Centering on a transgender girl named Ricky (played by trans actress Michelle Hendley) and her straight-laced best friend Robby (Michael Welch, Twilight), Boy Meets Girl is a new comedy that delves into the complex world of young, at times comedically awkward, love and friendship. The film, available Tuesday via VOD, tosses aside the stereotypical portrayals of trans women, girls, and members of the LGBT community, and gets to the stuff that matters most: The universal need to love, and be loved.
Below is a Q&A with the film’s writer, director, and producer, Eric Schaeffer (My Life’s in Turnaround, If Lucy Fell). We also spoke with actress Michelle Hendley over the phone, whose answers are interspersed below. The interview has been edited and condensed for space.
Women in the World: The title Boy Meets Girl could be read as a cliche. Why was this fitting for the film?
Eric Schaeffer: For that very reason. By using a cliche title that defines a heterosexual romantic story, I wanted to invite all audiences into a landscape that was familiar and hopefully therefore not scary or intimidating. I wanted everyone–regardless of gender (cis or trans), sexual orientation, to have a chance to identify with the film’s themes and allow the film to speak to them. I didn’t want to alienate anyone before they saw the movie.
Hopefully all audiences would identify with the universal themes of wanting to be unconditionally loved and accepted for who we are … my hope is that the phrase can evolve and provide an added appreciation, acceptance and inclusion of transgender people in that paradigm.
WITW: Michelle Hendley, who plays the lead, “Ricky,” is a transgender actress. Did her personal experience and perspective add to the narrative?
ES: I wrote the script before casting Michelle. I did vet the script with her and many other transgender women to make sure, as best as one can having a small control group, that of course doesn’t/can’t speak for an entire community, that the story felt organic, authentic and germane to a transgender woman’s experience. The consensus was that, except for two small instances, it was. I changed the two scenes in question to reflect the input from Michelle and the other transgender women I discussed the script with.
“I definitely brought my own experiences to her character. I wouldn’t say Ricky and I are the same person…but a lot of Ricky’s conversations with her friends and family are similar to those I’ve had in my own life, talking about gender and sexuality, and those blurry areas.” – Michelle Hendley
WITW: The relationship between Ricky and her best friend Robby is a major part of the storyline. Where did you draw inspiration for their relationship?
ES: For me, a massive component of both falling in love and sustaining a long-lasting relationship is profound friendship. As with If Lucy Fell, Boy Meets Girl‘s plot is similar in that two very very close friends examine whether there’s more to their relationship than mere friendship. It’s a theme I feel is important to have represented. Really knowing and respecting, caring and loving the other, in spite of–and to a degree because of–our foibles and not-so-pretty underbellies, along with our glorious fabulousness.
WITW: Though the film addresses issues that transgender people go through, the feelings that Ricky and Robby have are relatable and universal. What message are you hoping this sends?
ES: If there is one message taken away, it’s that the illusion of separateness has to be smashed so that we can embrace the truth that fundamentally, where it counts most, we are all the same. We want to love and be loved, and by knowing that, we can all love each other easily and happily.
WITW: This movie takes place in the South, a place known for more conservative viewpoints regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. In the film, though, Ricky’s family shows her a lot of love and acceptance. Why was this important to portray?
ES: For a few reasons. As with your (and the pervasively agreed upon) statement about the South, along with other stereotypes in the film, I wanted to offer alternative and possibly surprising ideas regarding the notion that there isn’t great love, support and liberal viewpoints about sexual orientation and gender identity in much of the South as well, because there is.
I spoke with many trans women from the South, as well as Michelle who is from Missouri, and found that many had experiences/memories that were very loving, happy ones. Many had very loving accepting families as well. Having said that, there of course would have been a perception, true or false, that this story would play out much differently in a northern city, so in keeping with the theme of hoping to shake people’s misconceptions, I felt it important to set it in the South.
WITW: What has been the most meaningful thing you’ve learned in telling a story like Ricky’s?
ES: That’s an excellent question. Upon serious reflection I really feel rather than having learned something new, telling the story of Ricky in this film has really just further confirmed and crystallized in an even more profound way something that I already knew: The only truly valuable endeavor in this lifetime is helping others.
“For a young person like Ricky figuring out her identity, it’s so important to remain authentic to who you are. Even if your community is very open, you’ll find adversity. You’ll run into people who disagree…If it’s new for you, go with it. Focus less on labels. I think we tend to cling to them too much. I do identify myself as a trans woman, but I live my day-to-day life as a female, as a woman.” – Michelle Hendley
WITW: What message are you hoping Boy Meets Girl might send to teens exploring their own gender identity, sexuality, and self-acceptance?
ES: The message in this film is the same as in all my work. For teenagers, for adults struggling with gender identity, sexuality, self acceptance in any and all forms: As long as you are not harming anyone, you are perfect exactly as you are. And that includes all of the feelings and thoughts you have that are not pretty. The “strange,” the “messy,” the “perverse,” the “selfish,” even the “untenable.”
(Labeling) leaves no room for who we really are, or how we really experience life, which in turn fosters confusion about who we really are and who others really are, which fosters hate. I think our only chance is to bury those labels forever in favor of a singular new one: human. Hate is easy. The real courage is in love.
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Boy Meets Girl will be available on DVD April 28th.