"The truth is, it's taking everything I've got as a man to become a woman."
In Transformer, director Michael Del Monte documents Janae Marie Kroczaleski's first major steps of transition. As Matt Kroc, Kroczaleski was once the strongest man in the world for his size. Archival footage shows Matt as a manifestation of monomaniacal machoness, as exaggeratedly muscular as the superheroes my friends and I would draw when we were kids, screaming and cursing and psyching himself up in weight rooms. Outed in a YouTube video comparing the Instagram accounts of Matt and Janae, Janae, who had started and stopped transition eight times over the years, makes the concerted push to own her own story and her own life.
Transformer is a tour of perceptions and preconceptions. Growing up as "white trash" in Michigan, Janae was seemingly born in a pigeon hole. Then, as a high school football player wearing the team jersey on game day, she would secretly covet the cheerleading uniforms. But it was as a powerlifter, a star in the fitness world, that she became acutely conscious of her body and how she was perceived. Full self-realization, for Kroc, seems to exist in a societally impossible balance between an ideal of physical fitness and passing in the world as a conventional woman. Kroc wants both all eyes on her and to disappear into a crowd.
As a subject, Janae offers extreme, articulate examples of the complexities and contradictions at work in every person. What viewer can't relate to Janae having to make sacrifices to be herself? To always having to balance who they are with how they appear? To feeling sometimes like a constructed person? Recognizable models of identity are simple and limited, and you've always got to leave some aspect of yourself behind to squeeze into them.
The truly inspiring moments of Transformer capture people being themselves, leaving little behind, being as close to fully themselves as they can. "Don't be a pussy," one weightlifter instructs another, a chalky whack of encouragement on the bulging back before howling and screaming under a confounding collection of weights. Lifters who urge each other not to be little bitches later decompress with open, teary conversations about the challenges of life. In these scenes is a dissonance that's profoundly human.