Now it all makes sense. Because I was a girl, never a boy. Never a boy,” says the woman on screen, who goes on to introduce herself, “I’m Bee, by the way — formerly known as Charlie.” As a boy, Charlie never questioned why he liked playing with girls and Barbie dolls, even though he was teased relentlessly for it. While growing up, however, Charlie realised that it was about more than just enjoying the company of girls. He wanted to be a girl. It’s Charlie’s journey to finding his true identity as Bee, that the audience explores in Laila Khan’s film, evocatively titled Before I was Me.
“Before I Was Me is a portrayal of a transgender person. The story follows Charlie’s early years as a child, and why as an adult, he makes the choices he does about his sexuality,” says Khan, who will bring her film to India for the first time for multiple screenings in Pune and Mumbai this month. While the 15-minute film is a work of fiction, it delivers a very straightforward message about gender dysphoria — a term used to describe being uncomfortable with one’s assigned gender — through an honest conversation with Charlie. There are heartbreaking sequences where he recalls how no one really understood him, the times he was teased in school, and the day his father abandoned the family.
“I thought it would be an interesting story to tell. I wanted to raise eyebrows and give people something to talk about. Also, I wanted to create awareness about mental health issues and transmit a simple message through my film, not to judge others,” says Khan, adding that the film also explores some of the possible factors of GID (Gender Identity Disorder) such as the absence of a male figure in Charlie’s life and feminine tendencies as a child. “However, the exact cause of gender dysphoria is unknown. Some say it’s biological or a medical problem that can be corrected through surgery, and others simply say it’s psychological,” says Khan, who is based in the UK. As a transsexual person though, Charlie feels very differently. “A lot of people would say what I had was just a state of mind. But it was more than just that. It was all there, in my body… For me, it was a matter of life and death,” he says in the film.
Released in 2009, Before I