Martine Stonehouse and John Gelmon of Toronto, the couple at the heart of the documentary Transfixed, are one of the most unique romantic pairings to ever come together. Both middle aged and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (in addition to John’s Tourette Syndrome), Martine and John have been living happily together since 2003 when they met in a support group. Martine is a transwoman from a Christian background, and John is a straight, Jewish man. Their lover for each other is true, but John stands adamant that he won’t marry Martine until she has sexual reassignment surgery. But the combination of Martine’s weight issues (including diabetes and high blood pressure) and the enormous cost of having the surgery done pushes Martine to her limits physically and mentally.
The debut feature from Alon Kol doesn’t show a lot in the way of filmmaking acumen, sometimes coming off as sloppy and rudimentary. But when a filmmaker finds subjects as dynamic and worth caring about as Martine and John, the job is mostly done before the cameras have to roll. What Kol lacks in style is made up for simply because viewers want to spend time with Martine and John to get to know them better. They’re good people, deeply in love, and trying to achieve a goal that has stymied them for years.
It’s hard for Kol to get John to open up, but it’s made clear early on that it’s hard to get John to open up on camera. John struggles sometimes with cameras on him, and sometimes his bluntness (a by-product of his Asperger’s and Tourette’s) can seem selfish and callow. But Martine acts almost as a translator for John’s fears and neuroses. She proves that no one understands him better than she does. Still, John’s interesting background (including an autistic brother) feels like it should be explored a bit more in depth.
Martine stays the focus for almost the entire film, and it’s not hard to see why. She’s a charismatic, well spoken activist for trans rights trying to feel like her true self biologically for the first time. Through her, audiences will see just how taxing the transition process and recovery cycle can be, and how much harder it can be for someone with Asperger’s. It’s unique to see, and also very humanely addressed by Kol.