Transgenderism, as a concept, has always existed. However, it is only in more recent times that literature and cinema have given it open recognition. This can be viewed as a direct consequence of an increasing liberal society that has begun to accept its pneumaticity.
The film and literature media have often sought to portray unorthodoxy and nonconformity through their subjects. Thus, their extensive contribution to the transgender keynote barely comes as a surprise. Today, the theory of transgenderism is open to personal interpretation for those who are studying it. For instance, Ballad of Little Jo by Maggie Greenwald, Ma vie en rose by Alain Berliner and I Am my Own Woman by Rosa von Praunheim , are three such films that illustrate the subject in three different lights. The protagonist in each film faces identity crisis arising from being non-conventionally gendered. The difference lies in the treatment meted out to the subjects by the directors of these films.
Ma vie en rose deals with a sensitive issue like transgenderism with humor. Berliner’s input of satire is not blatant, but rather put forth in little doses of amusing dialogues or situations. For instance, the idea of Ludovic, the protagonist, often dressing up as a girl or admiring a blond poster girl’s face on the streets can appear comic. Ludovic’s innocence and softness touches the audience, making the film a light watch. At the same time, the fact that he is a young boy confused by his affinity towards feminine things makes the viewers sympathize for him.
I Am my Own Woman, on the other hand, adopts a completely opposite approach. The film, set initially in Hitler’s time and then post-Nazi Germany, has a gloomy feel to it. Praunheim explicitly divulges into the sexual life and experiences of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, the protagonist. Constantly dealing with deaths, separations and loneliness, the film is not for the frail-hearted. The film depicts the troubled life of a transvestite.
Ballad of Little Jo, stands on the middle ground. Greenwald realistically tells the story of a society woman who flees a pregnancy scandal to the American West and lives as a disguised man for the rest of her life. In this film, unlike Charlotte, Jo is not a man aspires to live like a free 21st century woman, but a woman who is forced to live as a man to forget her past. Her sexual orientation remains the same, though her sex, so to say, changes. Thus, transgenderism, in this particular piece, is painted differently than in Praunheim’s work.
On close analysis of all three, it is safe to say that Ballad of Little Jo most aptly presents the concept of transgenderism to the audience. In Ma vie en Rose, the gravity of the situation and Ludovic’s personal battle against his parents and town could have perhaps been far more traumatic than shown by Berliner. The film deals with a serious issue with less seriousness than it deserves. I Am my Own Woman, on the other hand, overexposes the matter, pushing it to the extremes, to the point of causing discomfort to the audience. The film has explicit views on homosexuality and sexuality. Though Ballad of Little Jo boldly displays eroticism too, it keeps the story grounded without stretching it too far, unlike Praunheim’s film. Ballad of Little Jo does not mock Jo or Josephine’s tragedy. It does not try too hard to evoke sympathy from the audience by overexposing the issue either. Thus, it is easily relatable and follows the rule of simplicity to draw its audience.