'A Womb of Their Own' screens as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival on February 17.
Stephen A. Russell

15 Feb 2018 - 1:58 PM  UPDATED 16 Feb 2018 - 11:37 AM

American filmmaker Cyn Lubow has always been drawn to masculine identity. “When I was a little kid, I had a costume kit with moustaches in it and I would wear those, and I remember one time I was on vacation with my parents and I put Hersheys syrup on the beard area and wore it around. My dad saw me and was startled and horrified.”

School - and its insistence on dresses - brought further frustration, with Lubow regularly heading to the local department store to try on suit jackets. “This has clearly been a lifelong thing for me, and what this is is not necessarily being transgender, but I never felt like I was like the other girls.”

Though “she” doesn’t sit all that comfortably, Lubow isn’t fond of alternative pronouns like they or ze, saying they are all problematic, and suggesting that gender queer or non-binary are the most applicable terms.

“It’s impossible, because there isn’t one word, term, or pronoun that I feel like, ‘oh yeah, that gets it, that captures it’,” Lubow explains. “I mean I like it when people say, ‘thank you sir,’ but usually within a short period of time they decide that that was wrong and start apologising and that’s awkward and weird. And I don’t think I’d want to be called he and sir all the time, because that doesn’t quite fit either.”

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Now 57, Lubow still wants to grow a moustache and occasionally enjoys gluing one on, as the opening shots of documentary A Womb of their Own demonstrate. A highlight of the Mardi Gras Film Festival, it features six very different masculine-identifying people at various stages of pregnancy and also raising children, all while celebrating that diversity.

“I made this film coupling masculine identity with pregnancy just to let people know that whatever you think about gender, it's probably more complicated than that,” says Lubow, adding: “when the whole idea of gender being about more than what you were born with in terms of genitalia became more talked about, I started wondering, ‘well, what am I then and where do I fit? And should I be taking testosterone and getting gender confirmation surgery?’”

A Womb of Their Own certainly goes beyond the idea that there are two, or even four, neat boxes, including trans man and trans woman for people to identify within. Both subject and director, Lubow shares a unique perspective, navigating the spaces in between.

Other participants include Darcy Allder, who identifies as male and has undergone top surgery but was willing to be pregnant for his wife, Heather, who identifies as female and is attracted to “masculine people with vaginas,” and Lorenzo Ramirez, who uses he/him pronouns and identifies as a straight man. He has a teenaged son, Imelio, whom he gave birth to and raised as a single dad.

“Lorenzo became pregnant when he was very young and still reluctantly identifying as female, but he rose to the occasion and is now completely masculine and heterosexual identified,” Lubow says.

Allder is in his third trimester in the film. “He took one for the team, which is something I’ve heard often from trans men when, for whatever reason, the female identifying person didn’t want to get pregnant,” Lubow says. “They went on to have a second kid that Heather carried. She had a lot of fears, but it turned out it was fine for her.”

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Growing up in a family full of slim men, Darcy has come to identify skinniness as a signifier of masculinity. As such, he wasn’t a fan of testosterone, which made his face rounder. “That was hard for him,” Lubow says. “He had had to try out with his clothes and his hair and top surgery to present masculine without the advantage of facial hair for the male facial structure.”

Pregnancy had its challenges for Darcy, then, but as with all six participants, the experience was predominantly positive. Rather sweetly, Lubow’s then 20-year-old son Luke also contributes, noting that being raised by a parent with a fluid approach to gender allowed him, as a cisgender, heterosexual-identifying man, to form his own ideas about what masculinity means.  

“The kids of gender queer people go to school and have friends and play sports and do their homework and you know in many ways it’s not that different,” Lubow says.

Taken by surprise in the editing room, Lubow’s very happy that A Womb of Their Own worked out so reassuring.“The film turned out to be a celebration of gender diversity and I feel like we need that, because most other films about gender differences are about the conflict and the hardship involved, so I was very pleased.”

A Womb of Their Own screens as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival on February 17. Book tickets here.

The 40th Annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will air on Sunday, March 4 at 8:30pm on SBS.