Movie Review : Trained in the Ways of Men (2007)



Recognizable Faces:

Sylvia Guerrero
Gwen Araujo

Directed By:

Michelle "Shelly" Prévost

On any given day, I find movie taglines absolutely ridiculous. They are made to sell you a product, not to accurately describe the viewing experience. TRAINED IN THE WAYS OF MEN's tagline is: "You will never think about gender in the same way again". That's not ridiculous at all, because this documentary will definitively challenge your beliefs. The cliché expression "though-provoking" also applies here. Shelly Prévost's movie adresses a single event, but a very deep issue. The fate we reserve to transgender people as a society. It's easy to watch TRAINED IN THE WAYS OF MEN and shake your head, feeling sorry for people. But Shelly Prévost is a clever director, so she turns the question unto to YOU. What would you do, if you found out that your lover or your "person of interest" per se was a trans gender? Not so easy, when you can't judge from a distance.

Michael Magidson, Jose Merel, Jaron Nabors and Jason Cazares found out that the girl they knew as Lida (Gwen) had male genitalia, so they decided to beat the shit out of her and choke her to death in their garage. Yeah, not cool. I know. Even worse, they used something known as the gay/trans panic defense in their trial. Using this, you could lower the charges against you, because it was seen as acceptable that learning about somebody being transgender can turn you into a rabid ape for a small window of time. Prévost used as a counter-example the case of Estanislao Martinez, who got only four years of prison to repeatedly stabbing Joel Robles with a pair of scissors after finding out he was not a woman. That's where the murder of Gwen Araujo at least didn't go unpunished and served a purpose for other transgenders. The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims act was ratified in 2006 by the Gübernator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger and made the gay/trans panic defense illegal to use in a court of law. Hard to believe, but he did some good too.

The four boys who killed Gwen Araujo weren't gangbangers or tough guys whatsoever. They were stupid kids, who changed into wild beasts for an evening. The surprise is understandable. Gwen was a beautiful transgender girl and word was that Jose Merel was in love with her. Watching TRAINED IN THE WAYS OF MEN and making the perspective exercise, what's so bad about finding out about a transgender person? Yeah, there's an issue of trust, especially if feelings were involved and I can understand the repulsion to a certain degree *. But come on. Transgender people aren't wigged-up boogeyman preying on your inner closet homosexual. They are people who suffer because they are born in the wrong body. Born with a woman brain and a woman heart, but in a man's body. What would you do if it was you? Would you try to hide it? Can you really blame a seventeen years old girl for wanting to go out with boys? That's not so easy to answer. Transgender might seem like an aberration on the first look, but they are people who live with a tremendous amount of existential pain and they find a way to make it work.

What's a woman? Is it only something anatomic or it has to do with a way of being? Honestly, how many of you would have guessed Nong Toom wasn't always a woman? If you love a person, love the way she looks, the way she is, does it really matter what's in her pants? Gwen's mother, Sylvia Guerrero has since then dedicated her life to educate people about those questions. The made the cause of transgender people get forward like no one else. She got Gwen a posthumous name change (her male name was Eddie), she got the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims act ratified. Transgender people sleep a little more soundly because of her. TRAINED IN THE WAYS OF MEN is a testament to those efforts. It's also a memorial to Gwen, to how she didn't die in vain.

The documentary was visibly made with very little ressources, but the DIY aesthetic adds to its charm. A defense lawyer sitting on a chair, in between a camera and a black curtain will feel a little naked and incomfortable. Shelly Prévost put some very intense suit-wearing men on the spot and got some interesting information out of them. The murder of Gwen Araujo changed the law and TRAINED IN THE WAYS OF MEN will change the way you look at sexual identity. It's a flint for debate in your household.

SCORE: 94%

* Yeah, I do. I don't say it's impossible to fall in love with a transgender person, but it would sure take a lot of love and open-mindedness to overcome the you know, "in-between". Maybe it's not the case in Thailand where ladyboys are part of the culture, but I don't want to pretend I'm more progressive than I really am.


I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an excellent documentary, Ben. Excellent and nuanced review. I'll have to check it out.