The Matrix, The Wachowskis, And Transgender Issues

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Most of us remember the 1999 groundbreaking film “The Matrix,” and most of us enjoyed it enough to forgive Warner Brothers for the cash-grab follow-ups, which will not be discussed here. It introduced a revolutionary new visual style and participated in the invention and popularization of bullet-time photography, which has been adapted, modified, and used in movies and television ever since.

We might also remember that the film was directed by The Wachowski Brothers.

As it turns out, Larry Wachowski (now Lana) is transgender. Rumors began to circulate in the early 2000s that Lana was transgender, but the siblings kept this information private until after Lana’s transition in 2008. The earliest publication to mention Lana by her new moniker, and to refer to the siblings simply as ‘The Wachowskis,’ occurred in 2010. She has been very active in the transgender community ever since, eventually receiving The Human Rights Campaign’s ‘Visibility’ Award.

In March of 2016, Andy Wachowski also came out as transgender and has adopted the name Lilly.

Lana has expressed in several speeches and interviews that she had considered committing suicide in her youth because of her feelings of confusion about her gender identity. In retrospect, it’s interesting to note that themes of identity are ubiquitous in films made by the Wichowskis. One of the earliest examples is “The Matrix.” The main character struggles with accepting the possibility that he may be a messiah figure. But there’s also an interesting tertiary character, Switch, who is a clear expression of the Wachowskis’ struggle with their gender identity. One of Morpheus’s cohort, the character was intentionally designed to be androgynous, and the script even reveals that Switch was supposed to be female in the ‘real’ world and male while in ‘the matrix.’ This was narratively designed to illustrate the concept of “residual self image” explained by Morpheus as a projection, while in the matrix, of one’s most concise and accurate image of Self. While biologically female, Switch views himself as being male.

Casting the character proved to be challenging; finding a male actor and female actor that could be made to resemble each other closely proved nearly impossible. Time and budget constraints eventually motivated the Wachowskis to abandon this concept, and the androgynous character of Switch that we see in the film was developed, with a pretty ‘on-the-nose’ name. The fact that the character of Switch was written in the manner it was, however, clearly points to the very real possibility that The Wachowskis were working – whether consciously or unconsciously – through their own gender identity circumstances, and reflects how meticulously the first Matrix film was assembled (and why that first film continues to be a contemporary classic).

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