Lana Wachowski, Director of the Matrix films and forthcoming film Cloud Atlas, made many beautiful and at times emotional statements in her recent Human Rights Campaign award acceptance speech, from talking about how she as a trans woman had no role-models to turn to while growing up, how because of the deep pain she felt she even went so far as to create a suicide plan, and how she is now thankful to be living her life with the support of her family.
Over the next few pages you will find ten inspiring and moving things Wachowski said in her acceptance speech that speak to us about the difficulties trans people still face, and how a loving family can make all the difference. If you would rather watch the full acceptance speech however, here it is:
1) Wachowski earned many column inches when she publicly came out as trans earlier this year. On this topic, Wachowski had this to say:
I have been out to my family and friends for over a decade and for the majority of that time I have been discussing this, this particular moment with my therapist, with my family and my wife because I know eventually I will do it but I know there is going to be a price for it. I knew I was going to come out but I knew when I finally did come out I didn’t want it to be about my coming out. I am completely horrified by the “talk show,” the interrogation and confession format, the weeping, the tears of the host whose sympathy underscores the inherent tragedy of my life as a transgender person. And this moment fulfilling the cathartic arc of rejection to acceptance without ever interrogating the pathology of a society that refuses to acknowledge the spectrum of gender in the exact same blind way they have refused to see a spectrum of race or sexuality.
2) In third grade Wachowski says that she switched from public to Catholic school where, suddenly, gender differences were strictly enforced. She recalls one particular incident at the school:
I walk past the girls feeling this strange, powerful gravity of association. Yet some part of me knows I have to keep walking. As soon as I look towards the other line, though, I feel a feeling of differentiation that confuses me. I don’t belong there, either.
I stop in between them. The nun I realize is staring at me, then she’s shouting at me. I don’t know what to do. She grabs me, she’s yelling at me. I’m not trying to disobey, I’m just trying to fit in. My silence infuriates her, and she starts to hit me. Then suddenly, most improbably–if it happened in a movie you would never believe is–suddenly there’s these screeching tires and my mom just happens to be driving by, totally true, she jumps out of her car, she hurls herself at this nun, rips me away from her, rescuing me. She warns the nun never to touch me again.
3) Following the incident at the Catholic school, Wachowski relates how her mother took her home and then tried to ask what had happened. Wachowski laments:
And I begin feeling the same mounting frustration, the same mounting fury that I felt with the nun. She [Wachowski's mother] tells me to look at her but I don’t want to, because when I do I am unable to understand why she can’t see me.
4) On the extreme pain she felt as she realized that she was different from her peers:
As I grew older an intense anxious isolation, coupled with constant insomnia, began to inculcate an inescapable depression. I have never slept much but during my sophomore year in high school, while I watched many of my male friends start to develop facial hair, I kept this strange, relentless vigil staring in the mirror for hours, afraid of what one day I might see. Here in the absence of words to defend myself, without examples, without models, I began to believe voices in my head–that I was a freak, that I am broken, that there is something wrong with me, that I will never be lovable.
5) The pain Wachowski felt led to her feeling suicidal and to even making a plan to kill herself:
After school I go to the nearby Burger King and I write a suicide note. It ends up being over four pages. I’m a little talkative. But it was addressed to my parents and I really wanted to convince them that it wasn’t their fault, it was just that I didn’t belong. I cry a lot as I write this note, but the staff at Burger King has seen it all before, and they seem immune.
I was very used to traveling home quite late because of the theater; I know the train platform will be empty at night because it always is. I let the B train go by because I know the A train will be next and it doesn’t stop. When I see the headlight I take off my backpack and I put it on the bench. It has the note in front of it. I try not to think of anything but jumping as the train comes. Just as the platform begins to rumble suddenly I notice someone walking down the ramp. It is a skinny older old man wearing overly large, 1970s square-style glasses that remind of the ones my grandma wears. He stares at me the way animals stare at each other. I don’t know why he wouldn’t look away. All I know is that because he didn’t, I am still here.
6) Wachowski’s life did get better however. She would later meet the love of her life and come out to her family. On this she said:
Years later I find the courage to admit that I am transgendered and this doesn’t mean that I am unlovable. I meet a woman, the first person that has made me understand that they love me not in spite of my difference but because of it. She is the first person to see me as a whole being. And every morning I get to wake up beside her I can’t tell you how grateful I am for those two blue eyes in my life.
In Sydney, Australia, I finally came out to my family. When I told my mom what was going on, she jumped on a plane immediately. It was this big, tear-soaked baptism, and she confessed that she had been afraid to arrive and grieve the loss of her son. But when she arrived she found it wasn’t so much a death as it was a discovery. That there was this other part of me, an unseen part, and she felt it was like a gift because now she could get to know that part of me.
7) Wachowski’s father was, she relates, also accepting of the news of her coming out:
When my dad arrived he shrugged it off easier than accepting that his wife and daughter had once voted for Jane Byrne instead of Harold Washington– a choice that still rankles him today. He said, “Look, if my kid wants to sit down and talk to me I’m a lucky man. What matters is that you’re alive, you seem happy, and that I can put my arms around you and give you a kiss.”
8 ) Wachowski contrasted the love her family had shown her to the violence perpetrated against trans teen Gwen Arauju who was murdered by four men who, in at least one of the trials in this case, attempted to use the trans-panic defense as a reason for the savage attack that killed the California teen:
It seemed impossible that something like that could happen so close to this city, yet here was this person like me murdered by ignorance, by prejudice, murdered by intolerance, it seemed in direct inverse proportion to the acceptance of my family. Murdered by a kind of fear that seeks to obliterate any evidence that the world is different from the way they want to see it, from the way they want to believe it to be.
9) On nosy reporters and her brother’s protective streak, Wachowski said:
A few short weeks ago after my coming out, the three of us, Tom, Andy and I were being interviewed, one of the reporters ventured away from the subject of the film towards my gender. Imagine that, a reporter. My brother quickly stepped in, “Look, just so we’re clear,” he says, “if somebody asks something or says something about my sister that I don’t like, understand that I will break a bottle over their head.” [applause] Few words express love clearer than these.
10) And finally, on why Wachowski chose to come out publicly and how she now embraces the platform it gives her, she says:
I am here because when I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others.
If I can be that person for someone else then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value. I know I am also here because of the strength and courage and love that I am blessed to receive from my wife, my family and my friends. And in this way I hope to offer their love in the form of my materiality to a project like this one started by the HRC, so that this world that we imagine in this room might be used to gain access to other rooms, to other worlds previously unimaginable.
Image taken from video, no infringement intended.