Antonia's Line

Not that you really want to know (or couldn't guess), but gender dysphoria is a real fucking pain. You live surrounded by reminders in every conceivable form. From looking in the mirror (a trial every morning and worse when you have to shave) to being called "he" by everyone, whether you are out to them or not, to little things like your own name (I just realized something, god, how long does it take me to figure things out, see below at *) or the way people make assumptions about you (I get asked to lift heavy things by women at work a lot). Or big things, like being excluded from "girls only" things.

It feels absurd to identify with women in fiction sometimes. I feel guilty. I am keenly aware of male privilege not just because I actively try to be, but because when it's pointed out, I get a moment of confusion as to whether I am somehow responsible or not. I feel like I am half a person sometimes, like I am unworthy of the gender I identify with. I exist in a state of "want to be" instead of "I am."

Watching Antonia, this feeling of "want to be" hit hard. A beautiful little matriarchal world opens up slowly but surely as Atonia returns to her home town. Her very presence bends the culture around her, and a world of women unfolds. The film is not subtle--it's a fairytale--and certain moments seem to be designed with a defiance to patriarchal tropes. A woman decides to get pregnant without a husband, a woman refuses marriage but remains involved with a man. Girl children inherently understand math and teach themselves, and they do not fit into traditional, patriarchal structures like school and church. And so the world conforms to them.

Some might complain about the lack of realism, but it just makes it that much more appealing to me. This is the film needed to contrast the masculine fantasies that dominate the world, with all of the damsels in distress and wicked stepmothers and so on vaguely embarrassed they didn't get in on this instead. This is a warm, sweet film (except when it's not) that goes out of its way to be not just about women, but for women (not as an audience, but as advocacy), and with women.

Though infused with the atmosphere of a fairytale, it has the structure of biography, showing the long, amazing life of Antonia and her descendants in a series of quasi-vignettes that each have a symbolic connection to the traditional stages of life (childhood, school, parenthood, etc. until we reach death). It's not solely about Antonia, but the town and its people, who come to revolve around her. It would be cloying that they seem to find happiness as they gravitate toward her, but the implication is that the basic human dignity inherent to a feminist ideal would bring that. Even still, the film does not suggest a utopia; horrible things still happen. These things both continue the trend of eschewing patriarchal memes and add contrast to the idyllic perfection. But even as death arrives in its harshest forms, the undercurrent of love that has buoyed Antonia through both trials and triumphs becomes palpable as her family (blood-related and not) gathers.

It's that moment of enduring love that perhaps hit hardest. It might not even be tied to the "want to be" of gender dysphoria, but just a simple loneliness... but really, I think it's both. I certainly use gender dysphoria as the biggest crutch I have, the big excuse for not pursuing romantic relationships. The intense love between Danielle and the tutor serves as another sharp reminder of what I really want, and as I remember what I want, I remember how hard the journey is. I retreat into self-loathing until I find the strength to come here and write. I write; I process. Maybe if I write enough, I'll write myself some courage. Until then, I will return to stories like Antonia's and "want to be."

* My birth name is "Billy." No variation thereof, just "Billy." I have always always always hated being called "William" or any other variation of "Billy," and until just now, I've never quite cottoned on that it's because most variations of it cannot be taken as gender neutral the way "Billy" can be. "William" and "Willie" and so on are vastly more masculine. Little things, just tiny triggers biting you like a mosquito, over and over, all day, all the time.

Sally Jane liked this review