“Coby” is a touching and powerful story about the fight to be true to oneself. Christian Sonderegger’s documentary follows Coby, a transgender man from a small American town who fights difficult decisions and prejudices and changes the mindset of his entire family in the process.
From the very beginning, we see the two versions of the hero. We first see Suzanna, a 23-year-old woman from the American Midwest announcing to her YouTube followers that she has started testosterone treatment, the first step on her journey to manhood. Minutes later, we meet Coby, a manly, calm, competent paramedic waiting for the next emergency call. These are both the same person. The documentary doesn’t really discuss the issue of being a woman or a man, but rather, takes a more general approach, discussing how effort, perseverance and time can shape a person, no matter his or her gender. This is a film about change, and not necessarily about changing one’s gender. It’s about choices but not necessarily the choice of becoming transgender.
Sonderegger mixes two journeys undertaken by Coby. Through YouTube posts, we watch Suzanna becoming Coby, over the long months of waiting and analyzing each change in aspect, behavior and mood. But the journey doesn’t end when Coby finally receives confirmation from his doctor that he is now a man. There are new choices to be made. “Changing has consequences. Not changing also has consequences.”
Even if Coby is almost always the center of the film, it follows how the protagonist’s change affects those around him. In well-considered interviews, his mother, father and brother talk about how they had to change in order to accommodate Suzanna’s need to become Coby. This is a story about gender revolution set in the living room of your average American family. Coby’s mother briefly sums up the fundamental simplicity of the change by pointing at two pictures, one of Suzanna before the treatment and one of Coby. She says, “There you are, and there you are. The two yous. Only it’s all you.”
The most endearing and relevant scene in the film is a video made by Coby and his girlfriend Sara early on in his transformation. Only seven weeks into testosterone treatment, a playful Coby hugs Sara from behind and looks into the camera. He flexes his arm so that the viewer can see the manly contours it has been taking on.
At 77 minutes long, the movie is as efficient and as concise as it can be. Every moment is loaded with meaning, from the one when Coby and his father compare their stained, hard-worked hands after they clean the house’s chimney, to a conversation on femininity and emotions that Coby has with female colleagues in the emergency room, while a male colleague listens.
When 21-year-old Susanna announces to the world her decision to start transitioning you are suddenly aware that she has been processing this thought for several years and is now at peace with her choice, but it’s going to be tougher for her family to catch up and totally embrace all the consequences. Sarah her live in girl friend for a few years now, is fully supportive and now that Coby …..the transitional name chosen …. needs testosterone, she is more than happy to even do the injections.
Coby’s family who live close by in the tiny village of Chagrun Falls in Ohio had never even whispered when she had come out as gay, but now struggle to accept their only daughters decision. However after initially failing to persuade her out of it, they slowly came on board. They are a tight knit articulate group and whilst they proffer their genuine support for the lengthy process that Coby must undertake, they still have own concerns on how this change and affect them all. The parent’s discomfort is very real but their undeniable love for their child supersedes any of their own regret.
Coby is now fully transitioned and is now a man who has one final major decision to make. He thinks that one day in the future he would like to be a parent and so would Sara too, but she is adamant that she doesn’t want to have the baby herself. It is a situation that Jacob must weigh up now as he is forced to deal with the fact that he is about to have his uterus removed, and also any chance of him ever bearing a child.
Sonderegger’s emphasis on how the whole family is coping makes this documentary an important contribution to the dialogue on transitioning and is also a thoroughly entertaining documentary.