• A short New Zealand film documents how two old mates cope when one transitions into a woman (Loading Docs)Source: Loading Docs
Is 25 years of friendship a lie if you didn't know your mate was living as the wrong gender? New Zealand mini-doco delves into an often under-explored aspect of transgender relationships, following the struggle of two long-term friends after one reveals she is transitioning into a woman.
Bianca Soldani

26 Aug 2016 - 10:55 AM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2016 - 10:55 AM

Transitioning into a woman has meant Byron Skinner can finally be her true self. She’s known since the age seven that she was assigned the wrong gender at birth, but her transition nevertheless came as a surprise to one of her closest friends.

Byron and Neil have been good mates for nearly two and a half decades, and have put their lives in each others' hands with their shared passion for alpine mountaineering.

But as short New Zealand documentary Same but Different explores, that trust has been shaken by Byron's transition as Neil grapples with the idea that his old friend hasn't been able to be her true self with him for all these years.

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“[Byron] is one of not many people that I’ve just been completely myself with, that’s what I find difficult about this transition is that he has not been completely himself with me," he says, using her former pronoun.

“I do not trust Byron the same as I used to”.

Despite having walked away from close friendships in the past, Neil says that that isn't what he wants in this case. 

Close to tears he says, “I want to be understanding and I want to support him where I can, so just giving it a chance to see what happens. It will be a different relationship but I’m sure we’ll still have a relationship.”

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Byron broached the subject of her transition rather abruptly with the off hand comment of "watch my boobs" after the friends greeted each other one day with a hug.

She explains, “I was afraid of losing him as a friend. We’ve done a lot as two men together, and I’m not a man anymore so what does that mean for us?”

The mini documentary by Loading Docs has been produced by Neil’s wife, Australian director Louise Leitch, who tells SBS that she was moved by the pair's struggle to find a way forward with their friendship.

"I really saw the two friends, particularly Neil, grappling with what [Bryon’s transition] meant to the friendship and I thought that this is a really under-explored area of transgender relations," she says.

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"On a completely removed level from the relationship I thought it would be an important story to tell and then from an intimate level, I suppose I thought I had a unique perspective on this and I could make something that was heartfelt and intimate because I was so closely involved in it.

"I also hoped that it might actually help Neil and Byron, that it might bring some more things out into the open and perhaps be a bit cathartic," she adds.

Since filming the interviews in April this year, Louise reflects that Neil and Byron are still on their journey of embracing their transitioning relationship.

"Both [are approaching it] with the best of intentions and the best spirit, but it is hard and it doesn’t happen overnight. Perhaps if it did they wouldn’t have actually evolved in a really deep way," she muses.

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"When I showed Byron the film, she said; 'You’ve captured it really honestly and exactly the way that it is'."

The process of filming was an extraordinarily emotional one for all involved, with Louise saying she "found it hard to hold back the tears, it was very affecting to all of us. It has been emotional but in a positive way, it felt really close and special and potent."

Watch Insight's episode tackling how relationships are transformed when someone transitions, below: