Two weeks ago, Australian performance artist Ruby Rose released a short film titled Break Free. The piece, set to a song (“It Pulls Me Under”) performed by Butterfly Boucher, depicts Rose’s transition from an ultra-feminine identity into a hyper-masculine one. The response has been loud, though not always proud. Some of the viewers want it to represent everything for everyone.
However, like any created work, it intends to simply capture and convey the artist’s very singular experience. The hope, presumably, is that others will relate to and appreciate it, but that’s where the creator’s responsibility stops and the viewer’s discernment starts.
Both the support and backlash are examples of how starved the LGBT community—particularly the trans population—is for positive representations of itself in the media. Along with others, Rose and Boucher have teamed up and done their part. But, like Rose says, “We need more people doing and fewer people complaining.”
Ruby, where did the seed idea for the piece come from?
RR: This is definitely an autobiographical piece. The concept itself was sort of something that was very much like a seed in that it kept growing and growing until one day I quite simply said, “That’s it. I’m shooting my film this weekend. Enough is enough.” Because I was battling with it myself. I had wanted to shoot the film for so long as a therapeutic piece in answer to all the comments and discrimination I have received over my lifetime whenever I have strayed too far away from the status quo of feminine gender roles.
I’ve had this reincarnation so many times in my life and I wanted to capture it in a short video for others who relate, because we can try and try and be something that we don’t feel inside, but in the end only when you listen to your soul and that heart that beats inside of us, can we find happiness and acceptance?
Butterfly, what was your initial instinct/impression/impulse when you first saw the piece?
BB: Well, the first time I watched it, I was coming from a very technical point of view… How long is it? What kind of mood?
The first thing I noticed was that it was really well done, and that Ruby had obviously put a lot of work into it. When she reached out to me, she only had two days to find some music for it. I really felt this piece of film deserved the right music, so I spent the next three hours going through my catalog of previous albums to see if anything fit, but songs were either lyrically not relevant or, musically, they made the visuals feel more like a music video rather than a short film. I really didn’t want to lose the classiness of the short film.
It wasn’t until about the third or fourth time I watched it that it started to hit me emotionally. It started to hit me how ballsy and brave Ruby was for making this film! The scene that moved me was the part where she is yelling at the camera saying, “What the fuck are you looking at? ” repeatedly, like she is rehearsing for the real world. At first, I was kind of offended by it, but then it occurred to me that that is kind of how tough somebody would have to be to stand up to the haters out there.
How did you come to choose and contact Butterfly [Boucher] for the song?
RR: I have known Butterfly for years through Missy Higgins. She is beyond talented; just a real inspiration with an enormous heart. I love her music and I asked if I would be able to use a song. She said yes and was so behind the film she didn’t even have time to mix it or master it, and that’s why I love her. That’s why her fans love her. She can release a song not mastered or mixed and it sounds perfect. And she gave it to me, which allowed me to give it to others. She’s had such a huge reaction she released it for free for the weekend and is getting it mixed and mastered for release.
Tell me a little about the song—its inspiration and purpose prior to this.
BB: This song was actually originally written for a Grey’s Anatomy episode, My co-writer on this song, Katie Herzig, and I were told they were looking for sad/everything-is-falling-apart/but-still-some-hope songs. So this is what we came up with. It wasn’t used and until this Ruby video came up. I had forgotten about it; it had just been sitting in my “Songs to Finish” folder.
I’m so glad it was brought to light again as I was really proud of the song. This is such a better use of the song and an uncanny fit, emotionally and lyrically.
I had never intended to release this song, but after the wonderful response and people asking about where they can get it, I decided to get it properly mixed and mastered.
The response really has been tremendous. How does that feel?
RR: If I ever sit and wonder if I’m doing the right thing when I make myself vulnerable or when I follow my heart, I can assure myself that is just ego and insecurities. When I get turned down for a role I wanted or let comments about me going from beautiful to ‘yuck’ get to me and start thinking maybe I should ‘pretty up’ or ‘re-brand,’ as they call it in ‘show biz,’ I am not being true to myself. I am willing to in that moment make myself extremely unhappy for the benefit of no one. To sell something fake.
If I don’t get a job I want, as me, the job isn’t for me. It’s for someone else deserving of it. If people want to troll my social media or say things hurtful in public based on my appearance, then that’s not my issue, but theirs for caring so much about what’s on the outside and not the inside. I have received so many messages, letters, and stories that have had me well up with tears from trans, gays, gender queers, people who feel like they don’t know themselves or are uncomfortable within themselves.
The success means a lot to me. It also makes me believe much more in humanity and really see that, because of years of hard work mixed with people in the media right now like Laverne Cox championing for the trans community, the world is building more acceptance.
What do you have to say to the haters and bullies out there?
RR: I think education is what will calm peoples’ anger and fear about gay people. And I think fear is often what breeds hate and discomfort. Here is an example obviously of something that doesn’t affect anyone else. It shouldn’t affect a complete stranger if someone has transitioned from a male to a female or vice versa. The fear, lack of understanding, and society’s dislike for things that are different to what we know creates serious segregation when we should all be binding together.
This includes people within the LGBT community. We can’t call for equality and understanding and people to be educated but then bully other minorities in the community. It’s so standard that someone would rather sit at home on a computer and dissect and tear down something they feel jealous of or think they could/would do better as opposed to actually going out and doing it better! If we all just sat at home and told other people how to do and live their lives better, no one would be doing anything. I encourage that, if you don’t like my video, my DJing, my acting, my social media debates… go on get up and do it yourself. We need more people doing and fewer people complaining.
Some commenters wish the male persona wasn’t exemplified by smoking and anger. What do you say to that?
RR: I say that’s fine, but they are missing the point. This isn’t any woman turning into any man. This is me and my story and I chose to reference a scene from a famous movie called Taxi Driver where he looks to the camera and says “Who you looking at? You looking at me?” It was my way, when I was younger, of amping myself up to go outside and actually face this world and the people who bullied me or looked at me sideways. It was my way of trying to convince myself I had the confidence to do it, to be me.
It’s not my depiction of men. This is just my story and some will relate and some will not. But, if you go through anything this personal with a fine tooth comb, you will always find things you don’t agree with. It’s not to be viewed like that, but as an insight into my experience.