Miss Maria, Skirting the Mountain (Edinburgh Film Fesitval)
As a snapshot of what it is to be a transgender female in a rural, religious setting, without medical aid or sympathy, I'd recommend this documentary. Miss Maria, Skirting the Mountain (2017), follows forty-something Maria in the foothills and pastures of Andean Colombia. The scenery is dramatic, the personal fortunes of the protagonist sometimes harrowing: this is trans as your parents might have warned you what you'd become, in an existence on the margins without friendship or prospects. At one point we see children shout mockingly at Maria as she enters her family's cemetery. Elsewhere, the four people chosen to talk about Maria all refer to her with male pronouns, along with a surplus of pity and occasional mirth.
The thread that garnered most anger on my part involved her closest acquaintance – described by Maria as a friend and surrogate mother, but who talks in frequently disparaging terms about Maria. This figure 'reveals' how Maria's transgender nature is the lingering evidence of demonic possession. Maria used to have demonic fits, we are told, to the degree that her grandmother withdrew her from school permanently. 'People say she was born with horns and a tail,' giggles one of the speakers. The 'friend' confides to us how a priest carried out an exorcism on Maria, removing the fits. Yet later, Maria is discovered unconscious in a field, and medical inquiries reveal she suffers from epilepsy.
Religion is the double-edged sword, or poisoned chalice, of Maria's story. Living alone and subsisting on the cash she earns for her labouring duties in the fields, she transcends the daily work and loneliness through the Church, and her identification with Maria, mother of Christ. She prays at the religious icons, and talks of how the abuse in the street doesn't hurt her because she is a creature of God. Simultaneously, a particular form of superstitious Catholicism inspires her community to dehumanize and ridicule her. Adding to this dehumanization is arguably the darkest, most tragic part of the portrayal, of how Maria is probably a child born of incest and rape. Responding to the subject, Maria breaks down, asking why people would raise this with her, what value does this personal history bring? And she's right, of course: it seems she's a figure that everyone's trying to understand through narratives of freakery, of something gone wrong. The one silver lining is her undoubted resilience; she continues in her labours, among nature, unbroken by the hate.