Mark and Clair are haunted by the past. A childhood marred by divorce, drug use, sexual abuse and a joint suicide attempt has fractured their family and forced both of them to examine the impact of decades-old traumas. Mark, an art student in San Francisco, is gay. Clair, a liberal arts student in New York, is trans. After a two-year forced separation stemming from their failed suicide pact, the identical twins have reunited.
Mark must deal with the fact that his brother — his mirror image — has transformed into his sister. Clair is confronting the challenges of transitioning and the pain of reconciling relationships with her parents in Montana.
Red Without Blue, winner of the Documentary Feature — Audience Award at Toronto’s InsideOut Festival this year, is not a simple coming out story. It’s not just a film about trans identity or about the devastating impact of childhood abuse. It’s about all of those things and more. It’s a film that dares to examine the complexity of identity, the power of healing and the true emotional depth that is required for a family to come to terms with two troubled, queer children.
The filmmakers’ intimacy with their subject matter comes across immediately. The film is made up of a rich collage of interviews, interspersed with family videos and startlingly honest moments. Clair isn’t the only person who goes through a transformation during the three-year span of the film. Her mother goes from questioning her daughter’s motives, characterizing her transition as a form of spiteful rebellion, to giving her dainty jewelry as a Christmas gift. Mark embarks on his first truly intimate relationship with another man, and confronts his own guilt over having talked his twin into attempting suicide.
The filmmakers are able to navigate this terrain while consciously avoiding the suggestion of any causal relationship between the siblings’ abuse history and their queer identity. Instead, they examine how the twins’ intimate relationship forces them to ask tough questions about themselves. When Mark came out as gay in middle school, both children faced torment. When Clair came out as trans in her twenties, Mark was forced to examine his own masculinity — and feminity.
In the queer community, we hear so many stories of suicide and deep emotional pain. But we rarely get to see what happens after the smoke clears and people pick up their lives and move on. If anything, Red Without Blue is a portrait of resilience in an imperfect world. Mark and Clair’s story is one that we all need to hear.