September Mornings, starring Liniker, is now available on Amazon Prime.
By the time I was drunk at a Liniker e os Caramelows concert about to have the best gay sex of my best gay life, I’d grown accustomed to being called selfish. As a teen I’d been called thoughtful, as a young adult altruistic, but since coming out as trans I’d been called selfish again and again and again. Selfish for transitioning while in a relationship. Selfish for making the people around me uncomfortable. Selfish for daring to be myself in the presence of friends, family, and the world.
But nights like that night at the Liniker concert. Nights like so many nights I’d been having. Even nights with less dancing and sex and joy. My worst nights. Even those nights. Even then I knew I wasn’t selfish. Or if I was — it was worth it.
As long as our world erases and attacks transness, we will be required to fight for ourselves and our communities at the expense of all the rest. We fight for our survival, we fight for our joy. But sometimes we have to stop fighting. Sometimes we should compromise. It’s hard to know when.
The new Brazilian series September Mornings makes this dilemma its subject. Liniker stars as Cassandra, a singer/delivery woman who has finally saved enough money to move off her friend’s couch and into her own studio. But right as she’s starting to achieve some semblance of stability her old friend Leide (Karine Teles) shows up on her door with her son Gersinho (Gustavo Coelho) — Cassandra’s son Gersinho — the result of a drunken one night hook up ten years earlier before Cassandra’s transition.
Cassandra’s own mom abandoned her. She too had dreams of being a singer and she prioritized those dreams. Cassandra looks to a photo of her mom and her mom’s favorite singer Vanusa like a holy altar. She sings Vanusa songs at her night clubs gigs much to her friend and the club’s manager Roberta’s (Clodd Dias) chagrin. She even begins hearing her inner monologue as the voice of Vanusa encouraging her to pursue the same path as her mom once her child arrives.
But Leide has not simply shown up to satisfy her son’s curiosity of his missing father. Leide and Gersinho are struggling. They’re living in the back of a broken down van and Leide’s positive attitude isn’t enough to get them out of poverty. But it’s not like Cassandra has the money to support a family. She’s only just started to support herself.
That’s how it goes though, right? People contending with their own poverty are often tasked with assisting loved ones in even more dire need than themselves. The show wisely avoids the usual pitfalls of poverty porn opting instead for a grounded look at the way society encourages those it marginalizes to crawl over each other rather than provide one another support.
What’s lovely about the show is even while Cassandra contends with how much she owes her son, her son’s mother, and herself — and while other characters such as Cassandra’s married boyfriend Ivaldo (Thomas Aquino) grapple with similar struggles — it keeps showing reminders of what’s possible when people do extend help. Sometimes boundaries must be set. Sometimes people do need to make selfish choices. But sometimes sacrifice can be just as rewarding. This is best seen in Cassandra’s loving community of friends. The trope of the single queer or trans person in a cis straight world is still all too common, but that’s not at all the case here. Cassandra has so many queer and trans people around her who love and support her at her best and her worst.
September Mornings is a beautifully shot and tenderly written show. But it’s Liniker herself who elevates the series to greatness. I’ve loved Liniker as a musician for years — and thankfully the show regularly utilizes her stunning voice and stage presence — and she’s just as accomplished a dramatic performer. Along with the series’ one trans writer Alice Marcone — who I’m sure deserves a lot of credit for the show’s best writing — Liniker makes Cassandra a protagonist who is shaped by her transness without being defined by it. She’s a woman who is certain of her goals and uncertain of her day to day choices. She’s a woman who knows what she wants but just isn’t quite sure how to get there. She’s a woman who knows who she is but not who that person should be.
Liniker is sexy and funny and vulnerable in all the right moments. And, to my delight, she seems totally unconcerned with appearing cis. Our screens — like our world — prioritize trans people who look cis and while there is no hierarchy of transness based on appearance, it is thrilling to get a beautiful transfeminine heroine who looks trans and is comfortable moving through the world without always performing a cis idea of femininity.
Due to the premise of the show, I do wish Cassandra’s sexuality was given a bit more complexity. The insistence that Cassandra and all her trans friends are straight — despite Cassandra having had sex with Leide — feels like a product of the largely cis production team. Of course, Cassandra can be straight, but considering Liniker is responsible for my favorite gay t4t music video that co-stars Linn da Quebrada who plays one of Cassandra’s friends, it felt like a missed opportunity not just to provide me personally some fun gayness but to explore the often messy sexualities we experience as trans people.
But this isn’t a show that necessarily cares all that much about the trans experience. And that’s okay. I’m glad that we spend so much time with Leide and Gersinho. I’m glad that we spend so much time with Ivaldo. Because it’s not just trans people who have to choose between ourselves and our responsibilities — even if society expects more from us. In the end, we’re all just trying our best.
Sometimes it is good to be a little selfish. But sometimes it’s better to open our doors to that next possibility. Who knows what — or who — might walk in?