In December of 2013, after devastating decades of gender dysphoria, shame and a bout in reparative therapy, I found myself sitting in my gender therapist’s office for the very first time since my thirties. I walked out of our session – only an hour long – with a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria and a recommendation.
“Have you ever seen the movie Ma Vie En Rose?” she asked. I confessed that I hadn’t and she assigned it as homework emphasizing how important it was for me to see this movie as soon as I could. “You’ll understand after you see it.” She said vaguely.
Ma Vie En Rose is a Belgian film set in France and released in 1997; tells the story of a seven year old boy named Ludvic, played wonderfully by 11 year old George Du Frense, who believes – insists – that he is a girl. Ludvic, tells his parents that he is convinced that God somehow dropped his other ‘X’ chromosome in the garbage when really, he was supposed to receive two ‘Xs.’ Having just moved next door to his father’s bosses house, Ludvic makes his dramatic appearance at an outdoor party welcoming him and his family to the neighborhood.
“It’s normal until 7, I read it in Marie-Claire,” the mother says while washing the make-up off Ludvic’s face while his father berates him about his actions. The result shakes the ground of this happy little family of five and the love for their son Ludvic turns into fear, disgust and embarrassment and ultimately blame when Ludvic’s father loses his job as a result of “lay-offs.”
The potential savior of the film is when Ludvic’s grandmother comes to visit to some degree, encourages Ludvic to dream about the world as how one would want it to be. Ludvic is transported to a magical and colorful place where Pam and Ben [the U.S. equivalent to Barbie and Ken] live. Transported in his dreams, he is part of the plastic world and is accepted as being a girl, images and feelings that reappear throughout the film, as Ludvic and Pam fly around looking at the world around them.
The film is seen both from the adult’s point of view and through the eyes of a wide-eyed child with endless dreams and a determination to marry his friend Jerome –the boss’s son – when he “becomes a girl.” Calling the adults The Gender Police would be an understatement, but their reactions as a community towards Ludvic’s family seem in-line with general cisgender reaction to the current environment concerning gender roles.
It’s triggering to watch Ludvic’s parent’s call him a “moron,” force him to play soccer, and corral him into stereotypical masculine gender roles in order to make him behave like the boy his is and not the girl “he thinks he is.” Ludvic’s father demands that his boy be fixed by the therapist who agrees that dressing up in girls’ clothes is very bad. The therapist’s job in the film is to change the boys mind and not his desired outcome.
Ironically, this film was released during the time that I was in reparative therapy and it sadly echoed the extent to what adults –both parental and professional – are willing to do to a child simply to force them to their own standards of gender normative roles instead of focusing on the health, both physical and mental, of the child.
Like most reparative therapy programs, including mine, the result is a suicide attempt and we see that here with Ludvic, who attempts to end his life by locking himself in a freezer. In typical parental fashion, they react with overactive love and a promise to accept him, love him and do better; as a result, his parents grant him one wish. Ludvic’s wish? To wear a skirt to his friends birthday party. Any wish but that one his father screams.
It’s Ludvics grandma that steps up to the plate encouraging them to allow him to wear the skirt. They reluctantly agree, but this is the point where the family becomes ostracized from the community resulting in job loss and a move to another city.
In another parallel to my own life, it was my grandma who encouraged me to be the person I am today; although she was never aware of my gender struggles as a child, it was my grandmother who would buy the cute clothes in the girls section, mostly delighted in the fact that she had a grandchild that was just like her, a person ahead of their time who could think outside the box and wasn’t afraid of pushing the limits. She didn’t live long enough to experience my transition and meet her new granddaughter, something she had always wanted in a family that produced three boys assigned at birth.
Almost 17 years after the release of Ma Vie En Rose, watching this film brought my life into perspective in that my existence, although now being questioned, could be validated in a film made in the 90s. A mystery to most, clear headed to himself, an embarrassment to his family and seen as a child that just won’t listen, Ludvic’s head is shaved in a last desperate attempt to make him a boy…again, an incident that has happened numerous times in my life.
The dreams of girls are tough dreams to crush and it’s not until Ludvic meets a boy in his new town named Christine. Surprised to realize Christine is a girl struggling with her own identity, she invites Ludvic to her birthday party where Ludvic is forced to wear a male costume and Christine is force to wear a girl’s costume. In the bushes they switch and Ludvic’s mother releases on him with slaps and more berating.
The participants of the party are accepting of the costume change and wonder why Ludvic’s mother is so upset. Another scene with Pam and Ben this time includes Ludvic and his mother; she is dreaming when she passed out and upon re-awaking, hugs Ludvic and says that she will love him as a boy or a girl. A dream every one of us going through our transitions have, but very few of us, including me, have seen come true.
When family, friends and loved ones turn their backs on you for simply being yourself, I have to imagine Ludvic and his family did what we all do, we make our own families, the ones who will accept us with no questions asked. Chosen families are stronger than birth families in that unconditional love exists in the chosen family and sadly not in the birth family.
Queer movies can run adjacent to or parallel to other Queer lives, but it’s rare that a movie will ever intersect with my life or even contain numerous scenes that I have personally lived. Ma Vie En Rose does that; it tells my story up until the point of being accepted for who I am by my parents. It’s been 17 months since I came out to my parents and it’s been 17 months since the last time I heard from them. Watching Ma Vie En Rose gives us all hope for the happy ending Ludvic was granted.