Two summers ago when I was working on a feature film with a trans protagonist, one of the cis crewmembers was shocked to find out I date women. “So you’re… straight?wp_postshe asked, incorrectly.
My circle is so trans and queer, I sometimes forget that a lot of cishet people are stuck in their preconceived notions about the rest of us. They view transness as gay+ — trans women as hyperfeminine gay men, trans men as hypermasculine butch lesbians. This view is born, in part, from decades of misguided media. It misrepresents the experiences of straight trans people, it erases the existence of queer trans people.
Fanfic, a new Polish coming-of-age movie on Netflix, aims to correct some of this ignorance. Not only does it have a romance between a newly out trans boy and a gay cis boy, but another character literally gives a gender and sexuality 101 lesson.
When we first meet Tosiek, they are the weird girl on the outskirts of the popular group. They don’t know why they’re so angry, why they’re so anxious, why everything feels so wrong. Their only escape is writing fanfic — their current piece focusing on a Kurt Cobain like rocker who forms a new band with Cinderella.
During these fanfic fantasy sequences, Tosiek inserts themself into the role of the rocker. Meanwhile, Cinderella is Leon, the cute new boy at school, dressed in drag. Soon enough fantasy is becoming reality as glances across the room and brief flirtations burgeon into a romance between Tosiek and Leon. Everything clicks when Tosiek has to borrow boy clothes — and finds out Leon is gay.
Tosiek is played by trans actor Alin Szewczyk and the film is at its best when it focuses on their performance and their chemistry with Jan Cieciara who plays Leon. Glittery montages, moments of connection, so much is communicated without words. Szewczyk plays Tosiek’s confusion like only a trans person could, Tosiek’s joy with the same specificity.
The film is less successful when it aims to educate. Or, at least, it was less successful for me, a 29-year-old trans person who has been out for a very long time. I did appreciate the aforementioned breakdown of why it’s actually very normal for trans people to be queer — I less appreciated the more melodramatic and cliché moments of trans angst. I can see how these beats would be appreciated by a young trans person just figuring themself out or a cis person unfamiliar with the trans experience. But I think a lot of trans viewers will find them unnecessary at best, tiresome at worst.
It’s a classic show don’t tell situation. The movie is a delight when it’s showing Tosiek’s exploration and discovery, less delightful when it’s telling us about it. It has similar problems in its approach to mental health. I appreciated the detail of Tosiek stealing their dad’s meds as a coping mechanism. But as a fellow trans Zoloft user, you can’t just pop them randomly when you’re anxious! That’s Xanax! There’s no need to specify the drug if the specificity isn’t done right.
Ultimately, I can only be frustrated with the movie because the majority of it works so well. The coming-of-age romcom moments had me yearning for a time when trans movies are allowed to exist without the burden of teaching.
Gay trans boys deserve a movie about love and storytelling that caters entirely to them, not to an ignorant cis viewer. But until that moment comes, Fanfic is a worthy step.
Fanfic is now available on Netflix.