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Directed by Kate Davis, Southern Comfort is an intimate documentary about the final days of Robert Eads, an female-to-male transsexual dying of cancer, and his family and friends.

Eads is a fascinating character who talks openly about his past, his transition, and his views on society. Almost always with a cigarette or pipe in hand, Eads laughs about the time the KKK approached him about joining its group. He openly loves Lola Cola and simply adores his grandchild. He even laughs about the cancer invading every part of his body except for his lungs, rationalizing that smoking is keeping the cancer out of them.

Davis’s access allowed her to create multi-dimensional portraits that defy gender compartmentalizing. She followed Robert across living situations as his health deteriorated and filmed his friends in their homes. The subjects opened up to Davis about their situations, though some expressed fear at the repercussions of the documentary.

While the documentary also addresses some issues of transgender healthcare (or, more so, the lack thereof), it focuses more on family and acceptance of self. “Family” in this documentary refers not only to biological ones, but also to chosen family members. An interview with Robert’s father shows how difficult that acceptance is for his biological family. Eads’s father refuses to introduce Robert as his son, instead introducing him as a nephew. Acceptance comes more from chosen family, but it also must come from the victory over the struggle within oneself.

While this documentary has been on DVD for a while now, I watched on SundanceNOW’s DocClub as part of its offerings on women documentary makers.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh is a documentary blogger and mass media professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Follow her on Twitter @documentarysite.