Coming into focus 

Missoula twins deal with gender identity in a new documentary

When Clair Farley was first approached about the prospect of being the subject of a feature-length documentary with her identical twin brother, Mark, her natural instinct was to wonder: Why would anyone want to hear our story? Why would anyone care enough to sit through a movie of our lives? Her initial reaction aside, Clair eventually understood.

“I’m not totally naïve,” she says. “I realize that there are very few 20-somethings in the transgender world, living in a positive environment, and I realize that even fewer probably have a gay identical twin brother…But it’s one thing to tell someone your personal story and another to have that story made into a film.”

Red Without Blue is a documentary currently being made about the life of Missoula-raised identical twins Mark and Alex Farley, and the story of how Alex is transitioning into Clair. Co-directed by three first-time filmmakers from San Francisco—Brooke Sebold, Benita Naschold and Todd Sills—the documentary pieces together original home-movies, intimate interviews with Mark and Clair and their family, and recent footage shot by Mark himself. The result is the tracking of a singular bond shared by identical twins, their tumultuous and near-tragic adolescence as openly gay teens in Missoula and, ultimately, their continued close relationship as Mark and Alex give way to Mark and Clair.

“I feel that the transgender visibility today is sort of where gay visibility was in the ’50s,” says Sebold, who has edited films since graduating from Brown University in 2003, and met Mark when he became her roommate in San Francisco. “Every transgender film that you see is this tragic tale of epic proportions. What we want this film to do is to show how powerful this set of identical twins are, to see what they’ve been through and to see what they’ve overcome. It’s a tragic tale early on, but it’s a remarkable end when you look at who Mark and Clair are today.”

For Mark and Clair, 22, to talk about who they are today—Mark is a San Francisco art student currently studying abroad in Prague; Clair is a senior at a liberal arts college in New York studying sociology—was one of the most difficult aspects of making the film. Alex came out at the age of 12, followed a short time later by Mark. Aside from each other, neither had gay friends the same age and they eventually befriended older gay men whose intentions were questionable. Those affiliations led to experimentations with drugs and alcohol, which they managed to keep secret from their mother, Jennie Farley.

“It took my breath away,” remembers Jennie, who divorced the brothers’ father when they were in high school and remains close to Mark and Clair. “Their drug use is one of the parts of the story that’s almost the most troubling to me because I had no idea that it was even available to them. I had absolutely no idea.”

At the age of 14, Mark and Alex made a pledge one night to commit joint suicide. After doing an eight-ball of cocaine, the two brothers drove their parent’s car to a remote cliff and stuck an exhaust hose into the window of the car. After five hours and no tragic result, the two boys started to inhale directly from the hose. It still didn’t work, and as the sun arose Mark and Alex resolved to return the car home and reveal what they had tried. Jennie took them to the hospital and, according to Clair, the doctors claimed they’d never seen so much carbon monoxide in a human who’d survived.

“I think it’s still hard to talk about just because it was such an act of desperation,” Clair recalled in a recent phone conversation.

As a result of the attempted suicide, the doctors deemed Mark and Alex a danger to each other and had the brothers separated. For the next two and a half years, each attended what Jennie refers to as “emotional growth boarding schools.” Then, just prior to the brothers’ first reunion, Alex revealed in a phone conversation with his brother that he planned to transition to Clair.

“Mark was afraid the decision was being made so that I no longer looked like him as a person, or that I judged him, or that I looked at myself so critically that I needed to escape the person that I was,” says Clair. “But I was able to talk to him about it, and I think sooner than the rest of the family he was able to accept who I wanted to be.”

For Jennie, the process of accepting Clair took longer. She didn’t communicate with her for 18 months because she needed time to “mourn the death of Alex.”

“When Clair told me that she was transgender, that was really hard,” remembers Jennie. “I just couldn’t get the pronouns right, much less the name. The surprising thing is, except for the exterior, it’s still my child. The person is there. As she becomes more comfortable with who she is, all that is all the more obvious. I see it. All those suspected barriers fall away.”

The majority of Red Without Blue (the title refers to the twins’ childhood, when Mark dressed in red and Alex in blue to help differentiate them) follows Alex’s transition to Clair. The three directors spent seven days filming in Montana last summer, splitting time between Missoula and the Farley’s family cabin at Flathead Lake. Some of the more compelling scenes of the film come from having Mark behind the camera.

“He’s gotten footage that honestly we could have never gotten,” says Sebold, mentioning specifically a recent sibling road trip and a sequence showing Clair getting electrolysis. “It removes a wall if the focus of the film can take the camera and create these images for himself. Plus, [Mark] is a visual artist, so he has the eye to do this effectively.”

At the moment, Sebold estimates that the filming of Red Without Blue is 90 percent complete and the majority of the editing remains unfinished. To help raise funding to finalize the project, Sebold has distributed a 30-minute rough cut, which will be screened in Missoula next week at an event hosted by Jennie, Clair and Andrew Laue, a licensed clinical social worker who worked with the family following the suicide attempt. All parties involved in the film maintain a steadfast commitment to releasing it to help raise awareness about gay, transgender and family matters.

“One of the reasons I agreed to do this film is that I think parents need to be more aware about all of these issues,” says Jennie. “They’re not remote. They’re not just happening in my life…This story is not over. It’s just beginning. There is so much hope and there is so much promise. That self-knowledge is just invaluable.”

For Clair, the one thing she hopes viewers will take away from the story is the humanity of her family, regardless of anything else.

“Being trans or being gay, those things are just one part of us as people,” she says. “Like anyone, we’re just trying to do our best to be who we are.”

The rough cut of Red Without Blue will be screened Thursday, Nov. 3, through Saturday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 PM, at 2825 Stockyard Road, Studio 4F. A reception begins each night at 6:30 PM. Space is limited and reservations are suggested. Call 327-9445.

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