So there’s this movie Cloud Atlas, which is based on this novel by David Mitchell. The novel is structured like a series of nested dolls, telling seven distinct stories that unexpectedly link together. The first chapter is half of Story 1, then the second chapter is half of Story 2, and at first, they don’t seem related. But then… boom. There’s a random reference in Story 2 that’s totally about Story 1.
Anyway, it’s a big, sprawling story, and the movie is going to be equally ambitious. Superstar actors like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are playing characters in each of the stories, which makes it even clearer that everyone is linked. Oh, look! Halle’s a reporter in the 1970s, and she’s an android future lady! Here’s an extended trailer:
I’m looking forward to this movie because I enjoyed the novel (even if I thought there was a troubling subtext about gay male sex always leading to violence or death.) But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Right now, I’m really interested in this clip of the movie’s directors: Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana):
This is an important clip because it’s Lana’s first major appearance as a fully out trans woman. Back when the Wachowskis were making the Matrix films, Lana identified as Larry, but over several years, it was revealed that Lana was stepping forward.
If this is the first you’ve heard of it, don’t be surprised. The Wachowskis have been very, very press-shy, so there was never a grand “I’m trans” article in the newspaper or a “Life as Lana” special on Good Morning America. Instead, Lana came out very quietly… even more quietly (and even longer ago) than Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean and all the others celebrities who have been part of the low-key closet-smashing movement.
As the publicity ramps up for Cloud Atlas, that big “I’m trans” story may finally emerge, but I’ll be surprised if it does. This video appeared online last week without fanfare, and the focus is entirely on the film, not Lana’s identity. My guess is that future conversations will be about the work, too.
And I love that. Lana Wachowski has been able to live in her trans identity without anyone making a big honking deal about it. For the time being, she’s being treated an artist first—and artist who happens to be trans—and to me, that sends a very powerful message that trans people are just people. Like… there are other things to talk about. Like the work.
Granted, the press could be avoiding the issue because the Wachowskis refuse to discuss it, and lord knows, there are plenty of commenters on the YouTube video who can’t seem to talk about anything else. And here I am, calling attention to Lana’s identity right now.
But still. Despite all that, it’s inspiring to see how much of a non-issue Lana’s identity has been. It hasn’t stopped her from directing a major movie starring major stars. It hasn’t become the obsessive focus of gossip magazines. And like I said, that sends the message that being trans is fine, that it’s normal and not a huge deal. It sends the message that we can regard trans people like we regard all people.
And wouldn’t it be nice if it could always be that way? If trans people could just go through their lives and do things on their own terms and call attention to whatever they wanted to call attention to… even if it had nothing to do with their sex or gender?
Of course, many trans artists make work that’s about being trans, and that’s important. But if Lana Wachowski wants to be a trans person who makes art about other stuff, that’s important, too. Everyone should get to decide for themselves what they want to talk about. And for this moment, at least, it looks like the world is letting that happen.
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He has written about gay rights and politics for The New York Times, The Advocate, Out, and American Theatre.