„Orlando, meine politische Biografie“: Dazwischensein

„I have a female penis“ – the statement, confidently made, seems to surprise the psychiatrist. He had already prepared the usual assumption for his counterpart, a young transgender woman with red dyed hair: „Do you hate your genitalia?“ Those who want to transition to a different gender must despise their original one. Or so he thought. Meanwhile, other young transgender individuals in the waiting room join forces, giggling as they share their experiences with psychiatry and take hormone tablets („Does anyone want some testosterone?“). A spontaneous party ensues.

Die inszenierte Szene, solidarisches Happening und anarchisches Manifest, steht am Anfang von Paul B. Preciados essayistischem Dokumentarfilm Orlando, meine politische Biografie. Eigentlich hätte der Gendertheoretiker und Trans-Aktivist gerne über seine eigene Transition geschrieben, aber da sei ihm die „verfluchte“ Virginia Woolf zuvorgekommen.

In her novel Orlando – A Biography, published in 1928, the writer tells the story of a young English nobleman’s experiences, thoughts on men, women, customs, literature, and nature over four centuries. Using a deliberately historicizing and ornamental language with a flowing rhythm, she describes Orlando’s social life, love affairs, and travels. In the middle of the novel, the main character falls into a seven-day sleep and wakes up as a woman. Inspired by Woolf’s friend and occasional lover Vita Sackville-West, the book is considered a key text in queer literature.

Paul B. Preciado beschreibt sich als Orlandos Seelenverwandter und als Virginia Woolfs Gestalt gewordene Fantasie. Der Film, den er mit seiner Off-Stimme auf nachdenkliche Weise trägt und lenkt, ist der Versuch, einen Brief an die Schriftstellerin zu schreiben, sie mit einer Gruppe Verbündeter in einen Dialog zu verwickeln.

The Spaniard Preciado found 25 Orlandos. They see themselves as dissenters of the binary gender order and all imagine themselves in the same way: „In this film, I will be Orlando by Virginia Woolf.“ They all wear a white Tudor collar, which gives them a timeless quality, and they all seem inspired by their experiences, which they want to share, even with a great writer who, in the spring of 1941, walked into a river with her coat pockets full of stones.

Oscar, Ruben, Janis, Liz, Elios, Victor, Iris, Clara, Amir, and all the others take us into their biographies and stories. They describe their longings, their relationship with their bodies, with their parents, their experiences with doctors, and the effects of hormone treatment. We see the scars after a breast removal, which is experienced as a new form of possibility. These are processes of self- and subject-formation, described intimately and personally. The narratives transition into passages from Woolf’s book, delivered in the first person. Improvised sets and associatively selected locations continue the novel’s plot. A sunlit forest illustrates Orlando’s empathetic relationship with nature, while a photo wall of a snowy landscape serves as the backdrop for a first love story during the „Great Ice Age“ in England. Sleeping young people on statues in the park foreshadow the transformation.

As a child, he couldn’t understand why he always felt different, with his clothing, friendships, toys, everything, says the teenager Ruben. He thought, „I’m not quite a girl, but I don’t know what else.“ After an initial hormone treatment, he exaggerated his masculinity in a caricatured way, with broad strides and rolling shoulders. However, these supposedly virile attributes didn’t bring him any closer to himself. It was only in his transgender identity that he discovered a freedom, his own ambiguity.

Orlando, meine politische Biografie schreibt die Geschichte der Transkörper aus subjektiver Perspektive weiter. Nicht das Gesetz, die Theorie, die Psychiatrie oder die Psychoanalyse kommen zu Wort, sondern gelebte Leben.

Natürlich ist der Film auch eine Auseinandersetzung mit Virginia Woolf. Mit ihrem eigenen Dazwischensein, ihrem Kampf um einen Platz in der patriarchalischen Londoner Publikationswelt, mit ihren Depressionen. Preciado spricht von Melancholie, als wolle er der Autorin jenen poetischen Freiraum lassen, den sie auch Orlando gewährt. Der Filmemacher besucht Virginia Woolfs Archiv in New York und stellt fest, dass sie sich ursprünglich selbst als Figur in ihren Roman einbaute, unter dem Pseudonym Volumina Fox („Supername für eine Dragqueen!“). Preciado verwandelt dies in eine kleine Spielfilmszene: Ein junger Transmann in Kettenhemd betritt im Hier und Heute ein Waffengeschäft in Paris. Statt etwas zu kaufen, tauscht er eine historische Pistole gegen einen ausgestopften Fuchs.

The film itself becomes a playful manifesto of transition, a dance – with cameo appearances. The artist couple Pierre and Gilles play two surgeons who sew a picture of five-year-old Preciado into the pages of Woolf’s novel on the operating table, and in a utopian scene, the writer Virginie Despentes, in the role of a judge, grants all participants „planetary, non-binary citizenship“ – at least by the year 2028.