The Ties That Bind
by Diana Newton
A searing look at a Southern family wrestling with each other and their beliefs, exposing the culture wars at play below the surface. Family ties are tested in a crisis of understanding and opportunity for acceptance. A radically relevant story at this time in NC–and in the course of humankind.
About The Project
In 2002, my youngest sibling, whom I had long known as Christopher, came out to me as transgender. Suddenly I needed to recognize her as my sister, Christine.
How strong or fragile would our family ties prove to be as we face what for us was a crisis of understanding and opportunity for acceptance?
With this question in mind, I decided to capture my family’s journey of adaptation to her transition over time. The Ties That Bind is my documentary memoir–a radical story of a non-radical North Carolina family.
I am certainly not the first documentary filmmaker to traverse the often strange landscape of one’s own family. When we dare to train “the big eye” of our cameras on those we love, it is a courageous, but dangerous act, fraught with the risk of misrepresenting, exposing, or alienating them in some way. We also risk ourselves by getting in front of the camera as well as behind it, bringing our perspectives, biases, and beliefs fully into our own awareness, as well as laying them bare for viewers.
What capacity did we really have for allowing the people we say we love to change and grow? To what extent did we really know and accept each other? Could we even recognize our family’s norms around handling differences?
Family is the ultimate crucible. For it is there that each of us is subjected to the heat of norms, history, and expectations, and in which our best selves are refined or our spirits incinerated. Yes, Christine’s gender change was dramatic, but it really only served to ignite my family’s longstanding pattern of laughing away pain and to render it no longer viable, that is, if we were going to stay connected in any genuine way.
Every family has patterns that can get superheated when one of its members colors outside the lines. An unexpected choice of life partner, a surprise divorce, the desire to move: any of these can turn the heat up. Coming out is perhaps just higher on the change thermostat. To what extent does our bandwidth for unconditional love depend on the variables of religion, age, hopes or fears? This film is my exploration of the deeper questions that have washed up in the wake of Christine’s transition, rather than about the comparative simplicity of her actual change.