Director: Jeanie Finlay
Words – Rhiannon Topham
Storytelling is at its most powerful when it contextualises macro societal topics in small but intimate ways. Making public the personal and private brings nuance and sensitivity to lived experiences that are otherwise only accessible via the not-always-sympathetic news media or – an even more terrifying space – social networks.
Jeanie Finlay’s Seahorse is at once individual and universal. Freddy, a 30-year-old transgender man, has decided he wants a baby, and to carry the child himself. This means coming off testosterone and enduring the physiological rollercoaster of a body and mind competing against one another, browsing sperm donors online and then undergoing excruciating artificial insemination sessions. The first attempt fails, his partner ends things, and attenuating levels of testosterone takes its toll in every possible way.
The moment Freddy spots the little blue cross on his pregnancy test confirming a positive result, all the doubts and frustrations melt away, albeit temporarily. Freddy himself admits, despite the extensive research and preparation, he was still relatively naive. He is fortunate enough to have a network of supportive peers and immediate family members, and is resolute enough to set boundaries with those who have a negative opinion of his choices. This safe space of acceptance and belonging is why viewers never learn Freddy’s ‘dead’ female name, and the notion of autonomous identity the reason we never learn of his baby’s name, either.
Finlay’s direction situates Freddy’s phenomenal life and story among quotidian details – walking the dog, going to the gym, he and his partner’s matching slippers – to distance axiomatic desires to create life from parochial expectations of transgender experiences. A particular scene in which a more conservative member of Freddy’s family starts a folderol discussion to use biology as a pretence for the pregnancy’s abnormality exemplifies the disconnect between ‘common knowledge’ and the actualities of identity. In another, Freddy reads through a lengthy document given to him by a midwife and crosses out all of the gendered pronouns; ‘pregnant mother’ becomes ‘pregnant person’ and ‘she’ becomes ‘they’.
The moment one gives birth is incredibly personal, and although you know Freddy’s child is coming, the moment they arrive is a remarkable moment to witness. It’s interesting that as soon as the child is born, the midwife announces “it’s a boy!” – Finlay presents this without protest and without controversy, instead letting father and child immerse themselves quietly in the beauty and pain of this most natural of occurrences.
Details of Seahorse at Sheffield Doc/Fest can be found here: