Review: The Lisa Jackson Documentary
Submission by Logan K. Young, first-time contributor. Logan is a contributing writer at BLURT, Dusted and Everett True’s Collapse Board. He’s also written for Paste, Crawdaddy! and Altered Zones and been published in Option, Paris Transatlantic and the Trouser Press Record Guide. A lapsed student of the late Karlheinz Stockhausen, Young lives with his cat just outside “Suffragette City” in Washington’s harDCcore suburbs. His newest book, Mauricio Kagel: A Semic Life, is out now.
Emotionally speaking, changing genders is a nightmare. The wreck it renders one’s psyche is one I’ll never fully comprehend. And unless you do-it-yourself, you never will either. Sure, the scars inherent may seem self-evident to sympaticos. But just because we’re becoming more cognizant of the Trans-Atlantic plight, that does mean those scars don’t still mar. Again, as a heteronormative “cissy,” luckily, I’ll never have to know it myself. My biology is just not that cruel. Speaking of, often lost in the tumult of transitioning is the physical toil it exerts on the body. It’s like that emo nightmare made manifest. A white Saxon trapped only in the cage of his own Protestant body, I don’t do pain too well. (Actually, my threshold for it is pretty much non-existent.) In other words, I could not suffer what Lisa Jackson does here so bravely.
Particularly, I’m referencing her twice-weekly electrolysis appointments. I knew not of that kind of hurt. Teetering on the brink of pubescence, I wanted nothing more than to shave as Daddy did every morning. Now, I loathe the very thought of it. A morning person I’m certainly not, so shaving has become an inconvenient chore — waking up a half-hour early to scrape a cold blade ‘cross a groggy face. But compared to Lisa, Logan never had it so good. After all the salve-cum-Saran Wrap prep work, the main course of treatment for unwanted hair is apparently one-fucking-follicle, one-at-a-time. Watching Lisa trench her fingernails into her other hand every time a stub is plucked, well, I felt like a pitshetsh for my kvetching. I’m sorry Ms. Jackson; I am for real!
Of course, that pain resides in her songs of experience — a distortion pedal cloaking her damage in din. And in a way, they’re songs of innocence, too. To become a woman – born a man borne of woman – is as close to becoming born-again as any evangelical could possibly hope. Born first in the Atlanta suburbs of Fayetteville, Georgia, The Bible Belt’s bile ‘n brimstone was hot enough for Jackson to march on to the free state of New York City. And just as Jayne County blossomed there in the early ‘70s, it’s here that Lisa Jackson’s own Renaissance flowers. Again, similar to County’s first stage work with speed-away Jackie Curtis, Jackson lands a day job as a theatre tech at Julliard. Lest we think she’s forgotten her way ‘round a power tool though, Lisa fabricates herself a box in seconds flat. It’s a metaphor and euphemism all in one, tight…um…package.
If her visits to the beard doc are hard to swallow, then her homecoming down South is perhaps harder for my heart to stomach. Despite having lived as woman for eleven years at this point, Lisa’s parents still refuse to address their baby boy as “Lisa.” (Out of respect for the departed, I won’t print what they call her — Lisa’s birth name, that is.) Her elder brother, once her fiercest companion, is now forcefully estranged. It’s low tide for Lisa, no doubt, but when she gets back to her adopted home, she seems infinitely better off. Famous friends like Saturday Night Live mimic Darrell Hammond and Academy Award nominee Rosie Perez seem to have her back, as well. Along with her backing band Girl Friday, Jackson snags a stand at Arlene’s Grocery, the Puerto Rican bodega gone Lower East Side venue, but it’s just not the right fit.
Thus far, I’ve been silent on Lisa’s music. Honestly, that’s because it’s not too terribly good. Ironically enough, hers is a dated and amateurish kind of cock rock. It’s loud and boisterous, but like so many cowardly bigots in the breeze, the professed bark is bereft of any real bite. Jackson’s capable enough of a good lyric here, a decent rhyme there, but unfortunately, those moments are few and far between. At times, I get the feeling that even she doesn’t believe it. Without ceremony, she soon fires everyone in the band and traipses off under her own name. She gets a few more unplugged solo gigs, and it’s Lisa Jackson – trans troubadour – that ultimately sings brightest. It’s still not life-changing poetry, but at least she’s finally being true to her place in NYC’s lyric firmament. And then, just like that, the sky falls out.
Seriously, that’s it. The film ends abruptly with a brief aftergraph about Lisa going back to school in hopes of becoming some kind of environmental hero. I’ll be honest; I did not see this one coming. What happens next? Is she still performing? Are she and her brother talking again? Has her beard finally be vanquished? None of the many questions this documentary posits gets a proper denouement. And yet, I kind of dig that about it. The transgendered path is never straight, and The Lisa Jackson Narrative was hardly a linear one. To be quite frank, at times, it was a mess. Nevertheless, I’ve never been one to let a silly thing like protocol stand in the way of a good story. To wit, for its idiomatic telling of a unique tale, I give this doc two thumbs way up the ass of closure. And while I’ve convinced myself she’s since gotten better, like a lot of Jackson’s music heard in the film, that notion is probably a tad overrated anyways.
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