'3xFTM' Spotlights Sexual Minorities

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

At the turn of the new millennium, Harisu created a sensation as Korea's first transgender-transsexual entertainer. People were shocked to notice her Adams apple ― though it was actually digitally rendered ― in a makeup campaign, but mostly accepted the model-singer-actress as a "woman more beautiful than a woman".

First there is a need to clarify two often interchangeably used terms. A transgender is not necessarily transsexual, since gender refers to self-identification and social roles while sex denotes anatomical differences. The former refers to someone whose sexual identity can be best described as ambiguous since it does not conform to widely accepted gender roles and sexual norms, while the latter is someone who identifies him or herself as a member of the opposite sex.

Someone who was born female but feeling male all his life may prefer to be called a man, and this transsexual may undergo physical operations such as chest reconstruction or testosterone therapy. His sexual identity and sexual orientation are however two different things. He may be attracted to men, and thus be a gay female-toward-male (FTM) transgender.

In the high tide of documentaries here, with the minor genre gaining an unprecedented momentum, "3xFTM" by Kim Il-rhan stands out as the country's first film about the FTM transgender experience.

Created with the support of the Women's International Film Festival in Seoul, and as Collective for Sexual Minority Cultures pinks' second documentary project, "3xFTM" has traveled the international film circuit, from the Pusan (Busan) International Film Festival to the Netherlands Transgender Film Festival, and now meets regular moviegoers in local theaters.

Harisu can be seen as the "alpha"-transgender in conservative Korean society: her feminine charms were undeniable, and she quickly became a sex symbol and is now happily married to a rapper. "3xFTM" shines light on what it is like to be a "less glamorous", transgender-next-door.

The film is about three individuals who may be the newspaper deliveryman or wedding banquet caterer, or the guy wearing headphones in the subway. They are normal people with normal worries, but are subject to a few more complications because they grew to become men in a slightly different way ― what can you do when your sex has officially been changed, in person and on paper, but your resume states that you studied at a girls' high school? Is being asked to strip down during the physical exam for the compulsory military service a breach of privacy rights?

These are just a couple of the many questions that arise during the three protagonists' respective journeys. You can forget that documentaries, particularly those on such sensitive issues, are serious, boring and brooding. The FTM's chart their masculinity in terms of appearance, emotions, sexuality and human relationships. It is at once thought provoking and humorous as the three speak with admirable candidness.

Of course, it required incredible courage on the part of the three men to share their intimate stories. While all three easily agreed to take part in the film, the project was almost called off when they changed their minds, worried about the consequences it may bring upon their family.

But they eventually agreed it was a wonderful opportunity for the general public to open up their hearts. The movie provides insight into what it is like to be a sexual minority, but the three protagonists emphasize that they are not the norm for FTM's.

Now showing at Miro Space, Jongno; Joongang Cinema, Myeongdong; and Dongseong Art Hall Theater, Daegu. 115 minutes. 15 and over. Distributed by Media Zitta.