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Lana Wachowski's HRC Visibility Award Acceptance Speech (Transcript)

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Lana Wachowski Headshot - P 2012
Getty Images

"I began to believe voices in my head -- that I was a freak, that I am broken, that there is something wrong with me, that I will never be lovable," the "Cloud Atlas" co-director tells a San Francisco fundraiser crowd.

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by Lana Wachowski to the Human Rights Campaign's annual gala dinner in San Francisco on Oct. 20, 2012.

OK. Phew. Haven’t given a speech ever. [applause] OK, OK, I get it -- you’re very encouraging, I love you.

So I’m at my hairdresser's. [laughter] He’s gay, go figure. I say yeah, the HRC wants to give me an award. Award for what? I say, "I guess for kind of being myself." He’s like playing with my hair and looking at me and he’s like, “Yeah, I guess you make a pretty good you.” And I was like, yeah, “Yeah, well there wasn’t a lot of competition.” And ‘cause hes a catty bitch he said, “Yeah, it’s a good thing -- just imagine if you had lost.” [laughter]

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Lana Wachowski Reveals Suicide Plan, Painful Past in Emotional Coming-Out Speech 

I’ve been going to this hairdresser who’s this gorgeous lovely man for almost six years. He knows everything about my family, how close I was to my grandma, how I met and married the love of my life. He did the hair for our wedding three years ago, he’s seen the drunken pornographic pictures of our honeymoon in Mykonos. But he doesn’t know that I directed The Matrix trilogy with my brother Andy. [applause] So he knows all about who I am but he doesn’t know what I do.

Conversely, I was recently out to dinner with a mixture of friends and strangers who were all very excited to meet a “Hollywood” director, but all they want to do is ask about Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry, and throughout the dinner they repeatedly refer to me as “he” or one of the “Wachowski Brothers,” sometimes using half my name, “Laaaaaa,” as an awkward bridge between identities, unable or perhaps unwilling to see me as I am, but only for the things I do.

Every one of us, every person here, every human life presents a negotiation between public and private identity. For me that negotiation took a more literal form in a dialogue between me, Andy, Tom Tykwer -- our new brother by love, who’s just gorgeous -- with whom we directed our latest movie, Cloud Atlas. (Thanks for the plug; go see it.) Several months ago we were sitting in this Berlin club amid beer soaked haggardness in a space not intended to be inhabited by people and sunlight trying to decide if we should shoot this introduction to a trailer for our movie that was supposed to be posted online. Tom Hanks was supposed to do it but became unavailable.

Andy and I have not done press or made a public appearance including premieres in over 12 years. People have mistakenly assumed that this has something to do with my gender. It does not. After The Matrix was released in ‘99 we both experienced this alarming contraction of our world and thus our lives. We became acutely aware of the preciousness of anonymity -- understanding it as a form of virginity, something you only lose once. Anonymity allows you access to civic space, to a form of participation in public life, to an egalitarian invisibility that neither of us wanted to give up. We told Warner Bros. that neither one of us wanted to do press anymore. They told us, “No. Absolutely not. This is non-negotiable. Directors are essential to selling and marketing a movie.” We said, “OK, we get it. So if it’s a choice between making movies or not doing press, we decided we’re not going to not make movies.” They said, “Hang on. Maybe there’s a little room for negotiation.”

So this position in that negotiation was being examined in Berlin three months ago. All of us are conscious of the fact that not only will it be Andy and my first public appearance in a long time, but it will also be the first time that I speak publicly since my transition. Parenthetically 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. Yet I realize the moment I go on camera, that act will be subject to projections that are both personal and political.

I have been out to my family and friends for over a decade and for the majority of that time I have been discussing this, this particular moment with my therapist, with my family and my wife because I know eventually I will do it but I know there is going to be a price for it. I knew I was going to come out but I knew when I finally did come out I didn’t want it to be about my coming out. I am completely horrified by the “talk show,” the interrogation and confession format, the weeping, the tears of the host [applause] 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. [applause]

Q&A: 'Cloud Atlas' Director Lana Wachowski on Her Emotional Coming-Out Speech: 'It Was Just the Universe Saying I Should Do It' 

So the three of us talk. We like to talk. (You’re probably realizing right now, uh oh, we got a talker here. There will be an intermission after about an hour, so.) We’re alternating perspectives quite conscious of the fact that we have just made a film about this subject -- about the responsibilities us humans have to one another, that our lives are not entirely our own. There is dialogue from the film merging easily with the discussion and I find myself repeating a line from a character who Iwas very attached to who speaks about her own decision to come out. She says, “If I had remained invisible, the truth would have remained hidden and I couldn’t allow that.” And she says this aware that even at the moment she’s saying it that the sacrifice she has made will cost her her life.

Suddenly I begin this very intense rush of images, thoughts and memories going through my mind -- a kind of life flashing before my eyes that happens. People describe near-death experiences. As it begins I start to understand just how complex the relationship between visibility and invisibility has been throughout my life.

I remember the third grade, I remember recently moving and transferring from a public school to a Catholic school. In public school I played mostly with girls, I have long hair and everyone wears jeans and t-shirts. In Catholic school the girls wear skirts, the boys play pants. I am told I have to cut my hair. I want to play Four Square with the girls but now I’m one of them -- I’m one of the boys. Early on I am told to get in line after a morning bell, girls in one line, boys in another. I walk past the girls feeling this strange, powerful gravity of association. Yet some part of me knows I have to keep walking. As soon as I look towards the other line, though, I feel a feeling of differentiation that confuses me. I don’t belong there, either.

I stop between them. The nun I realize is staring at me, she’s shouting at me. I don’t know what to do. She grabs me, she’s yelling at me. I’m not trying to disobey, I’m just trying to fit in. My silence starts to infuriate her, and she starts to hit me. Then suddenly, most improbably -- if it happened in a movie you would never believe is -- suddenly there’s these screeching tires and my mom just happens to be driving by, totally true, she jumps out of her car, she hurls herself at this nun. She rips me away from her, rescues me. She warns the nun never to touch me again. [applause]

And I think I’m safe, but then she takes me home and she’s trying to understand what happened, but I have no real language to describe it. I just stare at the floor and she keeps asking me over and over what happened. And I begin feeling the same mounting frustration, the same mounting fury that I felt with the nun. She tells me to look at her but I don’t want to, because when I do I am unable to understand why she cannot see me.