The local GLBT center showed the film “Southern Comfort” for movie night, and as it was dull and rainy, I thought I would go. Lola and I were chatting through those days, and I know Maxwell and met Robert, so it’s a very personal film for me.
Southern Comfort is also the best film I have seen to date on the realities of a trans life, because it lets the story and people evolve rather than trying to fit a framework. Kate Davis could afford to do that with her DV camera over time, and it shows. The film feels like home movies put together by an auteur, and that makes it very intimate — the theme of Robert and Lola’s relationship — and very honest. It’s impossible to make an intimate portrait of someone who doesn’t yet know how to be intimate with themselves and others, no matter how much they want attention.
Real intimacy is incredibly potent, but as I watched the film, I saw that the root of intimacy for Robert was clear. The foundation of his intimacy was the role of the parent. Robert had been a mother to his children and continued that to embrace his grandson, great-grandparent, grandparent, parent and child altogether.
When you do it right, there is no intimacy greater than the parent, because as a parent you have the entire life of a vulnerable person placed into your care. You wipe their bum and check their sores and listen to their stories and help them find language and watch them grow and all those simple and complicated things that make up the sweep of humanity.
And when you know how to hold someone’s beating heart in your hands and feel that trust and responsibility, you have the chance to grow and blossom as a person. Parenting, when done right, is both extremely selfless and incredibly fulfilling, a gift of service that nourishes you. And as Robert’s relationship with Max showed, it’s also almost impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t understand the power of being a parent.
Lola found her caretaking integrated with her trans expression through her experience with Robert, as Robert treated Lola like a tender living creature who just needed encouragement and support to blossom. Everyone has something to offer, as TBB and Kristine would tell us, and parents know that, know that bringing out those special gifts are the blessing of a lifetime. It’s wonderful to know that all the people in this film blossomed in the fertile garden of Southern Comfort Conference, first imagined by TBB when she visited IFGE 1989 and knew she could bring this kind of cross-pollination to the great Southland.
Robert’s legacy continues today, from free respectful clinic visits for transmen every year at SCC, to 150 medical providers gathering at Empire Conference a few weeks ago to better understand how to support transpeople.
But the possibility of transpeople knowing the role of the parent, understanding how to care for and nurture the best that can come from the others in their life, well, that legacy is a bit more difficult to pin down. To be trans is often to be out of the communal exercise of parenting, of helping people grow and blossom.
So much of my writing over the past two decades has been about these themes, the four types of intimacy and the power of parenting, because they really do seem to be the heartbeat of the relationships that make us human.
And it was good to have a few new people exposed to that power again last night.
(Aside: Southern Comfort and Hedwig were on the film festival circuit in the same year, so at Berlin, John Cameron Mitchell pulled Lola Cola up on stage to honor a real-life Hedwig. Ah, the connections.)