Sundance 2024: “Desire Lines” Is an Experimental Documentary About Transmascs Who F*ck Men

Drew Burnett Gregory is back at Sundance, reporting daily with queer movie reviews from one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Follow along for her coverage of the best in LGBTQ+ cinema and beyond. 


Watching Jules Rosskam’s experimental documentary, Desire Lines, I had to remember there was a time I didn’t know trans people could be gay.

It feels absurd now. While I certainly know some straight trans people, the vast majority aren’t just queer, they make dyketactics or faggotry — or both! — their entire personality. But, once upon a time, I questioned my own ability to be trans, because I had only dated women and my understanding of transness was still shaped by the theories of 20th century pioneering cishet doctor Harry Benjamin.

Desire Lines is about Ahmad (Aden Hakimi), an Iranian American trans man, embarking on his own queer journey through gay and trans history. He arrives in a liminal space of an archive run by a transmasc named Kieran (Theo Germaine) — an archive that literally transforms into the past taking Ahmad from looking at a photograph to suddenly being in a bathhouse.

Ahmad is learning about the history of cis gay men and the history of transmasculine people who fuck cis gay men and figuring out where he fits in. As he researches — and time travels — the film embraces more conventional tools of documentary like archival footage and interviews with a wide variety of queer transmasculine people.

Of course, Lou Sullivan is a major part of Ahmad’s journey and the film’s archival footage. And while there may be nothing new in this inclusion for trans people who have been out for a while, it’s worth noting that the only documentaries that exist about Sullivan are still the two shorts by Rhys Ernst (watch here and here). He may be famous in the community, but he’s not famous in the world at large — which means he’s not famous for trans people who are either new to their transness or new to that part of trans history.

Many of the interviews feel similar. Not much in Desire Lines hasn’t already been said at many trans hangouts. And yet, there’s still a value to having these varied experiences captured on-screen.

Ultimately, that’s what the film is about: the importance and magic of an archive. It’s about the experience of discovering there have always been others like you and the necessity to make this experience more accessible for all.

For queer trans guys who are not in community with other queer trans guys, I can imagine there will be an immense comfort in hearing such a vast range of relationships to one’s genitalia, to the types of sex one has, to what words are used during sex, and to who people have sex with. It can be a cinematic version of that first trans party you attend when you learn not only are you not alone, but you’re actually kind of cliché.

And for trans people who are not in need of this education, there’s still something touching about witnessing a character go on this journey. The dreamy sequences that take place in the past are lovely, especially an erotic moment between the two lead actors in a recreated bathhouse.

To be trans is to constantly be discovered. Every decade cis people act as if we’re new and every year a trans person invents themself and finds our history. The longer I’m out — approaching seven years — the more exhausted I am by the former and the more heartened I am by the latter. Every newly out trans person deserves a Kieran guiding them through the archive.

At least, until there are enough Kierans and enough Ahmads to change the world and this history is known to all.


Desire Lines is streaming on the Sundance virtual platform January 25-28.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and I Heart Female Directors. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 474 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. This review is so elitist and for what? “Not much in Desire Lines hasn’t already been said in trans hangouts.” This is belittling the filmmaker’s work. Even using the word cliche comes across as a dig here.

    Why does Drew write reviews of films on this platform anyhow? The few shorts Drew has made are really, really bad. An untalented wanna be filmmaker reviewing Sundance cinema is such a weird choice (not to mention her making it all about herself at the beginning of this review, which she does for pretty much everything she writes on this platform).

    I don’t know the filmmakers who made this, but it’s pretty rad to see some transmasc rep at major mainstream film festivals. The only good thing about this review is it makes me want to watch the actual film because if it got into Sundance, it’s gotta be worthwhile.

    • …”And yet, there’s still a value to having these varied experiences captured on-screen.”

      I found the paragraph, taken as a whole, to be more of a reflection about how nice it is that we have enough LGBTQ+ filmmakers out there now that we can have in-community conversations that sometimes feel niche get their time in the spotlight.

      Do you just follow Drew’s writing around on the site and write character assassinating comments? Because your tone sounds really familiar. Weird obsession…

    • I would say there is still plenty of cis lesbian content on this site. Gender is fluid; some lesbians become transmasc, transmasc non-binary lesbians exist, transmascs who fuck men do exist in community with lesbian women. Autostraddle may have started as an L-word-recap blog, but it is obviously more than that in 2023 and thankfully is starting to include some content that includes/represents queers besides cis lesbians.

      • Nah, I disagree, there’s been a marked downturn in lesbian content lately, especially after the merger. I don’t have beef with the rest of the lgbtq community, but there’s a cycle that always happens with these things. Lesbians make a space focused on lesbians, eventually some other people want in, sometimes welcomed and sometimes forcing their way in by talking about how evil and mean and exclusionary the lesbians are. Then everyone but lesbians become the focus, partially because no one cares about us and partially because our numbers are so small. We never get places for us, focused on our issues, without having to make everyone else feel comfortable and included. (Something something societal roles around those perceived as women). It’s a bummer, I don’t think we have to be “thankful” about losing what this space used to be.

        • While I do think the instances where lesbians are exclusionary get more attention than cis gay men’s exclusionary behaviour, I want to push back against the idea that lesbians spaces shrink because we include or focus on bisexuals or transmascs. We lack spending power relative to gay men. This has always been a problem. The white dominance of many lesbian spaces (like every other LGBTQ space) also discourages lots of people from wanting to engage -this has been a problem at this very site. Transmascs are not the problem.

      • Also, I would like to point out, you’re the one bringing cis vs trans into the conversation. I’d love more content about trans lesbians, that’s also sorely lacking everywhere. I just want more on lesbians!

        • In the past 100 articles on the site (not a great sample size but I have other shit to do), about 40% of the articles had a focus on lesbian/bi/queer/etc women, a specific lesbian/bi/queer woman or character, or on a group of people or characters composed solely or overwhelmingly of lesbian/bi/queer/etc women. This is inclusive of lesbian/bi/queer trans woman content. It’s exactly 40% if you include two Mean Girls articles that weren’t specifically focused on the actors and 38% if you don’t (I wasn’t sure what to do with that because the Mean Girls coverage is clearly reading the movie in a femslash-adjacent context, so both including it and not including it felt weird.) Also, I’m not counting lesbian, bi, and queer/unspecified content separately because

          4% of the articles had a focus on women who weren’t confirmed to be queer. This includes both non-queer women and women I couldn’t find information about. This would be 6% if the Mean Girls content isn’t counted as queer woman content.

          7% of the articles had a focus on generally queer topics. This includes topics that were queer but not really gendered, or that were about groups of queer people that were not composed overwhelmingly of a single gender.

          3% of the articles had a focus on generally trans topics and did not have much to do with orientation.

          4% of the articles were about transmascs/trans men.

          6% of the articles were focused on other types of queerness (gay/bi/queer man, nonbinary, drag).

          33% of the articles were not specifically queerness-focused. This isn’t to say that these articles didn’t belong on a queer site – they were mostly written by queer people about topics of interest relevant to other queer people, like politics, relationships, etc.

          3% were A+ articles where I didn’t feel like I had enough information to make a reasonable guess (I am not an A+ member and I couldn’t read them.)

          My takeaway: there aren’t that many transmasc articles. If they’re sticking out to you, it means you probably have specifically negative feelings about them. It does seem like there’s not a lot of content that’s specifically about orientation (or about lesbian/bi orientation in particular) the way the transmasc articles are specifically about being transmasc, though? I don’t think that would be weird to request.

          • That’s so cool that you ran the numbers! Thanks for sharing the stats! Yeah, I think your last point is where my dissapointment lies. Like yes, obviously there’s still a lot of content about lesbian/bi/trans wlw in general in regards to entertainment and such, but I miss the more personal/introspective/identity pieces focused on lesbian experiences. I feel like that portion of the site has definitely shifted and isn’t a priority anymore. I’m not opposed to content about other identities, but when they get the deeper dives and wlw stuff is relegated to “vapid fluff”, it’s noticeable.

  2. I’m very curious about this movie, especially the choice to combine doc elements with fictional time travel elements. I love the coverage on Sundance, and how Drew writes for several audiences at the same time because a film hits differently in different communities.

  3. “ Every newly out trans person deserves a Kieran guiding them through the archive.”

    I love this. Thank you for taking the time to write this Drew and for being at Sundance!

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