“What if the world told you that you do not exist?”
We Exist: Beyond the Binary is a documentary about gender that spends a little under an hour trying to answer this question. Written and narrated by filmmaker, activist and writer Lauren Lubin, it uses home videos, artistic recreations, and interviews to tell their story. It features interviews with agender writer, speaker and advocate Tyler Ford; speaker, personality and LGBTQ activist Kristin Russo (you know her from her series, Getting In Bed With Kristin!); and Dr. Charles Garramone and Dr. Anthony Vavasis, as the documentary examines misconceptions about gender — especially ones that demand only male and female exist.
You know when you’ve heard your best friend tell a story, even though you’ve only heard it once, you’re buzzing with energy to share it with others? Lubin’s documentary feels like that. We follow them as they go back through parts of their childhood and teen years, finally being able to tell the story of their gender identity as they’ve fit together the pieces they couldn’t comprehend growing up. Lubin is gender neutral, and after a near-death experience, sets out on creating their own definition in a way that feels true to them. Through snapshots from clips of Lauren’s home videos from youth to young adulthood, Lubin weaves together the story of learning to give language to their gender (including but not limited to: gender expression through clothing, basketball and researching body dysphoria) and the steps they’ve taken forward to being more present in that identity.
Covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time, We Exist highlights the differences between sex and gender, explains how gender identity and gender expression overlap but don’t necessarily mean the same thing, and examines the need for community as one explores both/or spaces within “the big cloud of identity.”
Much of the documentary rang true for me, from not knowing the language to describe oneself, to the isolation felt when coming out — but there were a one or two parts where I felt like I couldn’t see myself in the story. During one sequence, I could only think of how many black and brown trans and gender-nonconforming people aren’t afforded many of the opportunities Lubin has to explore their gender. Housing, traveling, and food (check out the #transcrowdfund to support), are several of the things Lubin is secure in, and it gives them the freedom to find themselves in nature, and “leave the world behind them.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of. Lubin acknowledges that their story isn’t the only type there is, that even though they’ve struggled, they know there is privilege in access to the resources to figure out. That acknowledgement makes you want to continue watching even if you feel a bit of disconnect.
But the sincerity and openness in which Lubin creates this piece helps me remember that even if, on the whole, I am thankful to them for sharing their story.
Whether you are knee-deep in gender identity research or have just started learning, this documentary offers something for everybody. You may learn some new things and if you don’t, you get validation that your gender identity, your sexuality, you exist and you’re not alone, which is definitely worth a watch.