Tina (Carlie Guevara) has more than her fair share of troubles. She is a pre-op trans woman in New York who drives a taxi late at night with a predictable array of dodgy passengers. A Mexican immigrant, she doesn’t have the right paperwork and her loving but suffocating grandmother (Miriam Cruz) – desperate to leave NYC and return to tend her garden in Mexico – doesn’t understand the granddaughter she insists on calling Antonio. Tina’s boyfriend is only after one thing and is ashamed to be seen with her in the street. The therapist (Edward Asner) who is overseeing her transition keeps asking difficult questions, and then there’s the creepy dude in the local grocery store (Anthony Abdo). For Tina, if something can go wrong it surely will.
Even when she is OK’d for hormone treatment her blood tests come back and it’s not good news. Gender reassignment seems as far away as ever. From the outset – close-ups, sombre music – it’s clear that an ill wind is a-blowing. Even Tina’s gal pals can’t cheer her up. Things are not helped when another trans woman in the neighbourhood is beaten up by the police. Tina and her mates form a protest group and mount a vigil.
No one thinks changing gender is easy and here all the hurdles are spelt out, somewhat didactically it has to be said. The Garden Left Behind is a handsomely made movie but the uneasy mix of pro (Michael Madsen crops up in a small cameo) and inexperienced actors often throws things off balance. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see trans people in front of and behind the camera.
For viewers struggling to make sense of the often divisive arguments surrounding transphobia and gender equality, this is a supercharged primer on the bureaucratic hoops and very real threats trans people can face every day. Others may see the film as too simplistic by far.