Finding Kim


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Finding Kim
"Gabriel Bienczycki's cinematography, without particularly sexualising Kim, helps the viewer understand and share his delight in his reworked flesh."

If you've never understood what it means for a person to be transgender, or how that might feel, you couldn't get a better précis than the opening monologue of this film. Although people in the West are now transitioning younger and younger, allowing them to live lives much like anyone else's, there are still people in their forties and upwards who have simply felt unable to due to the social attitudes of those around them, or who, living in that environment, were unable to recognise and understand their own feelings. Kim is 50 and he is only now ready to start living as a man.

Though this film follows Kim's journey, it does so partly as a route into a wider story, with figures like Buck Angel, Calpernia Adams and Carmen Carrera - all well known in the trans community - contributing fragments of their stories and providing important context. It's refreshing to see a trans man at the centre of such a film, as most focus on women - his story has less of the kind of glamour that appeals to the tabloid press but as a consequence many viewers may find it easier to identify with, and his quiet joy at the changes he is going through, his gentle take on masculinity, is very endearing. Though it never really touches on the grim side of life for many trans people - the lingering public hostility, the high suicide rates and so on - we do hear about Kim's internal struggles and the way they manifested in drug abuse and alienation. Over the course of the film, we travel with him from that space into the life of a middle aged man who is comfortable with himself, a fairly rare encounter in itself.

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Finding Kim is sumptuously produced, something which often takes the edge off a documentary but which, in this case, works well. It's rare to see any middle aged male body photographed so appreciatively, and Gabriel Bienczycki's cinematography, without particularly sexualising Kim, helps the viewer understand and share his delight in his reworked flesh. This is particularly important when it comes to his mastectomy: we see, rather than relying on being told, why his breasts are wrong for him and why his reconstructed chest is right. We also see the operation itself in some detail - squeamish viewers beware!

Kim's parents have religious ideas which, he believes, would make it hard for them to understand his transition, so he has never told them about his gender. Now that he's growing facial hair, it's clear that there are going to be challenges. Here the film breaks with popular thinking to acknowledge the complexity of the situation, with Angel suggesting that if they're old there may be no real point in going through all that, whilst advice columnist Dan Savage (who hasn't always endeared himself to the trans community but acquits himself well enough here) opines that it's unwise to keep hostile people in one's life. We don't see the upshot of the situation - the film allows the family to keep its privacy - but what happens in this particular case isn't really the point.

Although it's simple in structure and transition stories are increasingly common as a subject, this film rises above the competition through a combination of excellent technical work and sensitivity towards Kim as a person. It makes room for him, letting him gradually open up and engage with the viewer. Its gentle pacing and general thoughtfulness make it easy to connect with and it's informative without ever being overly dry. Trans viewers may not see a great deal that's new but are likely to leave with spirits buoyed up by its positivity.

Reviewed on: 26 May 2017
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Finding Kim packshot
A documentary following a Seattle trans man as he goes through transition at the age of 50.

Director: Aaron Bear

Writer: Aaron Bear, Gabriel Bienczycki

Starring: Kim Byford, Buck Angel, Calpernia Addams, Carmen Carrera

Year: 2016

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


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