This week's New Yorker has a lengthy profile on reclusive director siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski and their collaboration with Tom Tykwer to turn David Mitchell's seemingly unfilmable 2004 novel Cloud Atlas into a movie.
Lana, you may know, used to be called Larry before she came out as transgender, and if you don't know that, reporter Aleksandar Hemon will tell you multiple times. Another thing Hemon does, 14 times in all, is refer to the Wachowskis as "brothers." Granted, Hemon only refers to Lana as male before her public coming out, and it could be argued that he did so for the sake of narrative clarity. But the piece also acknowledges her virtually lifelong awareness of being transgender very early on:
Perhaps not coincidentally, Lana's gender consciousness started to emerge at around the same time. In third grade, Larry transferred to a Catholic school, where boys and girls wore different uniforms and stood in separate lines before class. "I have a formative memory of walking through the girls' line and hesitating, knowing that my clothes didn't match," Lana told me. "But as I continued on I felt I did not belong in the other line, so I just stopped in between them. I stood for a long moment with everyone staring at me, including the nun. She told me to get in line. I was stuck—I couldn't move. I think some unconscious part of me figured I was exactly where I belonged: betwixt." Larry was often bullied for his betwixtness. "As a result, I hid and found tremendous solace in books, vastly preferring imagined worlds to this world," Lana said.
"Betwixtness" is not the strangest way Aleksandar Hemon deals with Lana's gender identity, though. This sentence is:
At the same time, Larry, who had separated from his wife, was dealing with depression and struggling with his gender situation.
You can feel the letters being typed at arms length as you read. A "situation" requires a clean-up in aisle five, not a completely different way a person presents herself to the world.
Transgenderism is a hard thing for people to wrap their heads around, and it presents a new challenge of pronoun sensitivity to writers. (Recall Stereogum's Tom Breihan's "Good for her? I guess?" when posting Tom Gabel's own news last May.) I bet some readers' asses fell out when they read that Lana is married to a woman, as the difference between gender identity and sexuality never fails to confound. Because of the conflict between the internal and external, it can be a difficult thing to convey to readers, but Hemon's pronouns and reference to Lana as a man only present the "gender situation" as a cloudy one. Why not refer to the Wachowskis as "the pair," or "the siblings," or, oh I don't know, "the Wachowskis," instead of referring to them as brothers, which Lana herself avoids?
It remains true that those in the "situation" tell it best: Lana's quotes elucidate Hemon's writing. This passage in particular is revealing even in its reticence:
"I chose to change my exteriority to bring it closer into alignment with my interiority," she told me. "My biggest fears were all about losing my family. Once they accepted me, everything else has been a piece of cake. I know that many people are dying to know if I have a surgically constructed vagina or not, but I prefer to keep this information between my wife and me."