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My top five favorite gender identity movies

Updated on January 5, 2015

The ones I can't stop thinking about

I'm an avid movie fan (I watch a lot while knitting, cleaning and cooking) and have been thinking about my favorite movies for quite some time. I've given these a list if their own, as not all of them have family-friendly content. Included on this list are some well known and some less well known movies I can't stop thinking about, along with some soundtracks, too.

They range from true and gritty to light and fairly fluffy. Enjoy!


If you haven't heard of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, where have you been? This story begins with Hansel, the child of a German mother and American-soldier father, being raised behind the Berlin wall. As he grows up, his love of glamor and rock music only grows, so when he meets a handsome American soldier and falls in love, he gets his opportunity to escape from behind the wall. But in order to leave as his soldier's bride, he must take his mother's passport and pass a physical exam. And here Hedwig is born.

The gender-change surgery is botched, leaving him with only "an angry inch," and eventually losing him the love of his soldier (who is pictured loving big sausages and we'll leave it at that). Living alone in a trailer park, Hedwig is depressed and lonely. Working as a grocery checkout girl and babysitter, he falls for the young son of an officer, and they write beautiful music together. Until his boyfriend runs off with all the songs and becomes a rock star...

I've watched this one over and over and have seen many different levels in it. It's a love story, a glam-rock musical, a comedy, a search for meaning, a journey of discovery and a story about loneliness and redemption. Originally performed as an off-Broadway play, the role of Hedwig has been played by both genders, most notably its originator John Cameron Mitchell and brat pack-er Ally Sheedy. (It's a role I would love to play as well.)

The original soundtrack is also excellent and highly recommended. Building upon its Broadway origins, the instruments were prerecorded but the actors sang live as the movie was filmed.

Neil Patrick Harris recently finished his run in Hedwig's rock n' roll Broadway reboot, and he was simply phenomenal. Next up is Michael C. Hall. I had no idea he could sing; it will be very interesting to see how he interprets the role.

NPH as Hedwig

Hedwig soundtrack

Hedwig And The Angry Inch: Original Cast Recording
Hedwig And The Angry Inch: Original Cast Recording

These songs are amazing! Written by Stephen Trask (who is also in the movie), these original songs vary from 60s-style defiant rock through wistful ballad/rock and onwards to Platonic philosophy. When I'm feeling down, I play "Makeup" to cheer up or "Wicked Little Town" to go with wistful loneliness. When I want to feel relief and triumph, I listen to "Midnight Radio."


This is the saga of two drag queens and a transgendered woman making their way across Australia in their pink bus "Priscilla." It stars Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings, The Matrix) and has a great soundtrack. There's a love story thrown in as a subplot, a father-son reunion story, and tons of fabulous frocks. Though this is mainly a light-hearted movie, it does touch upon queer-bashing, drug abuse and some interesting uses of a ping-pong ball, so it's not appropriate for all audiences. I remember my Gram taking it out of the video store when it was first released, and though I liked the look of the cover (a fabulous showgirl hanging around outside) I wasn't allowed to watch it with her and ended up rediscovering it later as a teenager.

Priscilla - I Will Survive

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar

This is a bittersweet movie for me. It stars the late, great Patrick Swayze--in drag. With backup actors Wesley Snipes and John Leguziamo--also both in drag--this is a fairly mainstream movie. It's the classic drag queen wins contest and plane tickets to next level of contest, decides to drive cross country instead and take a friend and a bratty newcomer, breaks down in a small town and changes the lives of the people. It's definitely lighter and more fluffy than Priscilla.

One incident in particular makes me remember this movie. When the queens' car breaks down and strands them in a small town, they end up staying at a small hotel with a woman (Stockard Channing) and her abusive husband. Eventually the abuse becomes too much and Swayze punches the husband, in a moment of the man behind the queen showing his masculinity.

But I'm a Cheerleader

Briefly, this movie is about sending your gay kids to a retraining camp so they come out "normal" and straight.

At first glance, this movie is made with some extremely obvious themes. Girls wear pink; boys wear blue. Ordinary, boring people wear brown. Then you start to look a bit closer. The characters are being forced into trying to act "normal" when in fact they are already normal and the roles the camp is trying to force them into are so gender-stereotypical they're absurd. Then you realize it's a social satire and everything makes a lot more sense.

With a great cast, starring Natasha Lyonne, Eddie Cibrian, Clea DuVall, Cathy Moriarty, RuPaul, Richard Moll, Mink Stole, Kip Pardue, Michelle Williams, and Bud Cort, this is a fun, silly love story with an undercurrent of serious social commentary.

Cheerleader in love

Boys Don't Cry

Boys Don't Cry
Boys Don't Cry

You've probably heard of this true story before but if not here's a quick overview: A pre-op FTM transgender named Brandon is living as a man when he is discovered to be physically female by two "friends." They rape and beat him, and then murder him after he goes to the police. Based on a true story, this film has a haunting message and soundtrack. It's also a love story, believe it or not. Brandon falls in love with a beautiful girl named Lana, and there's an undercurrent question that's never quite answered as we wonder if Lana knows that Brandon is still physically female.

Starring Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny, this is an excellent, brutal and unforgettable film.

There's a documentary that's also worth watching to understand more of what happened, called the Brandon Teena story


Rocky Horror - Ok, so it's really my top six! I couldn't decide

Maybe you haven't had the experience of your older brother dragging it up at a Rocky Horror showing like I have, but this is a good watch nonetheless. It's kitschy and fun, has space aliens, rock music, Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Meatloaf (the singer, not the delicious delicious food). If you've never seen Rocky Horror, you're missing out on a lot of in jokes and the basis for many other weird music-y farces. As my husband and I say to each other, "Oh, Brad!"

Rocky Horror - Time Warp

State your opinion!

Do you prefer the fun, campy musicals or the gritty true stories?

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Questions? Comments?

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    • Yahya Abdal-Aziz profile image

      Yahya Abdal-Aziz 

      3 years ago

      Thanks for these intriguing synopses. I had wondered about Hedwig's "angry inch" - maybe I'll watch it now. But it sounds sad ...

      There's something strange about the formatting of your Hub - or did you just forget to name the movies? Because I can't see their titles, except on the video clips! So, what's the name of the Swayze delight? And the Ru Paul satire?


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