'Growing Up Coy': Film Review

Growing Up Coy Still 1 H 2016
Courtesy of Jason Oldak
A sympathetic, of-the-moment doc for the already converted.

A Colorado family fights for transgender rights on the elementary-school level.

Eric Juhola's Growing Up Coy sports a misleading name that hints at an intriguing movie that might someday be made: one that would follow young Coy Mathis, a trans girl who was born male, through the turbulent time when she asserted a female identity in public, to adolescence and adulthood, chronicling the way acceptance and the lack of it shaped her personality. This movie, though, arriving before its namesake hits 10 years old, is less about Coy than about the parents who accepted her assertions early on and then publicly fought for her right to use the school bathroom of her choosing. Sympathetic and fortuitously timed but not a film to change minds about this rancor-generating topic, it will play well with trans audiences but is best suited for small screens.

Beginning six weeks before Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis very publicly filed a suit insisting that Coy be allowed to use her school's girls' bathroom, the film provides an account of how things came to this point. It's a matter-of-fact narrative that brooks no questioning of the couple's decisions: Having gravitated toward girls' clothing as a toddler and soon informing her parents that she was not a boy, Coy was allowed to publicly present herself that way early in her kindergarten year. Though the response was far more accepting than one might expect in deeply conservative Fountain, Colo., the Mathises objected to school administrators' insistence that Coy could use a non-gendered private bathroom or go with the boys, but wouldn't be allowed in the group bathroom used by girls. As this policy ran afoul of a Colorado antidiscrimination law, they enlisted Michael Silverman of New York's Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund to help with a lawsuit.

Discussing Coy's plight early on, Kathryn says the school is "sending a little girl into a boys' bathroom, and that's setting her up to get hurt — that's how people get killed." She doesn't acknowledge that this is almost exactly the kind of thing people on the other side of the issue say, fearing that their daughters are threatened by others who, whatever identity they profess, are not the same. Juhola shares this perspective, operating as if the parents' position is the only one a reasonable person could take. When the film does show opposing views, it is only after the case has attracted global media coverage, and the mean-spirited voices Juhola selects give the impression that there are only two sides here, love and hate.

For viewers who aren't so convinced of that, a couple of interactions onscreen may give pause. Snuggling together with Coy, Kathryn asks how she responds "if someone asks if you're a boy or a girl." Shrugging and seemingly annoyed by the question, Coy says, "I just don't know about anything." Those who've accused the family of being too quick to accept momentous life changes made by such a young child will take this interaction and run with it. But Growing Up Coy seems to think that finding a compassionate, informed interviewee to explore such questions on camera would be tantamount to betraying this sweet child and the family that has sacrificed greatly to do what it believes is right. Perhaps, 20 years from now, the first wave of eagerly supported trans children will tell their own stories in a more nuanced way.

Venue: Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Production company: Still Point Pictures
Director: Eric Juhola
Producers: Eric Juhola, Jeremy Stulberg
Executive producers: Diana Holtzberg
Directors of photography: Jason Oldak, Randy Stulberg, Giga Shane
Editor: Jeremy Stulberg
Composer: Christopher Libertino
Sales: Diana Holtzberg, Films Transit

Not rated, 82 minutes