“The reality, my reality is that I’ve been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life.”
Lilly Wachowski self-portrait via Windy City Times
You can stop saying “Wachowski siblings”—four years after her sister, Lana, came out as trans, the younger half of the filmmaking duo behind some of the grandest world-building exercises in film history (like The Matrix and Jupiter Ascending) has publicly come out as Lilly Wachowski.
In a letter published Tuesday by the Windy City Times, Lilly introduced herself to the world with the same candor and poignant humor that her older sister used during her own coming-out speech in 2012. While Lana made her public debut at a Human Rights Campaign event where she was honored with the Visibility Award, Lilly was not granted that same level of self-determination, and wrote her letter to pre-empt an article that the U.K.’s Daily Mail was threatening to run whether she participated or not.
In preparation for her would-be outing, Lilly said she had crafted a statement that was “one part piss, one part vinegar and 12 parts gasoline” and included “politically relevant insights regarding the dangers of outing trans people, and the statistical horrors of transgender suicide and murder rates.” Lilly obviously never sent that rebuttal, because the Daily Mail never ran its story, but she knew the time had come to make her own declaration before someone else did it for her.
Four years ago, in her speech before the HRC, Lana Wachowski spoke of her discomfort with the term “transition” and the public theater of coming out, saying, “This is a word that has very complicated subject for me because of its complicity in a binary gender narrative that I am not particularly comfortable with.” She added that she was “completely horrified by the ‘talk show,’ the interrogation and confession format, the weeping, the tears of the host whose sympathy underscores the inherent tragedy of my life as a transgender person. And this moment fulfilling the cathartic arc of rejection to acceptance without ever interrogating the pathology of a society that refuses to acknowledge the spectrum of gender in the exact same blind way they have refused to see a spectrum of race or sexuality.”
The Wachowskis have always been a very private pair, and even managed to avoid making press appearances for their movies for more than 10 years. In Lilly’s letter Tuesday, she echoed Lana’s frustration with the black-and-white implications of “transitioning.” And in what was perhaps the most resounding passage from her statement, Lilly explained that “these words, ‘transgender’ and ‘transitioned’ are hard for me because they both have lost their complexity in their assimilation into the mainstream. There is a lack of nuance of time and space. To be transgender is something largely understood as existing within the dogmatic terminus of male or female. And to ‘transition’ imparts a sense of immediacy, a before and after from one terminus to another. But the reality, my reality is that I’ve been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life, through the infinite that exists between male and female as it does in the infinite between the binary of zero and one. We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.”
As more trans public figures come to the fore, Lilly’s point about elevating the discourse around trans issues is incredibly pressing. Step one might be putting Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox on the covers of national magazines, but as the Wachowskis make clear, that is only the beginning of a lifetime of work for people who have come out and for the world they belong to.
In their own art, Lana and Lilly have both certainly always thought outside the constructs of conventional narratives. In their Netflix series, Sense8, they have explored transgender themes and featured transgender actress Jamie Clayton. And Eddie Redmayne told The Hollywood Reporter that Lana was a great educator during his prep for the role of Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl.