| Southern Comfort (2000)
While gays and lesbians have made tremendous strides in the
past several decades, one segment under that umbrella continues
to struggle for recognition and dignity: the transgendered community.
Perhaps after seeing the fine documentary SOUTHERN COMFORT,
which netted the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival and by all
rights should have been on the short list for the 2001 Oscars, but
because of TV airings, it failed to meet the cut.
The central character is Robert Eads, born a female named Barbara,
who after marrying and giving birth to two children, opted to leave
her husband and spend a decade in a lesbian relationship. Still longing
for more and convinced she was a male trapped in a female body, Barbara
underwent surgery to have her breasts removed and hormone therapy.
Now called Robert, he became active with the "Southern Comfort"
conference, an annual meeting of the transgendered held in Atlanta.
As the film opens, Robert had recently received the ironic news that he
was suffering from terminal ovarian and cervical cancer. As he put it,
"a cruel joke that the last part of me that's female is killing me."
Unfortunately, because of rampant prejudice in "Bubbaland" (rural
Georgia), Robert was unable to receive treatment, with more than
one doctor telling him that his presence in their waiting room would
prove an embarrassment to other patients.
Filmmaker Kate Davis recognized an extraordinary story in
Robert's plight and spent the last year of his life filming him and
his friends. Despite the cancer (or perhaps because of it), the very
private Eads was willing to allow access to his world. He had so
successfully blended into the community in which he lived that a
member of the local chapter of the KKK had tried to recruit him!
Additionally, Eads had entered into a relationship with a male-to-female
transsexual named Lola Cola, and their sweetly touching love story
forms the emotional hook for this fine film.
Davis seemingly had carte blanche and her camera is omnipresent
but never intrusive, captures both the mundane (i.e., Robert cooking for
his "family of choice") and the sublime (e.g., unscripted moments of
intimacy between Robert and Lola or Robert and his best friend, another
female-to-male transsexual named Maxwell).
Not that there weren't some concerns by those who participated,
many of whom were not "out" in the relatively small communities in
which they live. Robert's own biological family had limited participation:
his parents refused to allow their faces to be shown while Robert's son
isn't sure which gender to use to describe his parent, and comments
that some of his friends suggested he tell people that his mother
had died and introduce Robert as his stepfather, something he rejected.
The toll it took on Robert, though, is summed up by his telling the
filmmakers that "you lose friends, you lose family. But the hardest of
all is family" because they form the bedrock of one's life.
As Robert's health declines and the end draws closer, he struggles
to survive to attend one more Southern Comfort Conference. There is
a note of triumph as he and Lola attend "the cotillion of the trans
community" and his valedictory speech is one of the most moving
moments in the film.
After the inevitable, the question is posed, "if nature delights
in diversity, why don't human beings?" Kate Davis' exceptional
documentary SOUTHERN COMFORT may not exactly answer that,
but it does shine a light on a corner of the world that turns out to be
no different than that of the mainstream.
MPAA Rating: NONE (sexual themes)
Running time: 90 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.