“I regretted it immediately” says one of the two Swedish men facing each other in a dark studio and talking about their respective sex change operations. Mikael, the one speaking, is built heavy and low to the ground, with dark glasses and a certain Roy Orbison cast. Never comfortable in his own skin, he had the operation in the early 1990s and knew immediately that it was a mistake. Now, he looks eagerly to getting the surgery reversed, imagining that that is going to handle his insecurities and identity problems.
Tsking and tut-tutting from the facing chair is the substantially older Orlando—a physically delicate (but mentally tough) peacock with a blinding white hairdo and a glittering red suit that speaks of certain Las Vegas lounges circa 1974—who had one of the first such operations in the 1960s. Orlando also had his operation reversed (an eleven-year marriage went sour once his husband started demanding children) but seems to know that no matter what the surgeons add or cut away, you’re still left with yourself in the end.
Marcus Lindeen’s film is as simple in its setup as it is complex in its emotions. He puts the two men against a black backdrop and, but for a few scenes in which they click through a slideshow of photographs of each other as women (Orlando in full surgical enhancement, Mikael in wigs and makeup) has them simply talk to each other. It has a black-box theater sensibility to it, which is fitting as the piece (which began as a radio interview) has already been produced in numerous countries as a live-theater piece.
Regretters is unlike just about any other film that has been made concerning post-operative transsexuals, most particularly because it isn’t strictly about gender, identity and sexuality—though all these subjects are handled with deft honesty and forthrightness. All of these factors are in play, of course, but Lindeen seems to prefer to let these men talk about themselves and the things that drove them into seeking the operations (fear, love, self-hatred) rather than steer them through the expected narratives of rejection and chrysalis. For these two, the operation isn’t an end in itself, but rather just another stage in a lifelong journey whose final destination is themselves.