“Gender for some people is a destination. For me it’s a journey,” proclaims Brian Belovitch, the subject of Karen Bernstein’s 2019 documentary I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. Weaving archival footage, old photos, classic movie clips, and present-day interviews (using Caouette’s 2003 film Tarnation as reference), Bernstein and her co-producer/editor Nevie Owens trace Brian’s life from “boy to girl to woman to man”, as states the subtitle of his memoir Trans Figured.

A focus on de-transitioning

Preferring a non-linear narrative to reflect the erratic nature of memory, the documentary pieces together its subject’s life. Firstly, his childhood in Providence, Rhode Island, his move to New York City and transition into the voluptuous Sophia Loren-esque Natalia Gervais. Secondly, her stint in Germany as an army wife, her return to the NYC drag scene as the nightlife diva Tish. Finally, the eventual detransition back into Brian Belovitch, the present-day married man in his sixties. 

While the trans experience has been gaining more mainstream visibility in recent years through shows like Amazon Studios’ Transparent, the Wachowskis’ Sense8, and HBO’s Euphoria, not many authors have touched upon detransitioning. In fact, it requires an open, complex understanding of gender fluidity and risks misconstructions. But Bernstein, who first met and befriended Brian in 1993, considered it important to focus on his singular narrative without trying to represent the trans community as a whole.

Nostalgia and intimacy

The author mentions her admiration for Lisa Cholodenko’s 1998 High Art and her portrayal of LGBTQ stories. Despite some heavy subject matter, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me infuses with nostalgia and intimacy, full of affection not only for Brian but for the New York City of the 1980s. The underground fringe scene in the movie Paris is Burning set an example in 1990 that Ryan Murphy’s series Pose has recently revisited.

In conclusion, Brian’s story is unique, full of glamorous highs and terrifying lows, but the themes are universal: survival and the search for love and acceptance.