When Kimberly and Jane look into the documentary film, From This Day Forward, they see past the dad who would be mom to the mom who was the unsung hero of their marriage. It’s not every extraordinary couple that makes it to the big screen to tell a story of how respect, as much as love, is the key to a family’s happiness. We have a daughter to thank for that.
From This Day Forward is a documentary by a young woman film director named Sharon Shattuck who returns home to plan her wedding with the help of her parents. We learn that the filmmaker’s father Michael came out as a transgender individual when Sharon was only thirteen and started living as a woman named Trisha. I expected and could understand, the turmoil that such a dramatic life event would cause for Sharon as a child and her little sister. But what became even more remarkable and interesting for me while watching this film was not the shock of a father turning into “mother’ but the fact that the actual mother Marcia decided to stay with Trisha and indeed, became the lifelong, loving and beloved partner to someone she didn’t bargain for when originally getting married. Marcia, to me, was the real star of this tale. Trisha and Marcia’s love story is highly unconventional and the most poignant thing to me about this film.
I think you’re right; Marcia is the heart of the story. As the film begins, it’s Trisha, the dad-mother woman-in-a-man’s body, who holds center stage but as Sharon asks questions, shares reflections, and illustrates her family story with old and new photos and videos, it’s Marcia we want to know more about. Of course, Marcia was a woman who accepted her husband’s cross-dressing from the beginning of her marriage. So, we know she’s already more open than might be expected from outside observers.
When Marcia and Michael Shattuck were married they were young hippies and as we hear them reminisce about their origin a portrait emerges of Michael as a shy, sweet man who was content being a stay at home dad while Marcia supported the family as a doctor. This is clearly a strong woman in an already untraditional role of willing breadwinner, as her husband also seemed content in his more domestic place. He already fulfilled the more feminine aspects of a family and was passionate about doing so. We don’t sense any conflict in this role reversal and it is refreshing.
We also get a sense of him as a passionate person, deeply in love with Marcia. He pursued her avidly and wanted children. Both sisters were a little surprised to hear their mother didn’t really want children, didn’t see herself as a mother. They thought she was a great mom, involved and loving. And Sharon has video to prove it. But dad was a hands-on dad, there for every event and fully visible whether in drag or pants. As Michael became Trisha, more creative activities filled the household and I got the sense home life was a lot of fun. Michael admits he could’ve been more sensitive to the difficulties his daughters faced in the community but I kept thinking how much worse he could’ve been. He definitely put a priority on family.
When his young daughters found a picture of him dressed as a woman at ages 5/6 and 7/8, it caused hard truths to emerge within the happy family. We come to understand that Michael’s secrets were known prior to Marcia, but until the discovery by their daughters, we get the impression that it was something that Marcia abided. When this emerged, there was a temporary moment when the couple announced to their children that they would get a divorce. Did Marcia feel that she was forced to move toward divorce to protect her children? Then we find out the divorce didn’t happen, in fact, it was never spoken about again. This mention in the film is so minor yet represents to me one of the crucial moments of the story. In her decision to stay with the man whom she loved, regardless of the difficulty this would present in her life, her husband’s life, and her children’s life, Marcia became my hero. She was not getting the man she married anymore, but a new version of him. She had to readjust her own Cinderella story in order to free the person she loved from pain. She needed to potentially hurt her own children to honor this love, which simultaneously taught her children a lesson about true love and acceptance. She also needed to redefine her own path and expectations. But in doing all of this, she deeply informed what would later come to be an appreciation of her stance when her girls grew up realizing their mother provided an example in how to unconditionally love.
Marcia admits to Sharon that she kept pretty quiet about how she felt and thought about Michael’s changes through the years. This is one of those instances where we get shown more than told about how she evolved in the marriage. One thing that’s missing in the film is any conversation between Marcia and Michael/Trisha about how they handled conflict or judgment from others. I would guess Marcia thrived on Trisha’s great enthusiasm, inventiveness and fearless participation in social activities. She says, at one point, that she’d been encouraged by her husband to do whatever she wanted to do and to be good at it. We see the results of that attitude in the girls who are outgoing, accomplished and – with Sharon – brave enough to turn a highly unusual family story into a festival winning film.
But Marcia’s sacrifice and revision of her own love story are not that of a martyr or a victim. She received fruitful returns. By holding space for the liberation of Michael’s restraints, allowing his true self Trisha to bloom, she got a partner and companion in life that defied traditional romantic relationships. Trisha doted on her. They mushroom hunted together and are seen throughout doing many whimsical things and engaging in an enviable camaraderie. We watch their interactions and revel at their mutual respect and admiration. We know how uncomfortable it must have been for Marcia to assimilate into her communities at work, home, and in the children’s school environments with a husband who roamed the grocery stores in skirts and chaperoned the girls’ dances in his pearls. Yet Marcia remained by Trisha’s side as she developed her femininity, undergoing surgeries to appear more womanly, all the while maintaining her own interests, life and career. It becomes a story that champions the idea that life is too short to not live one’s full truth even if that truth is uncomfortable and ruffles the waters of all around you.
I do wish we would’ve seen more of Marcia’s life outside the marriage as well as in. I was delighted to see the eye-catching, ruby red, off the shoulder dress she chose for Sharon’s wedding. And, seeing her blossom as mother-of-the-bride made it irresistible for Trisha to perform the role of manly husband for her, clad in a tux for this special night. We saw a fair amount of Trisha on her own – e.g., painting art that was both beautiful and revealing of the inner struggles of a transgender person, interacting with the girls and shopping in dresses, playing the banjo with other musicians, and freely wandering neighborhoods. But there was precious little about Marcia’s life outside work, expressed in words or activities. I could feel the love everyone in the family felt for one another but I had to guess more about Marcia than the others.
I also liked the honesty in the film. Regardless of the way the family flexed to handle Trisha’s truth, it is indeed, and will forever remain uncomfortable. When daughter Sharon asks Trisha why she didn’t just leave early on to make all their lives easier, why she didn’t recognize the trouble it would cause emotionally to all of them, Trisha said that she loved being a father, that she loved Marcia, that the pain of living a lie was worse in her eyes than the pain of persevering through the pain with a family, as hard as that would be. And it’s true. We see that Trisha was a remarkable father, that this was her true place in life where she wanted to be. Her alternative was to live closeted and with depression, to even become suicidal. We wouldn’t want that for anyone as much as we also relate to the challenges the whole family had to face as she flamboyantly began to express herself. Her joy of expression came at a cost to the family yet later, as Sharon makes this documentary, we see that the cost has reversed itself—that pain was an investment in what would become a fully realized and solid family.
I guess it will come to some viewers as a huge surprise that love is gentled into existence despite huge gaps in expectations. One of the things I really like about this film is its insistence that alternative gender identification in relationship is so ordinary. Don’t I wish … this film be re-made with a conventional marriage meeting failed expectations with such acceptance.
Yet Michael’s liberation did not come without its own consequences and sacrifice, or shall we say in the lexicon of healthy relationships, its own compromise. This was not a one-sided road. When Michael pondered sex reassignment surgery, Marcia put her foot down and admitted that although she could accept cross-dressing Trisha, she in fact was not attracted to women and would not be able to stay in the relationship with Trisha if she indeed became an anatomical lady. So that is what Trisha sacrificed for the woman she loved, for the woman who liberated her. And when Sharon asked her point blank if she and her mother were still intimate, she was heartily delighted when Trisha said yes. We come to see Trisha and Marcia’s love as a soulful negotiation, as one that flexes, merges, and dips into hard waters but that continues to emerge refreshed and renewed by this committed lifelong partnership. Are either of them completely happy with the road they stand on together? Is anyone in any relationship? Yet their undeniable sense of unity is profound and true.
I liked that Marcia drew the line when Trisha considered sex-change genital surgery. I liked it even more when Trisha, liking the intimacy they had, decided against it. No one in the film goes into ‘what’ kind of sex they have but there’s no doubt they have physical intimacy that gives them both pleasure. It, like the cross-dressing, left the bedroom and became part of their everyday life for all of us to see and enjoy.
We could all learn a lesson from this to take into our own lives. Real love and companionship is deeper then sex and gender. There are no relationship models for Marcia and Trisha to ascribe to or yearn to emulate for theirs is one created completely by their own hands and circumstance. What a grand idea! Two people merging into a unit that is uniquely concocted one hundred percent from an original mold. One that is capable, in its strength, to contain both light and dark, both love and hate, both comfort and discomfort.
Well said. I would add that there’s conventional thinking that a commitment of merger into relationship interferes with individual growth. These two people present a stark contrast to that thinking. Before our eyes, with some expert filmmaking by Sharon Shattuck, we see two young people evolve into extraordinary persons. In particular I like the way Sharon uses her own wedding as a metaphor for “From This Day Forward” when, for her, the Day began when she was thrust into a new definition of her own family. Here she is now starting her own journey into marriage, revamping tradition for us all with her film.
When Sharon was 13 years old, and Michael was just beginning to discover his real identity, he happily told her that he couldn’t wait to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day in a dress. Sharon remembers feeling horrified and ashamed and dreadful about this at the time. She remembers feeling mortified on school field trips where the very involved Trisha accompanied her class. Sharon, and her sister, spent much of their fragile teenage years in this state of awkwardness. Sharon asked her mother about how hard it must have been to know that her children were dealing with this and Marcia didn’t reply with platitudes or excuses or even reasons. She just said that, yes, it was very difficult. How does one both love and protect her own children from these feelings while also remaining true to her own love? It is an emotional tug of war Marcia must have felt daily for years and yet, she managed to do it, to keep the love of both her husband and children intact long enough for them to come to a place all these years later where they realize Marcia’s glue was an elemental ingredient in what is now a concrete family that each member is glad to be a part of. How many women would have taken another route, abandoned the hardship for the easy way out—submerged their own resolve and desires for the sake of others? Marcia’s bravery is astounding; her road was hard, yet she chose to walk the uncommon path, to blaze a trail toward a heroic kind of life.
Couldn’t say it better. Weren’t you impressed by the excellent, deep and probing questions that daughter asked mother? Marcia’s answers may have been short but her face and body language showed her pleasure in being asked. I was also touched by the sister’s willingness to be a full participant in the film, to give living testimony to the truth of what we were seeing. This is a loving family, not without its difficulties but without devastating judgments that could split them apart. Marcia, for all her adherence to conventionality, glowed as she was seen through her daughter as very special.
When Trisha finally walked Sharon down the aisle, she did so in a tux. Marcia beamed throughout the special day on the arm of her husband. When Sharon later expressed a hint of sadness for Trisha not choosing to be in a dress like he had wished for all those years ago, she simply said that she had no regrets. It simply felt right for her to be Marcia’s husband in that moment. These are the kind of rewards Marcia gets for opting for a life of her own true making. She is matriarch, she is wife, she is best friend, she is powerful, and she is a kick-ass example of the power of the true warrior woman.
In plain clothes, she walks amongst us!