Director: Jeanie Finlay
Country: United Kingdom
Running time: 91 mins
There’s a fascinating dichotomy at the heart of Seahorse, Jeanie Finlay’s beautiful documentary about Freddy McConnell, a gay trans man suspending hormone treatment in order to carry his own baby. At once, what we’re seeing is extraordinary: unprecedented, intimate access to an emotionally unique journey many of us are unfamiliar with, breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions with delicate, heartfelt storytelling. But at the same time, Finlay’s adroitly crafted film is a story of the familiar: a human being yearning to fulfill their biological calling by creating human life.
Naturally, the stakes – both physically and emotionally – are higher for Freddy, as he navigates the medical logistics of bringing a child into the world. Discarding the misconception that a trans person is made infertile by taking hormones, he must first stop taking testosterone in preparation for conceiving. Whilst the initial side effects range from feeling generally more emotional to being more at ease with discussing his feelings, the longer Freddy goes without conceiving, the more severe the conflict between his desire to conceive and the need for the testosterone treatments that have helped him in unifying his body with his identity.
There’s something wonderfully British about Seahorse, both in the lack of scandal that you suspect would have followed an American production of a similar subject, and in Freddy’s amazing support network. Finlay has made a career in finding extraordinary secondary characters in her films, and Esme, Freddy’s practical, level-headed and endlessly supportive mother is no exception. In situations where it appears Freddy is sinking further into isolation or despair, she always seems on-hand with tangible, fuss-free advice and care.
Seahorse is a timely exploration of identity, family and, ultimately, love
Elements of societal attitudes also bleed into Freddy’s story, making an already emotional time feel unnecessarily more difficult. During one scene, we see him at his kitchen table, surrounded by his mother’s friends all candidly talking about his pregnancy. As the conversation continues, Finlay’s camera frames Freddy as an isolated figure amidst the endless discussion, talking both at him and about him as if he’s not even there. On another occasion, we see the soft bigotry of an older, particularly stubborn family member who cannot help herself in expressing an archaic opinion. It’s an exhausting, demoralising exchange that allows us the briefest of glimpses at what it must be like to constantly have to justify your own existence.
Finlay notably sidesteps sensationalism. Little is shown of Freddy’s transition and, from the most ardent trans rights supporter to the casual Daily Mail comments section contributor and everyone in-between, no one can deny that they are watching exactly what the film’s subtitle promises: from frame one, this is the story of a man who gave birth. And when that moment arrives in the film’s emotional crescendo, the feeling of relief, joy and excitement is palpable.
Seahorse is a timely exploration of identity, family and, ultimately, love. Never shying away from showing that Freddy’s journey to fatherhood is highly emotive and wrought with many difficult moments, under Finlay’s skillful eye for finding the ordinary within the extraordinary, it is an important, captivating journey well worth taking.
You can see a Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth followed by a post-screening Q&A with Jeanie Finlay and Freddy McConnell on Monday 9 September. For more information and tickets, visit the Broadway website