Belgium Oscar Submission 'Girl' Is a "Message of Courage, Bravery And Compassion" (Guest Column)

Nora Monsecour Headshot - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Netflix

Nora Monsecour, whose real-life story inspired Lukas Dhont's new film about a young transgender woman, writes, "'Girl' tells my story in a way that doesn't lie."

My name is Nora Monsecour. I am a professional dancer and a transgender woman from Belgium. My story is the inspiration behind the film Girl, directed by Lukas Dhont. 

In 2008, Lukas read an article describing my life as a transgender girl with a desire to become a ballerina. My story inspired Lukas, as well as many others, who were dealing with similar struggles as they were growing up, coming to terms with their identities, and fighting to be recognized. After meeting Lukas in person, we quickly became friends and developed a deep trust and respect for each other. I was captivated by his passion for film, which mirrored my love of dance. And while our personal journeys were different, Lukas understood my uncompromising need to be true to myself. I often think about how powerful it felt to learn that people of such different backgrounds can still relate to each other. 

Girl is not a representation of all transgender experiences, but rather a retelling of experiences that I faced during my journey. 

I struggled with facing the fact that I was born transgender. Out of shame and anger, I resented that I was not born like other women. I always knew I was a girl, but I needed my body to reflect that. I constantly battled the voices in my head telling me that I was weird and different. Although I grew up in an environment where my family and friends accepted and supported me, I couldn’t accept myself. When discussing the character of "Lara" with Lukas, I needed him to show that struggle, that battle, that her/my greatest antagonist was myself. 

I spent countless hours focusing on my internal demons and feeling betrayed by my physical body. What hurt me the most was not the people who bullied me, who put me down, who didn’t want me to succeed. What caused me the most turmoil was myself and my thoughts. In Girl, these thoughts became an important part of Lara’s psyche, too. I’m thankful to the team at Ghent Hospital, who helped me throughout my treatment, and consulted closely with Lukas on the film to ensure we were accurate. This was integral in developing the character of Lara.

We made a film with some hard, honest scenes. Scenes that might be disturbing to watch, but that are crucial to show. I do not want to sugarcoat my experiences or hide away my darkest thoughts. I shouldn’t have to — they are real and not uncommon in the trans community. Though my story does not include this final event, it’s a thought that lingered in my mind every day. 

Girl also shows the importance of a loving and supportive home, like the home I was fortunate to grow up in. Children should be able to talk openly with their family and their friends. Girl is not a horror movie — it has a message of courage, bravery and passion.  

The process of creating Girl allowed me to accept myself as transgender and helped me finally love myself without anger or shame. But I also saw the tears rolling down the cheeks of young, trans girls standing in front of me when the film premiered in Cannes. I can still feel the warmth of their hugs, the smiles on their faces and I still read the messages of their parents thanking me. Girl is made for them, by a director who believed in me. A cis director who believed that my trans story deserved to be heard. A human being that loved someone so much, he dedicated 10 years of his life thinking about how to tell her story. 

My hope in making this film is that it would foster conversations between struggling youth and a trusted adult, and show the importance of a loving and supportive home, like the home I was fortunate to grow up in. Having someone to talk to certainly helped me and I know it has helped many others. I receive messages from people all over the world expressing their love and gratitude for me, Lukas, and Victor Polster, who played Lara. 

Those criticizing Girl are preventing another trans story from being shared in the world, and are also attempting to silence me and my trans identity. Every day, I see young, transgender people fighting for their dreams, accomplishing their goals. They are not weak and fragile. Girls tells my story in a way that doesn’t lie, doesn’t hide. To argue that Lara’s experience as trans is not valid because Lukas is cis or because we have a cis lead actor offends me. 

I made it through my darkest, most challenging times. I am a professional dancer and a unique, brave, strong woman that knows exactly who she is and what she wants. Now, I can proudly say that I am transgender. I faced my challenges and my naysayers head-on and did not back down from my convictions. I will do the same to support this film, my friend Lukas, and this story. 

Girl, Belgium's submission for the foreign-language film Oscar, has been nominated for a Golden Globe as best foreign-language film.