October 16, 2017
By: Karen Silver

Just be Gemma: A Nine Islands Communication Production

Original Airing Date September 23, 2017 CBC

Written, directed, produced by: Peter Walsh

Runtime 44:09

Grade: A+

Just be Gemma is a Nine Island Communication documentary which premiered to a select audience at The Rooms on Tuesday, September 19th and aired nationally on CBC on Saturday, September 23rd. The film follows Gemma Hickey over a span of almost two years as they began their gender transition. Hickey, who was assigned female at birth, began taking testosterone in 2015. Although they present as a transmasculine person, Hickey identifies as non-binary, meaning they do not identify by the traditional gender labels of male or female.

This in-depth documentary follows Hickey during their journey of transition in a very personal way. The film puts a face to the well-known, but often misunderstood struggles of non-binary trans people. This documentary takes the audience through Gemma’s reality, with all the challenges that come with being a non-binary person. It is by no means meant to represent the journey of every trans person, but it does expose the public to one individual’s perspective.

The documentary touches on everyday situations, such as the struggle of coming out to family and friends and the sometimes difficult process of getting loved ones to use preferred pronouns. The documentary also addresses more serious concerns about gender transition such as; public acceptance; threats of violence and death; negativity experienced by the trans community and individuals; and the external, emotional, and personal changes that can coincide with a gender transition.

The title Just be Gemma is a quote by Hickey’s late grandmother. When Hickey told their grandmother that they wanted to begin to transition but they did not want to change their name or even identify as one of the traditional binary genders, their grandmother told them to “just be Gemma.” Sound advice to anyone, regardless of their gender identity.

Just be Gemma is an honest portrayal of Gemma Hickey journey of self-discovery. The film demonstrates the vulnerability that Hickey experienced as they stripped themselves down both literally, as they physically changed their body, and figuratively, as they grappled with defining and accepting their trans, non-binary identity. It is an emotional journey not only for Hickey and those who worked on the film, but also for the audience, who are confronted by Hickey’s humanity in a way that makes the lived reality of trans people more personal and less abstract. This documentary serves as an icebreaker of sorts, introducing Hickey to an audience that may not have been exposed to a trans individual’s story before or have had conversations regarding trans issues. Although this documentary is only one trans-narrative of many, it helps to further the public’s understanding of what trans people face as they pursue life as their most authentic self.

Just be Gemma can be found online at https://nineisland.ca/just-be-gemma

Photo Courtesy of Nine Island Communications ©2017
Photo from left to right: Ronalda Walsh (Executive Producer), Gemma Hickey, Peter Walsh (Executive Producer)