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Lilly Wachowski, co-director of the Matrix trilogy, comes out as trans

Lilly Wachowski
Lilly Wachowski in a self-portrait that accompanied her announcement.
Windy City Times
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Lilly Wachowski, one half of the directing duo best known for the Matrix trilogy, has come out as a trans woman in a statement released to Windy City Media Group. Wachowski's sister and co-director, Lana Wachowski, is also a trans woman. Together, the two are by far the most prominent trans filmmakers in the Hollywood community.

Lilly Wachowski decided to make her announcement after a journalist from the British newspaper the Daily Mail showed up at her doorstep to tell her that the paper would be printing a story about her transition and hoped she would take part. She writes:

My sister Lana and I have largely avoided the press. I find talking about my art frustratingly tedious and talking about myself a wholly mortifying experience. I knew at some point I would have to come out publicly. You know, when you're living as an out transgender person it's … kind of difficult to hide. I just wanted—needed some time to get my head right, to feel comfortable.

But apparently I don't get to decide this.

Lilly Wachowski's decision both allows her to tell her story in her own way (though perhaps not on her own timeline) and gives the story to a news organization that could not be more different from the Daily Mail.

Of her transition, Wachowski writes:

Being transgender is not easy. We live in a majority-enforced gender binary world. This means when you're transgender you have to face the hard reality of living the rest of your life in a world that is openly hostile to you.

I am one of the lucky ones. Having the support of my family and the means to afford doctors and therapists has given me the chance to actually survive this process. Transgender people without support, means and privilege do not have this luxury. And many do not survive. In 2015, the transgender murder rate hit an all-time high in this country. A horrifying disproportionate number of the victims were trans women of color. These are only the recorded homicides so, since trans people do not all fit in the tidy gender binary statistics of murder rates, it means the actual numbers are higher.


But these words, "transgender" and "transitioned" are hard for me because they both have lost their complexity in their assimilation into the mainstream. There is a lack of nuance of time and space. To be transgender is something largely understood as existing within the dogmatic terminus of male or female. And to "transition" imparts a sense of immediacy, a before and after from one terminus to another. But the reality, my reality is that I've been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life, through the infinite that exists between male and female as it does in the infinite between the binary of zero and one. We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.

Read her entire statement at Windy City Media Group.

The Wachowskis' films have always embraced the fluidity of identity

The fact that both Wachowski sisters are trans women will inevitably color critical readings of their films. Indeed, such reconsiderations have already taken place in the context of Lana's gender identity. (Lana publicly confirmed her own transition in 2012.)

But even before either sister publicly confirmed her trans status, it was obvious that their films were fascinated by the idea that identity is not as fixed as it is assumed to be. The 2012 film Cloud Atlas posits the idea of one soul living multiple lives, across genders and races, while their Netflix TV series Sense8 is an action spectacular about eight people from around the globe who semi-share a consciousness.

They've also made several films with characters on the LGBTQ spectrum. Their breakthrough film, 1996's Bound, was hailed at the time as groundbreaking in terms of lesbian representation in film. It's also a corking little thriller, which exemplifies the Wachowskis' approach: Take a lot of heady ideas, themes, and philosophical notions, then bury them inside a more conventional storytelling framework.

Even the duo's most famous work is filled with allusions to identity being a construct. The Matrix trilogy is full of characters who are one thing in reality but quite another within the computer simulation of the matrix, to say nothing of the way the "reality" of the computer simulation gives way to something else once you realize the truth.

The Wachowskis' cinematic ambitions sometimes exceed their grasp (see: their most recent film, 2015's Jupiter Ascending), but their films are always, at the very least, highly original and concerned with the various intricacies of human identity. It will be fascinating to see how they pursue those notions going forward. Their next announced project is season two of Sense8, which will film this year.