She’s been called the transsexual Norma Rae by many, but Martine Stonehouse is her own amazing human being.
Born in 1956 as Martin Stonehouse, Martine has overcome odds most of us can’t even imagine. As a child she had difficulty interacting with other children, leading to homeschooling through most of elementary school. As an adult, she discovered that she has Asperger’s syndrome, explaining her difficulty relating to other people. Then, after years of feeling trapped within her own body, at 38 she decided to fully transition from male to female.
Martine’s life hit another road bump just as she was seeking final approval for her gender reassignment surgery (GRS): OHIP delisted it. This led to Martine transforming once again, this time into activist. She launched a civil rights suit against the Ontario government, which after an eight-year fight, resulted in the reinstatement of the funding for GRS.
The story of Martine’s activism alone would make for a fascinating documentary, but director Alon Kol has instead focused on Martine’s personal journey of transitioning and her relationship with fiance (now husband) John. The result is Transfixed, a documentary that focuses on Martine’s struggle to find a doctor willing to perform her surgery due to her health issues and chronicles the effects that her transitioning and related difficulties have on her relationships with those closest to her, particularly John.
The film is beautifully shot, using soft focus and off-centre camera angles, and features old film clips combined with voiceovers by Martine to try and place us inside Martine’s world and give some sense of how she experiences everyday life. The rest of the film allows Martine and those closest to her tell their own stories. The coverage of her activism is quickly summed up in old news footage and the rest of the past is told by the participants on screen, capturing their recollections as opposed to mining archives for the truth. This all lends an extremely personal touch to the film.
Martine and John have put their faith in Kol by allowing him access to their most intimate moments, from personal arguments and their wedding, even allowing him into the surgery room with Martine. Kol takes their trust and delivers an incredible portrait of devotion and perseverance. It’s clear that he is somewhat in awe of his subject, and who can blame him? Most of the Q&A after the film was taken up by Martine inviting everyone who has been involved in her life up on stage and explaining why they are important fixtures for her. There is no hint of ego here, just a drive to improve the lives of the people around her.
The world needs more people like Martine, who has faced everything life has thrown at her with intelligence, grace and a wry sense of humour. There is nothing to do but marvel at her resilience and try to live up to the example that she has set.
Amanda is covering the 2015 Inside Out Festival live from Toronto. For more coverage of the festival, click here.