Growing Up Coy is a documentary with both political and social impact. It focuses on the Mathis family, in particular their transgender daughter Coy and her right to use the school bathroom of the gender she identifies with. As their son Max says simply during the movie, ‘it’s about Coy, as a boy, turning into a girl’, and there’s something about seeing the other Mathis children being so unfazed by Coy’s transition that is truly striking. The documentary is then not only about the landmark court case that the family fought, it is also a depiction of a normal family fighting for their rights.
“all you can ask yourself is this: why can’t we just let this little girl be a girl?”
The simplicity, or rather normalcy, of the situation is presented from the offset. Coy’s parents, Kathryn and Jeremy, stare into the camera in preparation for their first filmed interview. They are nervous but jokey, with Kathryn clicking her neck as she gets ready. It is a scene that should have been cut, but it is also one of the most important. It sets up the idea that these are just regular parents, doing what they think is best to fight for their daughter’s rights. Throughout we have these private moments captured on camera, from funny and sweet to melancholy as the parent’s relationship breaks down. Director Eric Juhola told us of the difference between the media and them, as it was ‘not like we came in and filmed for an hour and then left’. Instead Juhola and his team filmed with the family over the course of three years, and the documentary benefits hugely from this. We are given a private look into the family by people who themselves were trusted by them. There is a sweet moment when Kathryn is asking Coy about how she feels when people ask her uncomfortable questions, and after Coy replies, Kathryn tells her ‘you’re so dramatic’.
This documentary is different because it doesn’t feel at all staged or pervasive. It feels like we have been fit into their normal chaotic life, with Kathryn talking while doing household chores like shovelling snow or cleaning a kitchen counter. In this there is something organic about watching the film; it transcends the typical documentary style and is much more personal. There is an interesting scene where Max is feeling left out because of all the attention Coy is receiving, and we have a whole part dedicated to him. In it we are left alone with Max, who is pretending to be a robot and playing with a doll. He begins to talk about how robots could not understand a boy becoming a girl, and it is clear that it is something that he is also working through.
Despite the title being Growing Up Coy, this is perhaps misleading. The film is about the whole Mathis family, and going beyond that it is about a family who have had to support a transitioning transgender daughter in a country where their rights are not protected. The film is ground-breaking because of this, and I hope that it will help convince conservatives and liberals alike the importance of transgender rights. The film ends and all you can ask yourself is this: why can’t we just let this little girl be a girl?
Image: Eric Juhola