One man’s religious journey to find his gender identity

Transgender doc explores the issues of the transgender community

by Steven Snyder

Only while watching the documentary “Call Me Malcolm” did it become obvious that the term “transgender,” and the issues of the transgender community, are unknown or misunderstood by most in this society.

In a time of increasingly hateful and divisive political rhetoric, open discussion and dialogue has disappeared, replaced by left vs. right sparring matches that distill issues into mere talking points. The unknown has become the feared, replaced by such labels as “subversive,” “sinful” and “evil.”

This story, about one man who felt all his life that he was born in the wrong body – that of a woman – is inspirational in the way it illuminates this unknown world in a wonderfully comprehensive conversation.

The man at its center is Rev. Malcolm E. Himschoot. Yes, reverend – a fact that might surprise some in the religious community who believe homosexual and transgender people are living their lives immorally.

Completing seminary with the United Church of Christ (which also produced the film), he has explored both the secular and religious aspects of his life and has sought out people to help him understand his place in this society.

Changing gender in 21st century America, you see, makes it almost impossible for others to know how to react. And this film, more than any other, captures how our daily interactions have been codified by gender. Being a man or a woman begets our social groups and bestows us with a set of predefined actions and reactions. In societal terms, Himschoot is an entirely different person than who he once was.

Himschoot talks about how he came to question his gender identity, how that questioning manifested itself and what process was involved in surgically transitioning from one gender to another. He talks about how this decision affected his family and his friendships and also how transgender issues have nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation.

Himschoot then plans a road trip to discuss these issues, and more, with others who have been similarly affected. En route, he talks to his friends about how they reacted to his transition, to his old high school teacher who seems refreshingly happy for the traveler, and also to a mother and a woman – who transitioned herself – about the people in their lives who were murdered in regard to transgender issues.

What’s essential to this courageous, inspiring and deeply spiritual film is its context. It’s having the conversation no one wants to have right now about an issue that, like so many others in today’s world, has been generalized and sanitized.

In fact, some who go to engage the discussion this weekend might be vilified for supporting a person some see as evil. In a press release, members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., detailed their plans to protest the film’s screening Friday night. They describe it as something “satanic.”

And the point is proven.

These are the people who need to see this film most – to see past the surface details and discover this man, finally trying to live his life as he feels it must be lived.

Then again, this group – as evidenced by its Web site – might not be indicative of most religious organizations. Few others would openly celebrate the pope’s death, rejoice in the killing of U.S. soldiers or implicate children in spreading hate speech, as they do.

These protestors are living proof of the struggles Himschoot has had to face and why this film emerges as the engaging work it is. Until discussion and a search of understanding – not ignorant epithets and slander – fill the public space, Himschoot’s plight will not be unique.

As only the second organizers to exhibit this film outside a festival setting, Minnesota Film Arts deserves praise for bringing this empathetic work to campus.