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Celebrating International Non-binary People’s Day with our Impact Producer, Xuanlin Tham

Updated: Jul 12, 2023


For me, the movies I love have always been a vivid terrain for exploring identity as performance. Their pantheon of alluring characters, rendered with so much attention to the human experience that they felt more alive than life itself, presented so many marvelous things I wanted to steal and make my own: rebelliousness; sexuality; vulnerability; an intensity and sense of self I couldn’t imagine carrying.


So, of course, it was because of the movies that I was able to locate the first inklings of curiosity about my gender identity: why I not only felt drawn to the way femininity was performed, but, increasingly, masculinity as well. Beyond attraction, it was a desire to emulate certain ways of being in the world. I was mesmerized by dark lipstick and sultry gazes just as much as I was by shirts buttoned loosely over angular collarbones and hunched shoulders. What I loved to dissect, as my eyes pored over these beautiful people, larger than life, were the layers of construction that made up how they wanted to be seen by others, by us in the audience: everything from tone of voice, posture, clothing, gait. And in my dissections, I found myself wanting to slide into new skins, too. Never permanently, because what captivated me was the ease of transformation, how deliberate and curated these performances were – and how liberatory and exciting such agency over oneself promised to be.


I grew up on THE MATRIX, and nothing delighted me more than to revisit those formative movies with a newfound knowledge of my queerness and their trans subtext – but surprisingly, I found an even deeper rabbit hole in the Wachowski sisters’ first feature, the queer cult classic neo-noir BOUND. Gina Gershon (as Corky) and Jennifer Tilly (as Violet) both give performances that, for me, are the epitome of ‘gender euphoria’: both women embody and subvert the archetypical ‘butch’ and ‘femme’, celebrating the visual cues of femininity and masculinity as aesthetic armor, and reclaiming agency by defining how they will be looked at. Finding its subversive power in the spaces between expectation, BOUND carves out resistance in its fluid depictions of the butch and the femme fatale, in the way its two heroines use gender performance as a means to find safety, connection, and freedom. It revealed my non-binary identity to me in ways I have yet to fully understand, but something about Corky’s leather-jacket-grease-stained physicality, something about Violet’s short black dresses and purple lipstick, made something click for me: I want to, and can be, both.


This International Non-binary People’s Day, I wanted to share a few more films alongside BOUND directed by women or non-binary people that I feel take a wonderfully exploratory approach to gender – which map the fluidities and intricacies of gender performance in ways that felt liberating to watch. While in the movies right now, it’s still extremely rare to see (explicitly) non-binary characters on screen, I’m more excited about queer approaches to gender in filmmaking than surface engagement with ‘non-binary’ as some sort of identity checklist. I hope to see many more non-binary and genderqueer filmmakers and characters on screen in the future, to keep playfully subverting gender scripts and exploding new possibilities of being into the world.

 

ORLANDO (1992)

Dir. Sally Potter

Feature film (90 mins)  Click Here For Where To Watch


Sally Potter’s Orlando loosely adapts Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name, and casts perhaps our most well-known face of androgyny, Tilda Swinton, as a young nobleman in 17th century England who transforms into a woman. Delightfully queer, delightfully playful, it’s a great time to revisit this in light of our Queerious season here at Birds’ Eye View, during which we’re screening Sally Potter’s THE GOLD DIGGERS, too – wouldn’t that be a fantastic double bill!


KAPAEMAHU (2020)

Dir. Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Joe Wilson, and Dean Hamer

Short film (9 mins) Click Here For Where to Watch

This gorgeously animated short film tells the history of four healing stones on Waikiki Beach, tracing their history as monuments to four mahu (‘third gender’ people) who brought the healing arts to Hawai’i. A lyrical reclamation of the history of gender diversity, Kapaemahu beautifully connects the lineage of non-binary and trans identity from ancient knowledge to our current moment.


NEPTUNE FROST (2021)

Dir. Anisia Uzeyman, Saul Williams

Feature film (105 mins) Click Here For Where to Watch

This genre and gender-defying experiment into anti-colonial, anticapitalist, Afrofuturistic, and queer worldmaking in cinema possesses an utterly singular vision that feels like a shock from the blue. Vividly making the case that liberation from colonial extractivism, environmental breakdown, and class oppression is inextricably tied to consolidating queer and genderqueer solidarity and joy, Neptune Frost is a fascinating watch unparalleled in imaginative power.





Xuanlin is a Singaporean film critic and curator based in Edinburgh, Scotland.  They are passionate about queer, ecofeminist, and more-than-human perspectives in cinema which demand us to forge new solidarities and imagine ways of being in the world differently.

Xuanlin joined the Birds’ Eye View team in June this year as our regional Impact Producer, championing Reclaim the Frame events and films in Glasgow/Edinburgh – contributing to the programming, hosting events, and building audiences.

Twitter @xuanlintham

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