Subject Headings: documentary, transsexual identity, health care, human rights
Southern Comfort is divided into the last four seasons of the life of Robert Eads, a cowboy from the Toccoa, Georgia backcountry. Director Kate Davis spent one year living with Eads and filming his daily struggle with ovarian cancer. More than a dozen doctors denied Eads treatment because he was a female-to-male transsexual. Unable to receive treatment, the cancer ultimately claimed Eads’ life shortly after he spoke at the 1999 Southern Comfort conference in Atlanta, GA. Southern Comfort, an annual conference for people affected by trans issues,
During the last year of his life, Eads pursued a close relationship with Lola Cola, a male-to-female transsexual. Davis documented their life together, as well as the tensions that resulted within Eads’ “family of choice.” After bearing two sons, a period that he described as both the best and the worst in his life, Eads divorced his husband and lived as a lesbian before undergoing gender reassignment surgery to live as a woman. At the time Davis was filming, Eads lived near several other transsexuals who came out publicly for the first time in the film. Fiercely protective of one another, each member of the family sought to help Eads, who was a father figure and mentor to each. Eads’ biological family, including his parents, son, and grandson, makes a brief appearance, but they still see him as a daughter and father and are unable to relate to the person he has become. The loss of his biological family clearly pains Eads deeply, and he often mentions his grandson, to whom he has always been a man.
Davis highlights the frustration and anger felt by Eads and his friends over the medical establishment’s unwillingness to offer transsexuals parity. Those who underwent gender reassignment surgery shared stories about the expense and the doctors who did a poor job. Footage of Southern Comfort reveals men and women discriminated against and threatened by a system ill equipped to address difference. But as much as the film is about the difficulties faced by transsexuals in America, it also emphasizes the beauty and normalcy of transsexual relationships. By showing both the unity and the divisions within Eads’ chosen family, Davis demonstrates that they are as human as her audience. The film received numerous awards and critical acclaim, including a grand jury prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.
Will Hopkins 2011
Official web site: http://www.nextwavefilms.com/southern/
Southern Comfort web site: http://www.sccatl.org/
World Professional Association for Transgender Health: http://wpath.org/
Meyer, Carla. The transsexual life, Southern style / HBO documentary explores fascinating ‘chosen family’. SFGate.com. 2002. < http://articles.sfgate.com/2002-04-12/entertainment/17538451_1_transsexual-southern-comfort-ovarian>
Mitchell, Elvis. Genders That Shift, but Friends Firm as Bedrock. The New York Times. 2001. < http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B01E5DC1639F932A15751C0A9679C8B63>