Trans is real, and trans people are real. I don’t know how often we need to keep saying this. I’m exhausted by it, and I’m cis. I can’t even imagine how trans people must feel.
Well, actually, I can, maybe, just a teensy bit. I was misgendered once as a kid. I was about, I dunno, eight or ten, and a stranger adult said to me: “Are you a boy?” I was not a boy. I was a tomboyish girl, sure, and also tall and heavy and awkward and just about furthest thing from feminine imaginable (at least in my memory; maybe others would say that wasn’t so), and not even interested in particularly feminine shit. (Still not, not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But I had no doubt that I was a girl, it had never even occurred to me that I was anything other than a girl, and to this day, the anger and the confusion of this man — of course it was a man — stings me. How dare he question whether I was a girl? How even could he wonder if I was a boy? Why would he even ask that? What business was it of his?
I think about how this fleeting childhood memory lingers with me as I continue to educate myself about trans issues now. This was a single moment in time for me. It never recurred, and I have never had any doubt about my identity, or that my body was in any way wrong. But when I remember how much this one moment hurt, I also, lately, think about what it must be like to be a small, confused trans child (or even an adult!) who is constantly misgendered. And my heart breaks for them.
Anyway, please meet eight-year-old Sasha, who lives in a small French town not too far outside Paris. She was born into a boy’s body, but as soon as she was able to articulate such notions — from the age of two-and-a-half or three, her mother says — she insisted she was a girl. Her family is totally okay with that, as we see in Sébastien Lifshitz’s lovely verité documentary Little Girl (Petite Fille). Sasha has an abundance of siblings, older and younger, who are all absolutely fine with Sasha being her own unique Sasha. Her dad, about whom we get a sense that he is rather rough-and-tumble, is nevertheless – surprisingly and just plain wonderfully — all like, This is Sasha, Sasha is Sasha. Dad isn’t about tolerating an unusual child. He loves Sasha unreservedly. Which is so very sweet.
But Little Girl centers Sasha and Mom… maybe even slightly more Mom, which might be the best thing here. Mom feels guilt over wishing for a girl when she was pregnant with the delightful creature who turned out to be gentle, sensitive Sasha, for causing her child such pain and stress — pain and stress we see clearly here — in Sasha’s gender dysphoria. But then a doctor who Knows Things reassures Mom that such guilt is unwarranted, that that’s not what caused Sasha to be the way she is. And the moment is tender and heartbreaking. Woman can carry such self-imposed blame for their children turning out to be the people they turn out to be, and that’s very often not justified.
But there is nothing like a child’s pain to radicalize a parent, and Mom goes full tiger in trying to get Sasha’s school to treat her as a girl. That is the small yet huge arc of this honest, intimate film, Mom’s fight to have the world see Sasha as her mother does, and as Sasha see herself. If it didn’t say “male” on a piece of paper, Mom says about the school’s stubborn insistence that Sasha is a boy, no one would know otherwise. Why should it matter?
Sasha’s mother is totally open in talking about her own journey to understand what is happening with her child, and it is a journey, yet not one that is difficult to take. If a small child like Sasha is able to understand the difference between the body you’re born into and the gender you are, and can navigate the mindscape that comes with this, grownups should certainly be able to. Little Girl is an inspiring portrait of someone asking for so little: to be accepted for who she is. It’s not a lot to ask, and we should all be able to accommodate her.
viewed as part of Ed Film Fest at Home, the digital-only 2020 Edinburgh International Film Festival