Michael del Monte’s documentary Transformer is straightforward, lending his eye to some fascinating content. He does nature well, like Michigan suburbs bordering a forested area that Janae Marie Kroczaleski explores with her sons. She loves her sons. She balances their visits with her with her social life as an adult who goes to nightclubs. There’s also the Pacific Ocean where we can hear the waves crashing against her solitary figure. Seeing and hearing her comment that some things in nature don’t change changes remind me that nature constantly changes. We can say the same about Janae, who her parents raised as Matt. She wore many hats in her lifetime as an ex-Marine and bodybuilder. And this movie is about her fluid identity.
Janae is still bodybuilding as a hobby. Again, she was doing it in a professional level, so good that she got a sponsorship to compete. A Youtuber outed her as trans, making her sponsors withdraw their support for her. That led to her to do radio shows, taking the reins to come out as herself. The film, then, captures the ambivalence that some women like her have at the final stages of transition. There’s her wearing floral patterned tops and doing her make-up to pass as a woman. And seeing her with hair for the first time is thrilling. But we the audience can’t impart our positive opinions on screen. Neither can her supportive family, trainers, and ex-sponsors tell her how good she looks. She has to like or accept her own appearance first before she can change what she can change.
Janae has to say goodbye to Matt, although Matt makes her appearances in the film now and then. She, at first, lifts as Matt, even at home. The doc shows her painted nails next to rusty weights, symbolizing, if not a bit obviously, her inner conflict. I suppose most people have the same pressures as she does in conforming to gender norms. But trans people have it worse, having to choose between strong hyper masculinity or small, weak femininity. Men and women come in all shapes and sizes. And we have to introduce ourselves to notions of gender as if we’re learning them for the first time. She has her own lessons to learn and to impart. She eventually flies all over America to go judge and teach in trans bodybuilding conventions.
There are many reasons why Janae can no longer participate in bodybuilding competitions. The system isn’t outright trans phobic but it does guise those feelings. They say they’re trying to figure where trans people fit within the gender binary of sports competitions. Nonetheless, the doc observes those competitions, as well as Janae being a viewer instead of a competitor. It revels on the absurdity of those competitions, spray tans and all. One of the competitors look happy while the other looks tough. And we can read both expressions within the performative nature of gender. It reminds us that gender ideals and norms are subjective. This is something she has to remember even in her own fitness journey. Even the passing looks she gets are different now.
Janae is a public person with many fans but this is a look at her personal, private life. As the doc shows, she realizes that herself and her family are slightly more important than that public. The doc is at its best when she’s with her boys. They’re playing on top of a river, one of the kicking the ice so it breaks. Nature changes. These segments shows that activities that give me the most anxiety are also the most fun. In the summer she’s with them as Matt. Sure, there’s a specific bond that children have with a parent with the same gender. But these moments also show that bond are just like most things in her life. They’re as solid as ever during the winter now that she’s Janae.
- Release Date: 10/19/2018