The Queerview Mirror: Tomboy


Hey, guys! This is the first piece of our new weekly feature, The Queerview Mirror, a review of something queer-related (movies, websites, tv shows, anything) brought to you by one of us Queereka folks every Friday. Enjoy!

Attention: this piece might contains spoilers for those who haven't yet seen the 2011 French movie.

A kid is riding in their father’s car. You can tell they have a special connection, you can tell this kid is loved. They arrive in their new home and the kid goes talk to their mom. Again, you can see how strongly they bond and how special this family is.

Through the whole mess of moving, the kid sees other children outside the building and goes looking for them, which is when they meet Lisa. Lisa, who starts treating them by masculine pronouns, and who then asks what their name is. After some hesitation, the kid answers:

“Mickäel. My name is Mickäel.”

This movie was referred to me by my sister, after she saw me reading a certain book written by Brazil’s first trans man known to transition – a book that will, at some point, show up here at The Queerview Mirror – and we spent some time discussing gender issues, a subject I’ve recently taken particular interest in.

So when I started watching the movie, I already knew the plot and already knew that Mickäel was actually Laure, and the first parallel the boy-looking girl brought on was to the Raising My Rainbow blog, the narrative of a mother raising her gender nonconforming son. It seemed like the family accepted and encouraged Laure’s identity, in small things like the short haircut, the boyish clothes, the bedroom walls painted blue.

The movie is basically the tales of a girl who identifies as a boy being terrified of the other kids finding out about her real condition, in some specific situations (like bathing in a river, peeing in public, playing soccer with no shirt on, defending their little sister) to which Laure/Mickäel always seems to find creative solutions. And things would have gone on smoothly hadn’t some of their friends showed up at the family’s door looking for Mickäel.

Now, this is where things get foggy. It seems to me that, if a girl identifies as a boy, that is something that needs to be addressed, talked over, figured out. Laure’s mother actually says “I don’t mind you playing a boy, but this [lie] can’t go on” – and while yes, she was probably referring to the alternative identity created, it feels like she is saying “you can be a boy in your head all you want, but you are a girl and will always be.” It feels wrong. I’ve been avoiding pronouns while writing this, actually, because it already feels wrong to use feminine pronouns when referring to someone (even if it's a ficticious someone) who clearly identifies as a boy.

Obviously, there are reasons for the mother to do this: Laure lied. To pretty much everyone. And this lie couldn’t be kept up for too long, considering school would start in a few weeks and Mickäel wouldn’t be there. It was probably for good that she made Laure tell her friends what was actually going on. What immediately follows, though, isn’t.

We all have said it at some point: kids can be cruel. And it hurts enormously how these ones exercise their cruelty in horribly homophobic and femmephobic manners, in reaction to finding out about the lie. And even though the movie’s last frame gives the impression of future acceptance, these scenes have very strong connotations, and leave some definite pain behind.

Overall, it’s a good movie. Technically, It’s very competent: Zoé Herán is incredible in Laure/Mickäel’s skin; her smiles and frowns fit perfectly into the disturbed existence she portrays, and writer/director Céline Sciamma seems to evidence her star’s acting skills with intelligence. And it brings out questions that people aren’t generally faced with – and that they should be. The way Laure’s mother handled things was somewhat strange to me, but what could have been done? How should it have been done? Isn't this something we should all think of at some point? Something we should all be able to handle?

It’s a movie you guys should watch (and then come tell us what you thought!).


Featured image is Zoé Herán as Mickäel.

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  1. if we're talking about what her mom *should* have done versus what's merely likely she *would* have done, i strongly disagree with your assessment.  what her mother did was at least unfair if not indefensible.  the least she could have done would be to ask Laure/Mikael how they identified.  there's a reason you felt the need to use gender-neutral pronouns throughout this article: how the kid actually feels about their identity and situation is really not that clear, since *no one ever asks*.  without that being established, furthermore, to say "Laure" is "lying" is really begging the question!

  2. I agree that the mother's reaction wasn't 'good' but it was a realistic and honest portrayal of how people really react. She was dismissive, slightly ignorant and perhaps even fearful. I would have liked this film to delve further into the consequences of the mother's and children's treatment of Laure/Mickaël but it is still quite a good film.

    • Yeah, but does she really even consider the probability that Laure identified as Mickäel as much as she just "pretended" she was him? I liked the movie for raising all the questions, I don't really love the way it tried to answer them.
      But yes, if we could see futher, given Laure's last interaction with Lisa, it would be interesting to see their new dynamic. And maybe the conversation on identification could happen there, if not brought on by Laure's family. (Really, it's the one thing missing in the movie: the mother asking how Laure identifies).

      • I did love the movie, but I agree with you there: it raised a lot of interesting questions, but I wasn't as keen on what it did with them.  The difference is I don't think it tried to "answer" most of the questions it raised at all, but kept everything incredibly open-ended.  Which is ok, but the result is that the last 20-30 minutes of the movie have a radically different valence depending on how you interpret what's gone on until then:

        If you see Laure as basically a baby dyke who passes to win the respect of the boys and the affection of Lisa, then her mom is harsh, kids are cruel, but ultimately no loss, she's learned something, and future self-discovery (and developing her relationship with Lisa) are totally possible.  
        If Laure became Mikael because that identity spoke to him on a deeper level, the ending is nothing short of tragic.  The consequences of identity crossing have become traumatically clear, he may never attempt it again or only at the loss of close personal connections, and the possibility of a masculine identity for people assigned female at birth becomes reinscribed and reinforced as a childlike fantasy.

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