that this aspect all by itself also made it a very hard movie for me to watch.
The hardest for me to see was the anguish the other lady experienced even as she poured her benevolence and support into the life of the struggling trans girl whom she loved so much while seeing their lives and futures move in a bewilderingly strange — and sometimes utterly miserable — direction.
I watched the movie alone. I will probably always watch it alone. During the movie, I noticed my face was aching due to how distorted it was in sheer empathy with both of the main characters. It’s the first time a movie has ever had so intense an effect on me — and then it became more intense yet.
The story line is so fast paced that it doesn’t allow any space in which to fall apart. It’s far too suspenseful. But the very last few seconds of the movie might just as well have been subtitled “Okay, now here’s finally the opportunity to fall apart without missing anything.” I cried like I’d never cried in my entire life.
I barely managed to read the words that showed on the screen after the last scene had faded to black. Even before reading that, I was crying more than I’d ever had in my life. Then the words appeared – and they pretty much doubled the emotional clout of the entire movie, for me.
I cried and cried. I cried so much that I howled. The place where I live is such that I could loudly howl, for a long time, like a banshee at 3 a.m. and not have a neighbor complain or the cops show up. How do I know? I proved it last night.
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As to mental overload:
I have a weirdly analytical safeguard mental mode that’s almost always dormant or hidden. Before last night, it activated only during life-or-death situations.
Example 1 was when I seemed about to be in a serious automobile accident and this mode kicked in. My car was moving rapidly at the time, but I managed the events in ultra-slow motion, inch by inch: watching, controlling, correcting the path of my vehicle until the danger was past, the accident averted, and life became normal again. My passenger at the time said “wow” in an “I’m impressed” sort of way. I deserved it.
Example 2 is a much longer story. It happened while I was whitewater kayaking. I went in a group of friends that include a gentleman who was at the time a formally trained active fighter pilot in the physical prime of his life, as hard-core as they come and highly coordinated, calm and athletic.
We were about to run a river with class 3 rapids, which to experienced kayakers is a no-brainer. However, to him and me, both being relatively green, it was very difficult. And even a class 3 rapid can easily kill a kayaker.
Whitewater kayaking is a peculiar sport. Essentially, a kayak is stable in two positions: right side up, and right side down. The kayaker is held in place by a rubber skirt with strong elastic around it to keep water out. Getting out is difficult. Getting out the way that humans are accustomed to getting up and out is impossible. If you bend your knees, you wedge yourself in, and you simply won’t get out – ever – until and unless you remember to keep your legs straight, pop the rubber skirt and shuck yourself out. Even if your corpse is removed from the kayak, it had better have straight legs or they’ll have to saw the kayak open to get your corpse out. (It seems more appropriate to me to then bury or cremate you, kayak and all).
Remembering to get out the straight-leg way is difficult even if the kayak is balanced on dry land. In the water, it’s much more difficult. Upside down in ice cold water, more difficult yet. How cold? Well, the most intense form of whitewater kayaking is “river running” — typically done on snowmelt rivers, hence in water so cold that contact with it has a shocking effect.
When a kayak flips, the kayaker’s head and upper body are immersed in (typically) very cold water. Being upside down also means that the kayaker’s head is suddenly in the general area where the rocky riverbeds of snowmelt rivers have underwater dead trees, pebbles, gravel and (of course) big, hard, sharp-edged rocks. The worst part is that the kayak with kayaker would still be moving very rapidly downstream, hence hitting a sharp underwater tree or rock with one’s head is a matter of probability, and every half-second upside down increases that probability.
There’s a technique called an “Eskimo roll” for reasons I don’t have to explain. It’s a hip-snap and paddle sweep while upside down, and if done correctly it rights the kayak and all is well. If done incorrectly it wastes time and energy while you run out of breath even more rapidly due to having exerted yourself.
Once upside down in those circumstances, it’s hard to keep calm. After a failed Eskimo roll, it’s much harder. And I happen to know exactly how hard that is. Unless you can breathe underwater, the penalty for failure is, quite likely and simply, death. Death is not a certainty, because maybe a fellow kayaker can come to the rescue in a timely fashion. Or maybe CPR can help long after they got you in a position able to get CPR. Maybe – the sort of “maybe” as in, “maybe you’ll win the lottery.”
So, there I was, after a failed Eskimo roll. Slow-motion safeguard mindset mode kicked in. As I always do, I ran an analysis of the situation and of what to do, calmly as if my voice were saying it. I still remember the exact words, many years later.
The second Eskimo roll, I did in that mode. This meant that I did it calmly and very well. Suddenly I was upright again, and I lived to kayak on and enjoy the day, and other kayaking trips after that.
The fighter pilot gentleman experienced a similar predicament but barely survived it. Badly shaken, he left the whitewater area as soon as he could. To my knowledge, he never kayaked again. A fast-running river can break even some very tough, good kayakers. It would have easily broken me had I not had my weird safeguard-mindset mode.
Why these two examples?
Because the third time I felt this weird safeguard mindset mode was right after watching that movie. I cried far beyond where I’d normally have stopped. Then I discover to my surprise that I was unable to stop crying, as in: wailing, howling. I simply could not stop.
My weird safeguard-mindset mode kicked in dispassionately in parallel with the part of me that was falling apart. “I’m hysterical. I’ve never been hysterical. But that’s what this is. So, okay, I’m hysterical. I’ll be hysterical for a while longer and then it has to eventually somehow stop by itself. So, fine, I’ll be hysterical.” — or words to that effect. It was like my own voice was saying the words slowly to myself. And then the weird safeguard-mindset mode vanished again and all that remained active in my mind was me wailing and howling — for a little while longer.
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Do I recommend this movie? Yes, even if it puts you through the wringer.
Do I recommend coming out as t-girl when the journey is so excruciatingly hard? Yes, because the only thing more excruciating is … not coming out. I’ve tried both.
If you are in a romance with someone who’s about to come out as a t-girl, do I recommend you stay checked in? I actually do. Of the two ladies who checked out, my impression is that neither checked out purely because being in a relationship with a transitioning trans girl was too miserable. They checked out for very understandable other reasons, specifically because being with this particular trans girl (me) was too miserable to be worth it.
The third lady remains checked in, yay! When I had a bad day recently I got an impassioned speech from her, to the effect that by her standards for a relationship and for a romantic partner in general, I was in many ways preferable to her than a genetically integrated girl (and no, mechanically sexual aspects were not any part of that speech). At the end of it, I felt a lot better about the world, about myself, about her and about the odds that she is likely to stay checked in for the foreseeable future.
Depending on your own priorities and mental wiring, you will either love or hate being in a relationship with a just-coming-out trans girl. To love it, your priorities would need to be an unshakable match with the few traits that the trans girl will retain, or where fading traits will have compensating new traits. The sexuality of the trans girl will change as much as it’s possible for a human to experience, from being an intensely sexual person in a testosterone-fueled way to being the exact opposite in every way – still a sexual being but about as similar to her previous mode as a butterfly is to the worm-like larvae that it once was.
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If you would take pride in enabling butterflies to come into existence, stay checked in, while keeping in mind that essentially a new person is being born, and that birth is a painful, messy experience that changes those involved permanently – mentally, emotionally, physically. And not everyone survives that – sometimes, literally.
… and now you, dear reader, also understand why I like mentoring just-coming-out trans girls. I think the world needs more butterflies. I’m simply enabling that.