Southern Comfort, 2001, 2 ½ stars

Out of our comfort zone

From The Orlando Weekly, 2001

There are few movies that can truly alter one’s understanding of a particular societal issue, and Southern Comfort is one of them. This documentary realistically captures on tape and with a fluid camera the world of transsexuals, specifically the final year in the life of Robert, a female-to-male transsexual dying of cancer.

Writer/director Kate Davis and Q-Ball Productions focus on Robert and his small group of friends in rural Georgia as they interact not so much with the society that has shunned them, but with each other. We learn about their past from their friends and old photos, but mostly through their everyday activities. Davis is content to simply let the tape roll, eavesdropping on the unique lifestyle of this group.

“We lose a lot of things,” Lola, a male-to-female transsexual says. “We lose jobs, we lose friends, we lose family.” Yet they all felt compelled to change their gender to achieve sexual, emotional and even spiritual satisfaction at the risk of hurting those close to them.

Southern Comfort refers to the “catillion of the trans community,” as Robert describes it. “It’s the coming-out party” for transsexuals, and much of the film is spent preparing for this annual convention and the emotional speech Robert is to deliver. It’s both the climax of the movie and of a man’s life.

This slow-paced, slice-of-life picture works because it is just that: a quiet glimpse into a part of society that one rarely sees. Although the scenes are flat and uninspired at times, and Davis shys away from fully exposing the sexual and psychological trauma associated with this life change, the documentary is worth seeing simply for its educational and social value.