“Fanfic” is a Sweet, Gay Trans Boy Coming-of-Age Tale

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?” he 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. 

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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 Knock LA. 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 516 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. I really hope Netflix orders a sequel. The second volume of the book is much less didactic while being much more angry and political. The action takes place about the time the Black Protest of 2016 happened, from the perspective of our two lovebirds who think about other things. Tosiek becomes a charismatic, popular kid at school, Leon becomes more and more withdrawn, while their female friends put up pro-abortion posters around the city and discover feminist identity and anger. I have a big soft spot for this book, and at the same time, I’m afraid that the film adaptation may soften its political overtones. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very romantic and ultimately optimistic story, faithful to the genre and very very funny, only it combines it very cleverly with teenage anger and political realities of living in a country run by dangerous clowns who hate women and queer people. But also, can you imagine a Netflix teen romance movie where it’s raining all the time?
    Anyway, I’m happy about “Fanfic” despite its missteps. And I love the cast, and bunch of the characters that are not always super cute.

  2. Drew I really like your specificity here. You know I was looking at that script I did send you that two summers ago (thanks again for that feedback by the way, you’ve made me think a lot about how much can be created just through images since then.) and I’ve been thinking about a lot of things in regards to it. One of them being those moments of explanation. I’ve realized that when I was first writing those scenes, I was writing them thinking of my cis-het parents. Who got those notions, who are in so many ways just as clueless and annoying as that crew member on the set of Monica. But wait-I remembered-clueless as my parents may be-this isn’t for them. This is not an after school special for their education. I’ve been thinking about that every time I start typing. I think, wait-who is this for?
    Queer and trans people need movies just like you said-“to be allowed exist without the burden of teaching.” I’m gonna write that down in my notebook and look back at it every time I got that sliver of doubt arising.
    Drew I’m sorry this is long but I’ve been over emotional lately I’m going to a whole other state in three weeks and I had my graduation today and was crying like a baby. Thanks for helping me get through this. Even if you didn’t know it. We did the rose ceremony thing and I kept thinking yeah, if Drew or anyone else from Autostraddle was here I’d definitely give her a rose. I’d give you guys a roomful of them.

    • You might enjoy the documentary Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen or the new League of Their Own show which has a character who is a black trans man.

    • This is a film from Poland, where about 99% of the population is white (by the usual American defintion). It is also a country where LGBTQ people are being targted and scapegoated by the current ruling goverment and other bodies, especially since 2019. Up until now there wasn’t much to speak of in terms of represnation of Trans people in Polish fictional narrative media . Polish LGBTQ’s need and want to be reperesented like everyone else, espcieally now. I would like you to see a black person’s narrative much more than once, but please try to look at it through country- specific lens and it through nation-based lanes, and not black/white lanes.

      • Since for some reason I cannot edit, I will try to correct it here:
        *trans with small letter t, of course
        *the last sentence is completly messed up; please read it this way:
        ” please try to look at this topic also from coutnry-based lens, and not only through black/white etc. lens. “

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