SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2024 REVIEW! Taking on a subject with the complexity and radiance of a diamond is the horizon-expanding documentary-drama hybrid Desire Lines, written by Nate Gualtieri and directed by Jules Rosskam. The film is an invitation to a realm most folks don’t know exists: the world of trans men who live and love as gay men. Interviews with several trans men explore many questions someone outside the community would ask if they dared. The topic of why a woman would become a man only to have sex with men is tackled head-on.
Also explored are the misconceptions as well as expected challenges. There is a dramatic wraparound story set in a queer history archive. In it, Ahmad (Aden Hakimi) is researching, and the handy archive attendant Kieran (Theo Germaine) is ready to assist. Ahmad is studying men’s bathhouses that existed prior to their mass shutdown in the 1980s. Such a place was a spa that operates as a private club where men can have sex with each other, usually anonymously.
“…the world of trans men who live and love as gay men.”
Kieran informs Ahmad about the pioneering activist Lou Sullivan, the first trans man to live publicly as a gay man. Tragically, Sullivan would eventually succumb to AIDS in the early 1990s. It was a fate he fully embraced since it validated all the years he strived to be accepted as a gay man. While immersed in the past, Ahmad has visions of himself in the bathhouses of yesteryear, and he runs into Kieran there.
Desire Lines is one of the rare occasions where most of the audience is granted access to something that is absolutely none of their business. It’s uncanny how most questions are picked out of your head and answered on screen, especially the brass tacks, just as you form them. Yes, some trans men still have their vaginas, and they sometimes use them when having sex with gay men. This is something not all gay men are into; however, plenty are. There are people who fetishize trans men to the point of treating them like vending machines instead of individuals.
"…the audience is granted access to something that is absolutely none of their business."