Metro

DYING A WOMAN WITH DIGNITY Becoming Colleen and Late-life Gender Transition

It was the thing that she got up in the morning for. And I’d say to her, ‘But what if you don’t recover from the surgery? What if you die?’ And she’d say, ‘But I’d die a woman.’ She loved the idea of seeing herself in the coffin in a fully female body.

So says Rowena Bianchino, director of Harbour Therapy Clinic in Coffs Harbour, of Colleen Young – the increasingly frail, elderly transgender subject of Ian W Thomson’s documentary Becoming Colleen (2019), from where these words were taken.

Oh, had Doris Wishman only not gotten there first with the title of her notorious 1977 transploitation quasi-documentary, or else the perfect subtitle for Thomson’s film would have been ‘Let Me Die a Woman’! Instead, the filmmaker opted for ‘Finding the Shoe That Fits’, shoehorning Young’s love of feminine footwear into an awkward, sugar-coated metaphor for a sadly abbreviated, late-in-life gender transition.

For a film whose focus is on someone determined, belatedly, to live authentically and be acknowledged as the woman she always wanted to be after eighty-two years performing a conventional male persona, it is apt that Becoming Colleen opens with a caveat that Young’s family and friends often refer to her ‘using the male pronouns they knew her by’. Misgendering – a perennial high-ranker among trans people’s greatest bugbears – is, alas, rampant in interviews throughout Thomson’s highly affecting, yet flawed (and occasionally even

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