One of the most solidified religious traditions in Danish culture is the Lutheran coming-of-age ritual, the “confirmation,” in which teens confirm their faith in God and officially enter adulthood.
Marie-Louise Damgaard’s short film aptly titled The Confirmation (Konfirmanden) follows the story of a teenager’s day of confirmation – where its central conflict is in the community’s reception to his gender transition. The story is largely framed through his mother, a hyper-feminine strong-willed matriarchal figure introduced by an artful opening shot of her applying blush and bright red lipstick. She wears a red dress accentuated by sparkles and lace, while she helps her transitioning son bind his breasts to then don a black tuxedo. The contrast between the two family members is clear, thematically, and visually. Matthias’ mother is sensitive and helpful but fundamentally seems unable to relate or understand Matthias’ feelings. The film effectively gets across the distance between the two characters.
At his confirmation, Matthias is faced with direct and indirect bullying based on his gender – the priest calls Matthias by his birth name Karine, a boy in his cohort asks explicitly about his genitals and how he uses the toilet, and when Matthias’ mother confronts the behavior, she’s met with the classic phrase, “boys will be boys.” The conflict in the film does not come from a unique or unheard angle, though it feels right to spotlight the abuse frequently subscribed to those who undergo gender transition.
“…she helps her transitioning son bind his breasts to then don a black tuxedo.”
What feels like most important and most political act comes from Matthias’ mother, who shouts down Matthias’ bullies through highlighting some very real statistics. Denmark is frequently cited as one of the happiest places to live in the world and has some of the strongest regulations to protect the rights of those who identify as LGBT, but compared to Norway, the Danes are rather behind. No more than four years ago, Denmark removed trans people from the list of mental illnesses. Still, the minimum age for gender transitioning is 18 years old, and even then, there is a six-month waiting period to start hormone therapy.
However real this is to Matthias, it is his mother who stands up to the crowd and contextualizes her son’s hardships. Damgaard’s filmmaking is kind, and shows that his mother’s approach is with Matthias in mind – but becomes increasingly more concerning as she draws attention to Matthias’ body and development without his permission. It’s a rather simple case of a teenager being embarrassed by their mother but implemented dexterously and sensitively. Ultimately, it becomes obvious that this is a mother protecting herself rather than the interests of her son. It’s frustrating for us to watch Matthias’ own voice be taken away by a mother who aims only to protect him. Matthias, thankfully, does stand up for himself.
The Confirmation ultimately calls attention to people who want to be an ally to their trans friends and loved ones, but do so sometimes without thought or consideration. As Matthias’ mother is in a position of privilege amongst her community as a white woman performing femininity, her outspokenness is easy – however, inconsiderate of her son’s feelings. The resolution of the film comes when Matthias agrees to come to his mother with any problems in exchange for his mother’s promise to “try” not to meddle in his life. For such a political, emotional, and religious tone, it feels like an abrupt and thoughtless end.
Played by trans teen and newcomer Xean Peake, Matthias’s character is worked through by an obviously less experienced actor who struggles to move past a general look of malaise. The generalist writing indeed detracts from a potentially radical and unique take on the experience of a trans teen and his voice being taken away by his cisgender, heterosexual, white mother.