It’s still unknown why male seahorses are the ones carrying and birthing offspring, as their female counterparts would exude significantly less energy doing so – half as much, to be exact. Those tiny dwellers of shallow saltwater continue to defy logic, demonstrating that the world doesn’t always have to make sense. Akin to the titular creatures, the transgender protagonist of Jeanie Finlay’s sensitive documentary Seahorse, Freddy McConnell, seemingly bucks the system by deciding to give birth to a child. Yet when said system is continuously morphing, perhaps he doesn’t so much buck it as signify another paradigm shift, wherein seahorses become established in our society, without fear of judgment.
“Akin to the titular creatures, the transgender protagonist… seemingly bucks the system by deciding to give birth to a child…”
“The only trans guy in the village,” Fred is unfazed by what the inhabitants of the quaint seaside town of Deal, Kent, think. Along with his gender-neutral boyfriend CJ – who prefers to be referred to as “they” – Fred “embarks on a journey,” searching for sperm donors to “flood his womb.” Having replaced testosterone with folic acid, he experiences what at first starts as a “mellow trip,” then steadily escalates into emotional fallouts and appetite loss, along with growing concerns over his child’s future and what his still-oblivious family and friends will think once they find out. “For most people, being pregnant is a female experience,” Fred says, deep in a heated debate. To him, it’s a universal experience. Soon he starts to show, and… well, I’ll avoid spoiling the emotional finale.
The one person who sticks with Fred throughout the entire journey is his loving mother, Esme. “What he’s doing is such a brave and amazing thing to do,” she says tearfully, continuously vying for her child’s right to be happy. There are touching sequences of the two reminiscing over family albums, or Fred rummaging through his old stuff, remnants of his old self when he was still a she, obsessed with Sean Bean and Mel Gibson.
“…about the complex bonds we form with our own preconceived notions of what’s ‘normal’…”
Seahorse’s presentation, while intimate and well-pieced-together, comes off a bit flat, considering how truly lyrical and groundbreaking it could have been. Finlay seems to have deliberately chosen a low-key approach, muting some of the doc’s potential impact, while admittedly bringing us closer into its subject’s world. Her film is about bonds – between parent and child, between a human and their identity – but also about the complex bonds we form with our own preconceived notions of what’s “normal.”
Yes, some of those paradigm shifts may be perplexing, both off-putting and wondrous – but maybe it’s our own insecurities flaring. If capable and wanting, why can’t we have the right to experience the best of both worlds? Maybe those seahorses are onto something…
Seahorse (2019) Directed by Jeanie Finlay. Seahorse screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
7 out of 10