Saturday, 31 August 2019

SEAHORSE review

When Freddy McConnell decided he wanted to have a child, as a transgender man he decided the simplest option would be to carry the child himself, coming off his prescribed testosterone and onto folic acid to prepare himself for potential pregnancy. Director Jeanie Finlay follows Freddy as he confronts issues with his biology, self belief and societal expectations of what he's allowed to do.


The basic logline for Seahorse (and its subtitle "The Dad Who Gave Birth") would undoubtedly have the heads of some Daily M@!l readers spinning, but as sensational a headline it may make, that is not the aim of director Jeanie Finlay or the film's subject, Freddy McConnell, who has gamely allowed intimate access into the process of being a trans person wanting to conceive a child, hoping to provoke nothing other than discussion and offer hope to others.

Finlay's films have always been notable for the willing contributions of her subjects (The Great Hip Hop Hoax, Sound it Out and the excellent Game of Thrones documentary, The Last Watch that managed to silence some of those disappointed in the finale but showing the sheer amount of work and love that went into making the show), and it's no different here. With complete access to his life and interactions with Freddy's family & friends, and it's an important part of the film that his family don't all come across as the open, liberal people you would hope or expect them to be. Much like the audience for this film, they are real, inquisitive people who often clumsily try to navigate their way through this experience by asking Freddy awkward questions. The film isn't trying to vilify them, but as a document that may be of help to viewers who may encounter such a scenario in the future, show what questions don't need to be asked. This is evident at a dinner populated by Freddy's mother's friends aimed at imparting wisdom of "motherhood" onto Freddy, when one woman has to ask "so are you going to be called Dad?", before the group starts to list heteronormative ideals of masculinity and conjure up images of Demis Roussos as something for Freddy to aspire to.

Although this story has plenty in common with any story of someone hoping to start a family and conceive (expensive trips to the doctors, the near misses, the pregnancy tests), it's crucial that the specific journey of Freddy as a transgender person is captured, something that a talented filmmaker like Jeanie Finlay understands could not accurately be told be a cisgender person. Luckily, Freddy is an articulate video diarist, recording late night thoughts and important steps in the journey, like when his prospective co-parent CJ who had been an important part of the early stages, has second thoughts about the arrangement for unclear reasons and walks away. It's here that Freddy's mother steps in to become a big part of the film, sharing her own stories of being a single parent, including the absolute killer line "I loved being pregnant. Everyone should experience it, especially men". She's also able to share photos and videos of Freddy's childhood, a potentially tricky resource for Finlay to mine, but treated respectfully and with Freddy's consent.

The film does a great job of documenting the unconscious bias Freddy faces at every step, something that won't survive Freddy's strong attitude, changing the M to a P on every page of the Maternity paperwork he is asked to fill out. This is done not as an act of defiance but in order to point out how unprepared the established systems are to deal with trans rights in something as basic as starting a family, a luxury cisgender people have no barriers in doing. One of the threads that runs through the film is Freddy's relationship with his own father, a figure absent from the film and notably from Freddy's everyday life. Their exchanges occur via polite but strongly worded emails, his voice only heard in the home video footage of Freddy as a child.

Seahorse is a thoughtful film that tells a deeply human story of one person wanting to bring more life and love into the world, and why them being trans should not prevent them the opportunity to do that. Culminating in a beautiful scene that is profoundly moving and joyful, Seahorse questions what it takes to be a parent and offers a tremendous amount of hope and optimism for the future.

Verdict
4/5

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