In the early morning along the shores of Southern California, you can find a transgender bodysurfer named Tyler Wilde, the subject of the short documentary and second place winner of the recent Incluvie Short Film Festival, Gender Outlaw: A Bodysurfing Story. Throughout the sixteen-minute runtime, director Peter Williams and the team at Cross Step Content paint an intricate portrait of Wilde that challenges any simplistic understanding of trans people.
We are introduced to the people and spaces that feel like home for Wilde. We get to see him bodysurf with a team of men as a part of California’s oldest bodysurfing club, the Gillis Beach Bodysurfing Association. The members, who are older than Wilde, joke about how it may seem strange to have Wilde as a part of their group because of their age difference, but they all agree that a person’s identity should not be a barrier to creating community. Everyone is obsessed with the water, and that is all that matters.
Seeing how one can find a home within communities and within one’s own body is ultimately the core of Gender Outlaw. We are invited to shed our preconceived notions of how people are expected to live and step our toes into a vast ocean of experience beyond binaries and conventions.
Wilde reminds me of the many trans people who guided me as I began to embrace my own trans identity. It is especially clear when we get to see Wilde working as a P.E. teacher and coach, working with students as they go through their journey of embracing themselves. In one of the most touching moments of the film, we witness a video call between Wilde and a former trans student named Alden and see them both reflect on how working together changed both of their lives. Alden concludes a scene speaking about the experience of getting to a point of feeling embodied as a trans person by saying “I don’t think I would have been able to do that by myself.” We need mentors, we need friends, and we need to see trans people living joyfully as their most authentic selves so that we can allow our authentic selves to come out too. Gender Outlaw gives us all of that and more.
In a time where it is incredibly scary to be out as trans in the United States, with more and more bills aiming to keep discussions of gender out of schools and keep transgender people from sports, it brings me immense joy to see a story about a transgender athlete who is a teacher and role model for trans youth. Beyond being timely, the short film is a beautiful documentary with stunning cinematography and storytelling. Gender Outlaw is as delightful as it is necessary. Wilde’s story can inspire anyone, regardless of identity, to feel powerful enough to embrace all of the big waves life may bring them, headfirst.