It’s refreshing to see a portrait of a transgender person who is neither famous nor tormented.
When Sharon Shattuck was 13, her father told her that he hoped to wear a dress to her wedding. She couldn’t have been entirely surprised, because he had already begun transitioning to female, but that’s still quite a piece of news for someone barely in her teens to absorb. In her documentary From This Day Forward, Shattuck creates a loving portrait of her father (now known as Trisha), and examines her own feelings as well as those of her mother and sister toward growing up with a transgender father and husband.
From This Day Forward is a personal film that aims only to tell the story of one family, with a strong focus on one particular member of that family. Its greatest value is that it offers a look at a transgender person who will never appear on the cover of Vanity Fair like Caitlyn Jenner or have a wax figure of herself at Madame Tussauds like Laverne Cox, or, to take the other extreme, is not homeless or otherwise living a marginal existence. Instead, Trisha enjoys a middle-class life in Maine, living in a comfortable home with her wife, Marcia, and is on good relations with her children and neighbors.
If I were to choose one adjective to describe the members of Shattuck’s family, it would have to be “nice,” because they’re all so pleasant and considerate and reasonable. That’s not to say that things were always so sunny in this household, but any conflicts discussed took place well in the past. Marcia recalls considering divorce (for the record, she asked her then husband what he would do if it were she who was transitioning, and he admitted he would probably leave her), but decided to stick with the marriage and is glad that she did. Similarly, Sharon and her sister recall being resentful of their father when they were in school, feeling that he was unfairly demanding attention at a time when they should have been free to focus on developing their own individuality. In addition, they recall being embarrassed by having a father that was different, and Sharon’s sister recalls hoping that her parents would divorce.
One factor not examined in From This Day Forward is that of class or, to put it more directly, how having money makes everything easier. Marcia is a physician and the family enjoys a comfortable lifestyle, with both children apparently successfully launched into their chosen careers (work isn’t discussed much, but Sharon’s sister is seen training horses). Trisha doesn’t seem to work, which could be a logical outgrowth of her parental role when Sharon and her sister were young: Their father stayed at home to care for them while their mother was earning enough to support a middle-class lifestyle for all of them. This arrangement had one other obvious advantage—it allowed Trisha to forego seeking employment from people who might judge her unfairly, and liberated her from one source of pressure to conform.
It’s refreshing to see a portrait of a transgender person who is neither famous nor tormented, but Shattuck seems to have made a conscious decision to avoid hard questions and uncomfortable discussions. The result is that there’s really no drama in the film, leaving you with the feeling that much may have remained unsaid. On the other hand, everyone in this family seems to be pleasant and reasonable and to have made their peace with each other, and that’s a refreshing attitude to have.
Remember the wedding Trisha wanted to wear a dress to? It takes place near the end of the film, but I’m not going to spoil it by telling you what was worn by whom. | Sarah Boslaugh
From This Day Forward will be screened at 8:00 pm on June 17, 18, and 19 at the Winifred Moore Auditorium at Webster University (470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, MO, 63119). Tickets are $6 for the general public, $5 for seniors, Webster alumni, and students from other schools, $4 for Webster University staff and faculty, and are free for Webster University students with proper ID. Further information about tickets is available here and the film series calendar is available here.