I Am Woman Now
A recent New York Times Style article about a young photographer obsessed with stylish older women highlighted the interest in tastemakers beyond 50, 60 and even 70. The women in the Times articles had nothing on most of the ladies in this documentary about five European men who traveled to the Moroccan port city of Casablanca in the ’50s.
There, a pioneering French doctor performed operations and gave them the hormones they needed to transition into women. "I Am Woman Now" does a great service, not only in documenting the lives of the first generation of men who were able to use modern surgery and hormonal therapies to become women.
The film also highlights the little-known work of Georges Burou, who began performing sexual reassignment surgery in the mid-’50s. Thanks to Christine Jorgensen, a young American man who became the world’s first surgically gender-reassigned woman, everyone associates such surgery with Denmark.
But apparently Burou took up the Danish doctors’ methods quite early on, and with remarkable success. Each of the women relates how Burou’s name was something that was passed around like a magic talisman to men unhappy in their gender.
The film does take us back to Casablanca and the site of the original clinic via Belgian Corinne van Tongerloo. The film’s focus on the five women doesn’t allow Dutch director Michiel van Erp to explore the very interesting question of how an extremely conservative Arab country became a center for gender-reassignment surgery.
In fact, Arab and Muslim countries in general, seem rather accepting of the transgendered, even as they rank among the worst countries in the world for persecuting gay men and lesbians. Iran presents the most extreme case: The one nation where anyone caught in a same-sex situation faces death by hanging, the government passes for reassignment surgery.
Rather than presenting historical talking points, this film presents a slice-of-life look at these women, only one of whom had any regrets at all about their experience in Casablanca. Four of them, particularly, a steely English matriarch whose aristocratic bearing disguises a horrific pre-transition life, and a Dutch beautician, have that chic that seems to come so easily to Europeans (especially the French).
This is a valuable addition to several recent documentaries that have given us a permanent record of the lives of men and women in the years before Stonewall.