Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2020 4:29 pm 
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Crossing genders and back again

At first Brian Belovitch was a chubby, not-very-attractive effeminate gay kid of the sixties with a sister, five very straight rather Neanderthal brothers and a mean mom and dad in a "barely-working-class first-generation immigrant family in Fall River, Massachusetts," as the blurb for his memoir, Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man puts it. Later his mother took the six kids and moved by herself to Providence, Rhode Island. Brian came out as gay. He had no choice, having been mocked as queer or faggot or sissy all his young life.

But it was not satisfying. He felt women were better treated. He embarked on the difficult process of physically changing gender. Through hormones and a series of operations, from his late teens till his early thirties he changed into a big-haired, big-boobed, big-butt trans women called Natalia or Tish Gervais. It's like he was saying, "I'll show you effeminate!" He was escaping into a beautiful fantasy, which he, now she, carried off remarkably well, without going the full monty and having a sex change. Tish became pals with Voice and Interview trendy gossip and style writer Michael Musto, who is heard from in this perhaps intentionally somewhat sleazily shot doc whose main narrator is Brian, now a gay man in his sixties, which is what Tish decided to transition back into after a tough life first as the wife of a handsome but dull straight man who joined the Army and was sent to Germany. There, Natalia played military wife and, imagine, girl! Sold Tupperware.

The marriage ended and Natalia came into her own in the East Village as a would-be entertainer, an eighties Lower Manhattan hustler and trans party "girl with something extra," as Tish liked to call herself instead of a "chick with a dick" (I get these tidbits from chapter one of Trans Figured). She disco-danced at Studio 54 and performed as Trish at the Palladium, Limelight, and Danceteria, perhaps not a hit, but trying hard and looking the part. Along the way he/she became an addict and HIV positive.

Now Brian is married to a very nice, somewhat younger gay man, a botanist. They live in New York, and Brian is an addiction counselor. It looks like it's going to last. When he first met "Brian" in the late eighties after knowing him only as a trans women, Michael Musto says he encountered someone much more calm and sure of himself and less self-centered. Evidently being "Natalia" or "Tish" was very exciting and in some ways fulfilling, but also nerve-wracking and ultimately, for Brian, came to feel terribly wrong.

Most of the meat of this film is period footage showing Brian in his trans woman phase in stills or old videos after his early life and looks have been established, overlaid with so-so footage of him with his current husband and talking about his life. What makes this marginally more worth watching than any standard issue doc about gay fringe trans life is that though he may not be very educated, Brian is intelligent, candid, articulate - and calm. His memoir might be more interesting, but his narration of certain phases here is enough in itself. Somebody should make this into a movie.

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me, 82 mins. Debuted Nov. 2019 at DOC NYC, and it was going to be shown Apr. 27, 2020 at SXSW, but due to the covid-19 pandemic shutdown it is instead being shown for a time on Amazon Prime, where it was screened for this review.

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