It is summer again and my movie is finally no longer mine. Perhaps the metaphor is crass, but to me, making a film feels like motherhood, the act of birthing and then raising a new life up from nothing.

A film begins embryonic. It grows inside its parent until it’s ready to be birthed into the world. But this is hardly the end of the mother’s job. Now the film must be nurtured, looked after from early infancy through to adolescence, grown until fully formed. Others are invited into the process – actors, artists and artisans, COVID safety supervisors, production executives. Hopefully this community raises the child with love and intention. And then, before too long, what was once inside you alone becomes its own separate lifeform. And then your movie leaves the nest, enters the world. Sets off to live on its own, speak for itself, no longer a part of you or anyone else who made it. You can no longer lay claim to it. To do so would be to smother a creature deserving of its own life.

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Four summers ago I started hormones, changed my name, and wrote the screenplay for I Saw the TV Glow. I was attempting to make sense of the vast and sudden chasm that had opened underneath my feet in the aftermath of my egg crack. The freefall of utter precarity. Of one life that never felt real ending, and a new one struggling to begin.

The next summer I pitched my film, translating the still open wounds of early transition into a sales pitch for the gatekeepers who control Hollywood’s pocketbooks. The experience was dysphoric. That same summer I met Brigette Lundy-Paine and Sam Intili, who would become collaborators on this film, and more importantly, my first real trans community. COVID precautions were just easing up, and that summer we were all still in the raw early stages of gender stuff. Together that summer, as I’ve learned is common for those early in transition, we chased euphoria like Captain Ahab chased Moby Dick. Slowly we each invented the terms of our own individual becoming. We went to raves and Coney Island. Meanwhile, all signs seemed to indicate that we were actually going to be able to make this movie together next summer. It was a time of possibility. Back before my body became my own, I had always hated the summer, the way the heat and humidity could only serve as a constant reminder about the physicality I avoided like a stressful email I didn’t want to read. That summer was the first good summer of my entire life.


The next summer we made the film and for me it was a monastic pursuit. Joyful, yes. Manic, definitely. But more an act of will than an act of living. I receded from the world and from myself like a parent drops off the face of the earth in the early months of childrearing. About a week after the movie wrapped I visited my partner in Vermont and we went to a dance show at a quarry. Sitting in the audience, still exhausted from production, still coming down from the high of it all, I realized it was the first time in months I’d had two hours alone with my brain without anything in particular to think about. I needed rest and healing.

Last summer I had just finally finished the edit, the color correct, the sound design. My movie was done, and I was so proud of it, so terrified to share this vulnerable, writhing thing with the world, and so truly exhausted from the entire pursuit. In therapy I had been trying to teach myself to feel and act, rather than endlessly overthinking every decision to the point of paralysis. On a whim, I moved out of New York City, where I’d lived for almost fifteen years. I disappeared into the Hudson Valley, took a sublet in the cemetery, and slowly met and built a community of trans and queer friends who by the end of that summer I had already started to think of as family. One of them, my friend Angel, describes living up here as “life on easy mode.” For me, that summer felt like finally finding a space where I could be healthy, where I could realistically stay alive, do my work, and love my people for a very long time to come.

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Last summer I floated between swimming holes and ice cream trucks, drive-in movie theaters and my friends’ living room couch. I found a roommate and moved into a little two bedroom. This was to be, in many ways, the second summer of my life (since I’d sacrificed the previous one to make the movie), and I realized that I loved this time of year. I loved the summer. The way the heat made you feel a little bit dumber. The way that wandering all day without a destination could feel like the most responsible possible thing to do. Three years earlier the thought of loving summer would have been utterly inconceivable. To paraphrase Sophie, I wasn’t sure whether it was too cold in the water. But now, I was submerged, and my internal temperature was adjusting.

Which brings me to the present moment, another summer now, one that finds me at the end of a five-month press tour in which I talked to hundreds of journalists and audiences about my movie. It’s an honor I don’t take for granted to get to speak with so many people about my art. And yet, to embark on such a public-facing pursuit as a trans person is to almost certainly take a short break from one’s own healing. But I owed this last leg of caretaking to my movie, that little creature who I’d grown through its fragile early years (and through my own), who I’d delivered it into the world as best and as honestly as I could.

Now, today, I watch as my film finds its own home, its own life, separate from my own. And meanwhile, I recede again into the summer heat, still young myself, but a little bit older.

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