“My whole life I searched my body for scars because I knew something was missing.”
It can be hard enough being a teenager, but for Ray it is complicated by being transgendered. At the beginning of the film he tells us his birthday wish each year is always the same: to have a boy’s body. 3 Generations is a sympathetic look at the obstacles that can be faced by transgendered people, even in very supportive families.
At 16, Ray (Elle Fanning) is anxious to begin receiving testosterone to being transitioning his body into the male he knows himself to be. He has been raised by his single mother Maggie (Naomi Watts), his lesbian grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon), and her longtime partner Frances (Linda Emond). When the time comes to sign the papers for the hormone therapy, Maggie, who has been supportive, begins to stall. They must also get the signature of her absent father (Tate Donovan) who doesn’t even know of Ray’s gender issues (and who now has another family).
Each of the characters has their own issues to deal with. Ray struggles to be accepted as a male. Even in his own family, Dolly wonders why he wouldn’t be just as happy as a lesbian (as she is). His mother’s reticence may be caused by her grief at the daughter she is losing. When his father comes into play, old issues and dynamics come to the surface.
The film is a look at some of the various forms of family that are playing out in society: single mother, same sex couple, multi-generational family in one house, traditional nuclear family. As Ray is seeking to transition his body, he must also try to understand his relationship in each of these settings and how that will also change as his body changes. So too, when we encounter all these various forms of family, we also find new ways that we understand ourselves vis à vis such family settings.
The house they live in is full of winding staircases. It is as if to tell us that there is not a straight line to be found. The twists and turns of life play out in this situation. In order to move to a solution to everyone’s issues will involve lots of changes in direction along the way. I think this is certainly true of the ways that society has been trying to deal with issues such as this. Even as we become more accepting of gays and lesbians (few would be offended by Dolly), transgender issues are something that are still much harder for many people to understand and accept. 3 Generations seeks to offer us a chance to encounter what it can mean for someone and their family to face the kind of life changing transition involved in moving from one gender to another, and in that encounter we may find ways to better understand the needs of those who face such changes.
Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company