Recently released indie film 52 Tuesdays opens with teenager Billie receiving some news: her mother is going to undergo gender transition. The story moves quickly from that momentous occasion, jumping from Tuesday, to Tuesday, to Tuesday – 52 times, all up. It’s on Tuesday afternoons that Billie sees her mother, James, and also on that one afternoon per week that the entirety of this unique film is set.
Whilst the lack of information and context that the audience initially receives about James’ experience and rationality is not inherently a bad thing, it is unfortunate that we don’t get this engagement for the entire duration of the film. 52 Tuesdays explores a handful of productive themes, including sex-positive depictions and the complexity of gender. However it fails to positively engage with the trans* experience which is currently needed in film.
The story of James and his identity is explored solely through the lens of his daughter; used only as a backdrop to Billie’s growth and interactions. In one scene, Billie’s uncle tells her “Don’t be like your mother”. He doesn’t mean “Don’t be trans*,” but rather, “Don’t be indecisive,” referring to the fact that it took James until he was age 48 to come out. This kind of identity awareness is a constant theme in 52 Tuesdays, but it is only ever brought up by surrounding characters. There is never appropriate time given to James’s engagement with his own decisions and identity, and while there is a short scene of James speaking with his lover about this, it is too quick and unfortunately feels out of context.
The lack of engagement with the actual experience of a trans* person in 52 Tuesdays unfortunately makes for superficial character development. James is unable to continue with testosterone treatment, but the overwhelming trauma of this is crammed into about five minutes, quickly portraying the difficulties this presents for James, and is then never addressed again. You are only ever given insight into his experience from Billie’s perspective and how it affects her.
Although sorely lacking in its direct engagement with trans* narratives, the film does successfully explore Billie’s own coming to terms with her sexuality, while avoiding the need for Billie to define herself. It presents a refreshingly raw and realistic depiction of a young, teenage woman exploring sex without any sort of guilt or suggestion of abnormality.
Additionally, the subversion of the definition of ‘mother’ was a highlight of the queer themes in 52 Tuesdays, with James adopting he/his pronouns but choosing to keep the label “Mum”.
Whilst the representations provided by 52 Tuesdays are not always in themselves problematic, the film is perhaps slightly pre-emptive. While the experiences of children of trans* people are incredibly important, actual trans narratives continue to wait in the wings, untold. There are hardly any portrayals that focus on trans people in film, fewer still of older people transitioning, and none of older people transitioning with children. Until actual engagement with the trans community is explored, stories such as 52 Tuesdays should not take priority.