Trans girl becomes a woman

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Wednesday December 13, 2017
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HBO will premiere "15: A Quinceanera Story - Zoey" on Tues., Dec. 19. It's the first of four short documentaries in which HBO celebrates the lives of young Latinas as they make their transformation from girlhood to womanhood at age 15. A Quinceanera is their "coming out" party as an adult - it's similar to Judaism's Bat Mitzvah rite.

Zoey, the first of the four stories to be shared, stands out because Zoey was assigned male at birth, and she began her transition at age 11. In the film, her mother Ofelia recalls Zoey asking, at age 5, if God made a mistake when He handed out body parts.

The bulk of "15: A Quinceanera Story - Zoey" focuses on Zoey and Ofelia preparing for the party. Viewers will see Zoey picking out the outfits she and her friends will wear. She also needs a young male escort, and notes the difficulties in finding someone. Many of the boys in her school are afraid of being thought of as gay if they escort her.

Zoey in fact gets a lot of support from gay men. Her father is deceased, and so Zoey will be "given away" at the Quinceanera by James, an attorney who once represented her family in a lawsuit against the United States Department of Education. The family had sued because Zoey's school wanted to expel her for being trans. James speaks of the case briefly, though he has since become a close family friend and is Zoey's surrogate father.

It's in spots like these that the film falters slightly. James and Ofelia offer the briefest of commentary regarding the lawsuit. The fact that Zoey was bullied in school after coming out is mentioned. These are clearly pivotal incidents in Zoey's transition and in her journey to become who she really is, yet no information is given about the case. Nor are we told how the school bullying was resolved. Most viewers will probably want to know more.

Likewise, the filmmakers give no information on how Zoey first met her "Godmothers," the older trans women who are mentoring her. We might want to know a little more about them and how they came into Zoey's life. It is deeply touching, however, to hear several of them tell Zoey how much the support she gets from her family and friends means to them. These women are her mother's age and older. They came out into a world that did not accept them. Zoey's Quinceanera is what they see as the future, the culmination of all they have been fighting for.

One of the film's most touching moments in "15: A Quinceanera Story - Zoey" comes when Joseph, a young choreographer who is teaching Zoey and her friends the dance moves they will perform at the party, also notes the support Zoey gets from her family. "I'm Mexican and I'm gay," Joseph says. "I know how it is to be different. To see the family and the support you have is really touching because I didn't have that." It's a moment that many LGBT-identified people will relate to.

"15: A Quinceanera Story - Zoey" is a short (26 minutes), sweet film. What the filmmakers left out is no doubt due to the scant running time. It might have been nice had the film ran for a full hour so that Zoey's complete story could be shared. What is shown, however, is most uplifting.

"15: A Quinceanera Story, Zoey" plays on HBO on Tues., Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.

Zoey and her court before her Quinceanera. Photo: Courtesy HBO