Lana Wachowski, Trans* Director of ‘The Matrix’, Gives Touching Speech That Will Probably Make You Cry

Last Saturday the Human Rights Campaign held its annual fundraising gala in San Francisco, and presented this year’s Visibility Award to transgender director Lana Wachowski. Lana, who co-directed the Matrix trilogy with her brother Andy and whose latest film, Cloud Atlas, is in theaters this Friday, gave a heartfelt acceptance speech in which she touched on her childhood as a closeted and confused trans girl, her struggles with suicide, and her life as a transgender person in the public spotlight.

Lana discussing her upcoming film, Cloud Atlas, with brother Andy and co-director Tom Tykwer (via Hollywood Reporter)

Lana’s gender isn’t exactly breaking news —  I remember reading about her before coming out and beginning my own transition back in early 2011. She’s been out to her friends and family for more than a decade, and started presenting as female years ago. However, she only recently began speaking publicly about her transition. She elaborated on her motivations in her HRC acceptance speech:

“Andy and I have not done press or made a public appearance including premieres in over 12 years. People have mistakenly assumed that this has something to do with my gender. It does not. After The Matrix was released in ‘99 we both experienced this alarming contraction of our world and thus our lives. We became acutely aware of the preciousness of anonymity — understanding it as a form of virginity, something you only lose once. Anonymity allows you access to civic space, to a form of participation in public life, to an egalitarian invisibility that neither of us wanted to give up.”

When Lana decided to publicly promote her new film Cloud Atlas earlier this year, she knew that the subject of her transition would be unavoidable:

“All of us are conscious of the fact that not only will it be Andy and my first public appearance in a long time, but it will also be the first time that I speak publicly since my transition. Parenthetically this is a word that has very complicated subject for me because of its complicity in a binary gender narrative that I am not particularly comfortable with. Yet I realize the moment I go on camera, that act will be subject to projections that are both personal and political…I knew I was going to come out but I knew when I finally did come out I didn’t want it to be about my coming out. I am completely horrified by the “talk show,” the interrogation and confession format, the weeping, the tears of the host whose sympathy underscores the inherent tragedy of my life as a transgender person. And this moment fulfilling the cathartic arc of rejection to acceptance without ever interrogating the pathology of a society that refuses to acknowledge the spectrum of gender in the exact same blind way they have refused to see a spectrum of race or sexuality.”

As a trans girl, many of the words Lana used to describe her childhood resonated with me — her feelings of confusion and self-loathing, of being forcibly socialized as the boy she knew she wasn’t:

“Early on I am told to get in line after a morning bell, girls in one line, boys in another. I walk past the girls feeling this strange, powerful gravity of association. Yet some part of me knows I have to keep walking. As soon as I look towards the other line, though, I feel a feeling of differentiation that confuses me. I don’t belong there, either.”

Her feelings of helplessness at the onset of a puberty she didn’t want gave me chills, because I’ll never forget what it was like to watch my own body change in ways that felt alien and wrong:

“As I grew older an intense anxious isolation coupled with constant insomnia began to inculcate an inescapable depression…I watched many of my male friends start to develop facial hair, I kept this strange relentless vigil staring in the mirror for hours, afraid of what one day I might see. Here in the absence of words to defend myself, without examples, without models, I began to believe voices in my head — that I was a freak, that I am broken, that there is something wrong with me, that I will never be lovable.”

Formerly known as the “Wachowski Brothers”, Lana and Andy now introduce themselves as “Wachowski Starship”

Lana also described her failed suicide attempt as a teenager, and the random stranger who prevented her from throwing herself in front of an oncoming train:

“I was very used to traveling home quite late because of the theater, I know the train platform will be empty at night because it always is…I try not to think of anything but jumping as the train comes. Just as the platform begins to rumble suddenly I notice someone walking down the ramp. It is a skinny older old man wearing overly large, 1970s square-style glasses that remind of the ones my grandma wears. He stares at me the way animals stare at each other. I don’t know why he wouldn’t look away. All I know is that because he didn’t, I am still here.”

Lana’s acceptance speech ended on a positive and hopeful note- an acknowledgement of her role in the ongoing struggle for trans* visibility and equality, and the impact her going public will have on a generation of children whose gender doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth:

“Years later I find the courage to admit that I am transgender and this doesn’t mean that I am unlovable. I meet a woman, the first person that has made me understand that they love me not in spite of my difference but because of it. She is the first person to see me as a whole being. And every morning I get to wake up beside her I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for those two blue eyes in my life.

I am here because when I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others. If I can be that person for someone else then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value. I know I am also here because of the strength and courage and love that I am blessed to receive from my wife, my family and my friends. And in this way I hope to offer their love in the form of my materiality to a project like this one started by the HRC, so that this world that we imagine in this room might be used to gain access to other rooms, to other worlds previously unimaginable.”

Lana, from one trans woman to another: congrats on being you and thank you for sharing your touching story with the world.

 You can watch the full clip of Lana Wachowski’s HRC acceptance speech below:

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I'm a 23 year old femme lesbian living in SF. Once upon a time, I was a USC frat boy ;) I ♥ music so please recommend your favorite artists to me!

annika has written 21 articles for us.


  1. 2012 is really shaping up to be a banner year for trans* people, and I’m even prouder to be one after watching this – thank you!

  2. omg I already cried at work reading her speech, but seeing that tender photo of Lana and Andy together just gets me all over again.

    Also, just everything she said. Unf. Love her.

    • Cloud Atlas is the movie with yellowface/whiteface/brownface/manface/womanface/old face/youngface/ec. I would ordinarily not defend the use of white actors to tell the stories of people of color, but this movie (Cloud Atlas) transcends all of that – for a reason. Check it out for yourself.

      • They could have just as easily used Asian actors for the roles in question, so they don’t really have any excuse. Yellowface and blackface are inherently racist due to their racist history. Making POC look white is not.

        • The movie just doesn’t work without people playing roles outside of their race, sex, and station. They couldn’t make this movie with a cast of 23098 people in order that everyone would portray their true identities. Additionally. the whole point of the movie is to show interconnectedness – across race, gender, sexual orientation, class – which is why the actors are being used in the way they are.

          It’s not 21, or The Last Airbender. I have yet to hear a person of color WHO HAS SEEN THE MOVIE get upset.

          • I find that of all people, the Wachowskis are the first ones to use an Asian/Black/Multiracial character, as the Matrix was full of multiracial people, with full fledged personalities and character development/

            And I fully agree, that the theme of the movie, of souls existing in different timelines/lifetimes would not carry over without using the same actor, AND their being mindful of the story arcs/environments of said lifetimes. I fully agree that people have to be cognizant/very wary of the usage of race-bending, but I am hopeful that this was an example of a respectful method to using it in a way to tell a narrative.

          • What I meant was, since yellowface is inherently offensive and “whiteface” is not, they could have just not cast white people in any of the roles, avoiding offensive tropes easy-peasy.

          • Fair point. And I haven’t seen the movie, so make of this what you will, but from what I gather, getting a movie as complicated and non-linear as Cloud Atlas made was an incredibly difficult feat that probably would not have come to pass without the participation of the big name actors that they did cast. The unfortunate reality of Hollywood today is that there is a severe lack of A-list actors of color, which feeds into the inability to cast an Asian actor with as much of a mainstream box-office draw as say, Tom Hanks. It’s definitely concerning, but I think the reasons behind it are super relevant to why and how we address it.

          • Just wanted to point out, that regadless of if brown/black/yellow/etc/face used in Cloud Atlas which… haven’t seen yet as it isn’t out in my country…. one of the two main actors doing it isn’t white, namely Halle Berry. She plays a white person at one point too I think.

            So…. they did do that, yes. It wasn’t just white people playing other races though I think it is mostly white people (haven’t seen it yet) which they could have improved on but it’s not an entirely white cast playing ethnic minorities all the time.

            I’ll go away now (sorry for popping up so late, just got a link to this article and video)

  3. Her comment about the school yard resonates so much with something that happened while I was subbing at a school, one of the infant (kindergarten) girls was in the boys line and I asked her to stand in the girls line and she was like “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy!”. She was only 6 so I have no idea if she was just a ‘tomboy’ or she really felt that she was misgendered, and I guess in many ways when children are so young there arent that many differences in gender that arent completely created by society anyways.

    There was nothing I could really do at the time, subs are kinda helpless in a lot of ways, but I vowed that whenever I got my own class I’d never segregate by percieved gender.

  4. Amazing speech, but “Cloud Atlas” has awful yellowface in it. Jim Sturgess is even in it, yet again (he was the lead in “21”, the epitome of whitewashing of East Asian characters in the last few years). So I love the speech, but I have serious problems with Lana Wachowski’s latest project.

  5. Oh, wow. The puberty thing.

    I was crying about that all this morning and it was bugging me all day. I look at myself in the mirror and see my entire body as a scar left behind by that period of my life, when forces without agency against which anger is useless twisted my body into something I can’t bear to see.

    It’s nice to come hear and read something about that. Sometimes I just need to be reminded that I’m not the only one in the world who was crushed by that whole experience.

  6. Wow, Lana is adorable and her speech was really beautiful. She and her brother obviously value their privacy deeply, so it means a lot that she is willing to speak out and act as a role model.

    In terms of the yellow-face used in Cloud Atlas, it is worth noting that the film also features Asian and Black actors in main roles, and that these actors also play characters of other races, including white. A problematic creative choice – perhaps, and whether it is ultimately justified remains to be seen. Even so, with a diverse, multiracial cast,the race bending in this film does not appear to be comparable to the offensive and unnecessary white-washing in 21 or The Last Airbender.

    • Seriously? Yellowface might be justified? Would we be saying that if they’d decided to use prosthetics and paint to make up white actors as black men? “Sure, there’s blackface, but the cast is multiracial!”

      • There is whiteface and brownface and old face, too, in this movie. Its intent is not to screw brilliant actors of color out of roles they deserve. I mean, come on – Halle Berry plays a rich white Jewish lady in Europe in the 1930s, a black reporter in 1970’s California, an Indian woman in 2000, a tiny Asian man in the future, and the hope of humanity in 2200. Also, because of this movie, Bae Doo Na is finally going to get her due as the wildly talented actor that she is.

        TL:DR – The Wachowski Starship is in solidarity with minorities of color and GLBT backgrounds. I trust them to be respectful in Cloud Atlas, and I think the various communities will ultimately be comfortable with this movie.

        • …’whiteface’ and ‘oldface’? um, what. these are not real things and are definitely not comparable to yellowface or brownface.

          yellowface is never justified. ever. you can’t stand in solidarity with ‘minorities of color and GLBT’ people whilst having something so ridiculously problematic in your film and deny its inherent problematic-ness.

      • No, I don’t believe that a multiracial cast automatically justifies this type of casting. I’m very sorry if I didn’t make that clear. For example, if Bae Doona and Halle Berry had minor roles, or if they did not also play characters of other races, it would be far more problematic.

        However, my understanding of this film is that these actors have starring roles, and that all the main actors play characters of different races, ethnicities, genders, and ages.

        There are three main problems with having actors play characters of a different race (or casting white actors when the real person/original character was a person of color): (1) it is often used to perpetuate offensive stereotypes (e.g. Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s),(2) it takes roles away from actors of color, and (3) it can take attention away from the accomplishments/achievements of people of color (e.g. Jim Sturgess in 21). None of these things appears to be happening here.

        I acknowledge that with the terrible history of blackface and yellowface, this may not have been the best choice. But I will reserve judgment until I have seen the film.

        • I should also say that it not my place to tell anyone whether or not they should be offended, and that this is an important discussion to have. It was not my intention to minimize the bias and discrimination people of color still face both in the entertainment industry and in society at large.

        • “I acknowledge that with the terrible history of blackface and yellowface, this may not have been the best choice. But I will reserve judgment until I have seen the film.”

          And don’t forget transface (or differently-abled face for that matter). Believe it or not, non-trans actors giving crude representations of what trans people are supposed to be like is not a wonderful feat of acting… especially when they supposedly mimic ugly representations of what trans women are assumed to look and act like (as in Kristen Stewart’s mother’s new film, K-11) so don’t expect the communities you’re imitating to be receptive. While I get that Lana and the other directors weren’t INTENDING to be insulting, I’m not surprised this aspect of their film is generating fight-back.

          Still, I loved Lana’s speech and her relationship with her family (although I wish she hadn’t mispronounced Gwen Araujo’s name) but next time I hope Lana will have some perspective about the HRC’s sordid history with the trans community before allowing her celebrity to be used for fund-raising by an organization which has repeatedly thrown trans people under the bus.

          • i agree that the HRC has historically been pretty awful when it comes to trans* issues, but they seem to have gotten their act together in the past couple years.

  7. I really loved her narrative of her experience – what an articulate, thoughtful and self-aware person.

  8. Yes! Annika posted an article! :D *has been waiting for this for like a month*
    It’s great that Lana’s going to stand by us. We need more public figures to step forward and show people that transpeople are just like them, not weird perverts seeking to do unspoken things to people.
    Lana is incredibly well-spoken. I felt my IQ rise as I navigated through her florid text. A nice thing to wake up to. :)
    I’ve never seen the matrix before, but this kinda makes me want to, lol.
    Thanks for the article! :)

  9. yup. I teared up even squinting to read this on my tiny phone screen

    She is incredible, I mad respect her

  10. For non-video-watchers (who are stuck at work with no video allowed like me!), here’s the transcript:

    Also: I’m in love with her! And her wife, because according to Lana, she’s the one who made her realize she should (could?) do the next step.

    And everyone who says “I meet a woman, the first person that has made me understand that they love me not in spite of my difference but because of it. She is the first person to see me as a whole being. And every morning I get to wake up beside her I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for those two blue eyes in my life.” just makes me go to awwww-mode anyway, so it’s not like I really have a chance here ;)

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  12. I vowed to myself I wouldn’t get blubbery over this and I sobbed uncontrollably. It happens every time.

    So much of what Lana spoke of, I lived through, and now even after transition the pain is still there when I recall the days of feeling alien to the gender I was assigned and rejected by the one I am. My world is in order, but a past is there that still hurts.

  13. Thank you for posting the speech and the article. Massive thank for Lana and her courage. I cannot imagine the immensity of the issue in my country (Poland) where prejudice and fear are so drastically spread :(

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