Editor's Note: This article contains movie plot spoilers.
I usually have to brace myself before taking on a film about trans life. Partly because there are so few stories with trans characters, but also because such narratives likely inform many peoples’ views about trans folks.
Further, how often do you see depictions of men who are not only transgender, but gay? If you’re in the right crowds, you can get to know such amazing folks, but representations of queer transmen in mainstream media are few and far between. Here to raise one hand, thankfully, is Romeos (2011), a light-of-touch yet gritty drama featuring a twenty-year-old German trans man named Lukas.
When Lukas goes to a gay club one night and realizes he’s attracted to a cis man, Fabio, the feeling turns out to be mutual. Their relationship goes on to blossom like any other, sweetly, bit by bit, as they get to know each other. Nevertheless, Lukas constantly covers his still-full chest. When he’s reluctantly taken to a lake to swim, he remains fully clothed, visibly anxious, worried that he might reveal he’s trans. Lukas only goes into the water when Fabio pulls him in.
Lukas, like many marginalized people in real life, is antagonized by forces bigger than any one person. When he is outed as a trans man before he’s ready, Fabio reacts crudely and transphobically, saying he isn’t into “trannies.” This reaction hits the core of many trans peoples’ fears: that we’ll be rejected and remain unloved because of ignorance, fear, and cultural hangups.
Granted, not everyone reacts this way, but when it happens with someone you like or maybe even love, it can be extremely painful. There’s no easy way to deal with this. In time, though, as increasing numbers of narratives emerge, trans people will become more and more visible. Eventually, one hopes, transphobia will become less of a barrier to connecting with people.
While Romeos feels a little like Trans 101 at times, addressing medical transition in a tone that assumes one is not familiar with the process, the film is ultimately is the story of a young man's personal growth. Lukas doesn’t stand in for all trans-masculine experiences, but he does wear the tribe’s emblem.
For many people, this movie will be a partial mirror in a world with very few sensitive, complex reflections. For many others, it will expand their sphere of empathy to include a new understanding of how a person can be.
Lukas reconciles with Fabio in the last part of the film, but the movie doesn’t end by focusing on their relationship, avoiding the implication that his self-worth hinges on a cis man’s “magical” validation. Instead, in the final take, we see Lukas at a beach before a camera, presumably held by a friend or a lover — maybe Fabio, maybe someone new. Our hero Lukas smiles, shyly taking off his shirt to reveal he’s had top surgery. Then, lifting up his arms in triumph, beaming like the happiest guy on earth, Lukas runs over the dunes to the far shore, alone.
Ultimately, Lukas — as a trans man, as a man — is more than enough.