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Trans people die.
Yes, we die by suicide and drugs and murder and all the other ways most frequently emphasized in media both fact and fiction. We also die because of cancer and car accidents and even of old age after long, happy lives. Trans people die. Everybody dies.
Lyle Kash’s debut feature Death and Bowling is about those very things. X (Will Krisanda) is a trans actor who finds a cis gaze on film sets and a trans community at his bowling league. His leather jacket cool can’t hide his desperate need for family which he has in his queer mom and team captain Susan (Faith Bryan). But Susan dies. And X feels lost. And then he meets Alex (Tracy Kowalski) at her funeral and for maybe the first time he’s really found.
X begins the film by stating that all he’s ever wanted is to star in a film with a happy ending. But the journey of the film for X — and for us, the trans audience — is to discover how much more we can desire. The opening suggests that we’re about to watch an industry satire. What we get instead is a meditation on death.
That’s not to suggest the film isn’t funny. With its campy production design, inventive cinematography, and biting script, the film clips along in entertaining vignettes. But I’ve seen genderqueer camp — those elements are our shared language. What I haven’t seen before is genderqueer death. Despite the number of trans characters who have died on screen, watching X mourn the loss of his trans mother, it struck me how few films there are that treat our deaths with the weight they deserve.
Because what X longs for — what we all long for — is not an impression of joy. There can be pleasure in that artifice but it’s fleeting. What we really want is authenticity — like how a trans person can grieve their loved one while still feeling love from the rest of their community. What we want is complexity — like how in our darkest moments we can still be horny for the new trans hottie suddenly in our lives.
Death and Bowling is a trans film. Kash’s production company is called T4T Productions and the cast and crew is almost entirely trans. This is what we should be yearning for. Not to be tokenized by cis creators. Not mere inclusion in the work of corporations. Not happy endings. But bold and inventive and deeply felt art from trans people about the lives we live, the issues we face, and the people we care about.
It’s nearly impossible to be a trans artist — especially a trans filmmaker — and not be burdened with the weight X carries. We are not allowed to just create. Like artists of any marginalized identity, we are forced to write back as well as forward. We see this in X. We see his desperate declaration of self. His pleading to be witnessed as he is, not how he’s perceived. And, ultimately, his acceptance — that he is fighting the wrong fights, that to fight for this visibility is to fight against himself.
Kash has created the ideal commentary on trans representation by abandoning that project altogether. Kash and X have more important stories to tell. Our stories. The stories where trans is not the opposite of cis but a creative world of its own. Our stories. The ones that are ours alone, together.
Death and Bowling can be seen in theatres on October 18th and is available online October 15th-26th.