“MARKIE IN MILWAUKEE”
“Markie in Milwaukee” is a documentary that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Director Matt Kliegman follows Markie Wenzel, a transgender woman in Wisconsin, as she alternates between male and female identities. She is torn between her innermost desires and the pressures of religion and family. When we first meet her in 2013, she is a he and attempting to destroy photos and evidence of her female self, becoming, once more, Mark Wenzel. We then flash back to the process which was begun in 2005 when Mark became Markie. Mark is a deeply religious man and an evangelical preacher who has long struggled with the woman inside of him and her begging to be set free. He was then married and a father of three and was at a loss, until finally he just came out as Markie. The fact that he was 7 feet tall, weighed 400 pounds and was, in his own words, very masculine, made matters more complicated.
The greater question was whether Mark would accept himself as Markie. Mark/Markie is, actually, a wonderful example for the need for gender-neutral pronouns. The film does not judge Mark/Markie and neither does it give us any easy answers.
Director Kliegman is open to the many different points of view from those who know Markie as both man and woman, whether it’s Markie’s former preacher (who does not favor a fan transition), Markie’s children (who also are not on Markie’s side), or the members of Markie’s transgender community (including a more liberal preacher). We see a great variety of talking-head perspectives on the experience but there is no witness more moving in their testimony, however, than Markie, themself, both then and now.
The film is a frank discussion of an important matter and with its total access to Markie, who enjoys the intimate dissection of his process, even if he is not always sure what that process means. All we now is that Markie is a complex human being, in all their marvelous complexity and we really do not have to know any more than that.
Lately we have had documentaries have center on individuals who either transitioned or are transitioning but this is something really special. Mark Wenzel, who was born male, began living publicly as female eight years ago and has now decided to de-transition; that is, to resume his male identity. The film is a chronicle of Wenzel attempting to re-integrate himself into the world he left behind, as well as a look into his so that we may gain a better understanding of what shaped his very unique journey.
Kliegman goes back to the photographs, audio recordings, and video of Mark going all the way back to his youth. Through these, we get a sense of just how long he had been wrestling with the desire to be female and how much effort he put into trying to deny it for much of his life. Before transitioning to become Markie Anna, Wenzel married and became a devout Christian minister, but then years later, he became firmly estranged from both. His adult still seem confused by their father’s past actions, and during one especially heartbreaking interview, his daughter admits her belief that Mark broke up the family because she didn’t make him happy enough.
Wenzel then gives up being Markie Anna in an effort to re-connect with both his family and the fundamentalist Baptist church he had belonged to. Now in his mid-50s, he wears men’s clothing again, and he describes himself as having been “wicked.” He chastises himself and we get the impression that throughout the time Wenzel spent transitioning, some part of Markie Anna felt it was wrong and a sin against her creator. He is a walking paradox yet as Markie Anna she was free and comfortable.
The fact that Wenzel himself could view Markie Anna as immoral comes across like a terrible rush to judgment, yet we also understand how isolated an existence Wenzel leads, and we come to understand just how much that wore Markie Anna down during the eight years he spent transitioning. His former fundamentalist Baptist pastor has little regard for transgender persons, but in Wenzel’s heart, it is still his church.
Real suspense derives less on whether he gets back what he lost but what will be the cost of doing so. The film closes on an optimistic note, suggesting the possibility of both.
There was the loneliness of being Markie especially in the fundamentalist, evangelist churches makes Markie an outcast. A friend and Minister explains, God created man and God created woman and all this transgender stuff is just not natural! This explains
why Markie is so on his own. No-one from his religion or will associate with them, let alone approve of their decision. During the first half of this documentary, Markie is in a very dark place.
Markie interacts with her new “friends” in the local trans community. But those are poor affairs since Markie seeks approval for her decision from a group that gives back little of real substance. Her family has left her. Her wife is gone; her children will have nothing to do with her. This is the exact opposite of the typical transition documentary. Markie is on her own and ostracized by all the nice Christian persons whose approval she once enjoyed.
He says that while “on the brink of disaster, God showed up and called [him] back.” Mark is welcomed back into the church and for the most part his family welcomes him back. Being Markie meant permanent exile from all she held dear. Post-transition Mark says, “I’ve sinned and deserve to be punished.”
Being trans in Bible Belt America is a very lonely thing and has no place for a middle-aged, blue collar fundamentalist.The documentary was shot over a ten year period and it wonderfully captures tone and mood rather better than it sets out the narrative that jumps back and forth to Mark before and after and in-between and is at times quite confusing. Yet, the truth we see is that a community whose central claim is that it loves the sinner is unable to love the trans person.
Please excuse my lack of ability to use pronouns here.