Reflecting on years of coming to understand his own identity, struggling to maintain his relationships with his family, and enduring testosterone shots and painful surgery, Ben Wallace says he “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The Bright Lights Film Series' latest installment, Real Boy, a documentary directed and produced by Shaleece Haas screened in the Bright Family Screening Room on November 8. The film documents four years of Wallace’s life as a singer-songwriter based in southern California after coming out to his family as transgender and beginning his transition.
Haas offers viewers a small glimpse into Wallace’s journey as he grapples with his complicated relationship with his mother, collaborating and bonding with trans singer-songwriter Joe Stevens, and waking up before sunrise five days a week to work toward funding his top surgery.
“I absolutely believe that everything happens for a reason,” Wallace said in a discussion following the film. “This has shaped me into the person I am and it has taught me so much about being human, and relating to people, and empathizing with other people’s experiences. I would not trade it for anything else and I am so grateful.”
In an interview after the screening, Haas said she hopes her documentary can help people relate to and understand members of the trans community, no matter what their prior experience is interacting with trans folks.
“I think audiences tend to come from all different perspectives,” she said. “My hope is that people feel things. Listening to people laugh or seeing people cry is a real honor as a filmmaker, because I believe the path to changing our minds about things is having an emotional experience.”
In the discussion moderated by Bright Lights curator Anna Feder, Wallace and Haas fielded questions about their relationships with Wallace’s parents, how Stevens and Wallace's roommate, Dylan, are doing now, Wallace’s music, and the obstacles they faced while filming mid-transition.
“I thought it was a great audience that had great questions and they were really engaged,” Wallace said in an interview after the screening. “I didn't set out to be the subject of a documentary that was going to share my story and use footage from my childhood and get really personal, I just set out to make a contribution within my community and to take the opportunities available to me to be of service.”
Wallace even surprised the audience of about 70 people with an impromptu acoustic performance. He performed the title track and “Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn Ya” off Gentle Ben & The Rising Tide’s 2012 album Worth the Weight.
The screening of Real Boy coincided with Trans Awareness Week at Emerson, sponsored by Emerson's Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone (EAGLE).
“I think the discussion was very productive,” Treasurer Jose Ramirez Barcelo said. “There were so many different people, not just students, at the screening. It really did show that there was something everyone could identify with.”
Other Trans Awareness Week events included a faculty luncheon on Wednesday, and a talk about activism through theater called “True Colors,” taking place on Thursday evening.