Since the invention of high school, girls have been anxiously asking their parents this about any number of hidden insecurities. Can others tell that they’re wearing cover-up on their zits? Is it obvious that one eye is slightly crossed? Will anyone notice their ill-advised attempt at giving themself bangs?
Can anyone tell that they have a penis?
Treatment of transgender youths has made massive progress in the last several years, with the medical profession finally clueing in that little Jimmy may actually know more about his gender than his doctor, his parents or God herself. So instead of forcing them with boys’ toys, clothes and behaviours, more enlightened parents are seeking out specialists who can put their kids on puberty blockers. This helps to ease the transition from male to female in future years, and allows the child to grow up in their true gender. The not-so-great reality is that many of them will have to do so secretly, or, as the cool kids call it nowadays, in Stealth.
“It’s a very interesting reimagining of the word,” says Bennett Lasseter, director of the new film. “Usually you connect it with covert operations and national security. But this is much more about personal security.”
Lasseter’s film is breathtaking. Not only for its gorgeous cinematography and spot-on casting, but due to the astonishing performance of first-time transgender actor Kristina Hernandez.
Hernandez’ portrayal of Sammy, a transgender 12-year-old girl, is natural and seemingly effortless. There is no artifice or posing in her performance, no cloying sweetness or sassy backtalk. Sammy is a real girl, and a likable one at that.
The story opens with our protagonist starting at a brand new school, after dealing with trans prejudice at her old one. Turns out some kids are assholes when it comes to someone different — particularly when dealing with hot-button teen issues like gender and sexuality. Who knew?
As Sammy’s supportive but (understandably) worried Mom drops her daughter off on the first day, it’s clear her maternal instincts are revved up to high gear. She encourages Sammy to stay safe, clearly proud of her daughter but also scared for her safety.
The fears prove groundless at first. Sammy is quickly befriended by two girls, and the trio bonds through shopping, note-passing in class, and sleepovers.
Now, I’ve never been to an all-girl sleepover, but Stealth’s depiction seems pretty authentic. There’s boy talk, prank calls, and the prerequisite game of Truth or Dare. And that’s where the whole evening goes to shit.
I defy any viewer of this film to stop themselves from whispering “Don’t do it, don’t do it!” when it’s Sammy’s turn to tell the truth about her biggest secret. But of course she does. And of course they freak out.
Sammy leaves, with the host girl’s father berating Sammy’s mom for not telling him the truth, so he could “protect his daughter.” It’s horrible, and all too real.
“The blessing was that Kristina had gone through similar situations in her transition eight months prior to filming, so it wasn’t a performance,” Lassetter says. “It was bringing out those emotions again, what it was like telling the first people that she was transgender, especially those who knew her as a boy.
“My number one concern was making sure that Kristina was comfortable, and willing to go with us to these places. She was gung-ho all the way.”
And that’s what makes Stealth as honest as it is wonderful. I can’t recommend this film highly enough for audiences of all ages. It’s relatable and genuine for kids and teens, with performances that rival anything I’ve seen in grown-up cinema. Yes, the subject matter is emotionally charged at times, but the final scene is so full of hope and quiet optimism that it left my heart full.