BEFORE I’d even watched Ruby Rose’s self-penned short film Break Free, where she transforms from female to male, I was already cringing.
Now don’t get me wrong, Ruby has done great work addressing the mental health issues faced by LGBTI youth and increasing the visibility of lesbians in the Australian media, but what irked me was something she posted on Facebook shortly after the film’s release.
I mean, seriously? Ruby Rose films herself dressing up as a dude and now she’s taking credit for the progress made by people who’ve fought for trans* rights for years?
Without knowing anything about Ruby’s personal struggle, my fear was that this could potentially trivialise the experience of trans* people at a time when trailblazers like Laverne Cox are finally getting the recognition they deserve.
All this before I’d even hit play. So I did.
The film begins with Ruby brushing her long blonde hair, painting her nails and applying glossy pink lipstick. Because hey, that’s what ladies do.
She then stands forlornly in front of a mirror and cuts off her hair, appearing happier as she goes.
Next Ruby hops into a bath, fully clothed, and tips a bucket of water over her head, letting it flow down her ample cleavage while holding the gaze of the camera. It reminded me of porn films where women look at the camera while performing sexual acts on a guy.
She then binds her breasts and carefully adjusts the dildo down her pants. If we were in the VHS era right now, this section of tape would get worn out pretty quickly.
Ruby buttons her shirt and mouths aggressively to the camera, “Who you fuckin’ lookin at?” before giving the finger. Because that’s what bros do, right?
The film ends with her lighting a ciggy while doing her best “blue steel”.
So what did I take from that? Well firstly, girl or guy, Ruby Rose is a babe.
But I had two main concerns. I suspected she’d overdone the cleavage for the sake of appealing to a male fanbase — kinda like that time she became a covergirl for FHM and pissed off lesbians everywhere.
Secondly, it was a very conventional narrative based on gender stereotypes that focused on the physical aspects of transition.
I decided to read up on Ruby’s motivation for making the film and was surprised to find out it was autobiographical.
She’d secretly wished she was a boy since age five or six and has gone back and forth between presenting as feminine and masculine her whole life. Ruby now identifies as gender fluid.
She talked about getting numerous knockbacks early on in her modelling career because of her boyish short hair and style, so made a conscious effort to look more feminine. It was only then that she got her first break on MTV.
For me, this put it all into perspective. It’s a film about the world forcing you to be someone you’re not, and finding the courage to break free from those shackles.
Celebrities’ lives and careers are largely dictated by appearance and desirability, which would explain why Ruby’s film presents clichéd depictions of female and male. It’s what we see everyday in the media.
Break Free is not a film that speaks for every trans* or gender diverse person, but it highlights Ruby Rose’s ongoing pursuit of freedom and happiness.
Monique Schafter is a Walkley award-winning journalist at the ABC. Click here to follow her on Twitter.
**This article first appeared in the September issue of the Star Observer. The October issue will hit the streets this Thursday (September 18) in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. Click here to find out where you can grab your free copy.
Watch Break Free below: