On Being Trans and Watching Everything Everywhere All at Once

On Being Trans and Watching Everything Everywhere All at Once

“Wait,” Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Jobu Tupaki (an interdimensional being of unrivalled cosmic power and chaos, covered in blood and glitter, having just killed three men) says to her mother. “In this universe, you’re still hung up on the fact that I like girls?”

This was the moment that struck me like a spear through my chest. I sat up straighter. My eyes widened and immediately welled up. How could I have prepared for this moment, when a young woman demands her mother see her as something other than just queer?

Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh), who has watched someone who looks like her daughter — but is definitely not her daughter — commit a handful of murders, doesn’t respond, but continues to pull the unconscious body of her husband (Waymond Wang, played by Ke Huy Quan) to safety. Jobu (or Joy Wang, depending on which universe we’re in; both are played by Stephanie Hsu) follows Evelyn, annoyed and baffled. She’s just unalived multiple people. She’s broken the laws of physics, space, and time, and her mother is hung up on the fact that she’s gay? At that moment I sided with Jobu. There are so many more interesting things in this scene than the implicit campy queerness of the main villain. But to have that fear, that homophobia, expressed so casually, so blatantly, so dismissively, struck home harder than I ever expected walking into Everything Everywhere All at Once.

I had to come out to my parents twice. The first time was in 2013, when I had graduated college, was fully off my parent’s payroll (just in case, you know), had my first real job, and had just moved nearly 1,931 km north of my rural Southern hometown. They were helping me move, and as we passed the LGBTQ Centre my dad said something about “all the letters,” and asked what Q stood for. I explained, and he just shrugged, unbothered.

Later that day, I told my dad as we were sitting in a cafe that I identified as queer. My dad (bless him) didn’t look surprised at all, and just nodded. I was always a tomboy, I hated dresses, I was a jock. His sister (my aunt) was a lesbian, in the way that first gens are lesbian while pronouncing it “roommates”. When my mum came back over with our coffees, he said to her, “Robin, did you know that Lin is Q?”

My mum (bless her) just smiled and said “Of course! They’re very cute!” I don’t know if she misheard or didn’t want to hear it. I don’t know if it was a mistake or not, even though I’m almost sure it was just because she had never in her life thought about it. I explained that dad meant queer, as in mostly into girls.

After Evelyn realises that the Alpha-version of her daughter is an interdimensional evil, she imagines that it’s Jobu Tupaki controlling her universe’s Joy Wang. When she convinces herself that Joy is more or less possessed by this other version of her daughter, the movie turns inward (and outward, and everywhere else) as a slow archaeology of Evelyn and Joy’s relationship.

There is a part of Evelyn that is convinced that Joy is being possessed because Joy is gay. For Evelyn, Jobu’s queerness is something totally separate from her Joy. Her daughter being gay is not part of who she is, but an addendum, like a footnote, added after she had set up all these expectations of her daughter. Because Evelyn just can’t understand it, Joy’s queerness is a part of another universe entirely.

Joy and Becky, just roommates/gal pals/devoted friends (Image: Allyson Riggs/Courtesy of A24)
Joy and Becky, just roommates/gal pals/devoted friends (Image: Allyson Riggs/Courtesy of A24)

When I came out to my mother as transgender, she needed more than a footnote to really understand what I was trying to say, what I was trying to tell her. Much like Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film about the failure of explanations, I realised that I would never be able to really tell my mum who I was. Being nonbinary and transgender wasn’t a footnote to my identity, but something that described my entire life up until the moment when I had the vocabulary to identify it. I am so much more than my gender identity (I haven’t broken space-time yet, give me a few years), but it cast a shadow across my whole life, for both me and my mother.

No amount of explanations can show Evelyn who Joy actually is. Instead, as Evelyn and Joy play high-stakes tag across the multiverse, Joy shows her again and again who she is, and who she isn’t. I understood this as a queer kid who struggled, and still sometimes struggles, to talk to my parents about what being queer really means. I try different approaches. I suggest films, I’ve gifted books, I’ve even had conversations when something happens in pop culture. My parents are great; they’re trying. But there is still something fractured about my identity — something about being trans that makes me separate from the kid I used to be, when I’ve always been the same person. I am not a fractured thing, I’m just trying to get them to understand me. Maybe this is my problem; I want them to understand something that I have trouble understanding myself.

My mum, like Evelyn, still doesn’t quite understand what it means to have a transgender child. I know that she mourned the daughter that only really existed in her idea of me. I know that she dreams of the grandchildren I will never have. I know that in another universe, in another timeline, maybe she would have decided that children weren’t worth putting her extremely stressful military officer’s career on hold for. But she didn’t. And now, at least in this universe, she’s stuck with me. She doesn’t understand, but she’s trying. She’s a good mum. A great one. And, kind of like Evelyn, a total badass.

She writes my pronouns on sticky notes and puts them on my picture. All the different versions of me scattered throughout the house, all the snapshots of my life captured in a singular second within a single universe; “They are happiest when sailing,” “Their dog’s name is Zigzag,” “I love them.”

Despite the universes between Evelyn and Joy, the horrible mismatched shattering of identity and understanding, love is what ties Everything Everywhere All at Once together. Evelyn is willing to risk everything, the whole world, the whole universe, the entire cosmological existence to understand her child. As I said in my review, this film doesn’t ask you to understand it. Not really. It’s homage and satire and comedy and romance and drama. It’s all of that because everyone is all of those things, because throughout it all, you can see pieces of yourself in between the cracks in space-time. All you really have to know is that Evelyn loves her family, and will do anything, at any time, to protect them.

I know this about my mother too. I know that we will always struggle with our own expectations of the other. Within our own lives are generational wagers laid and bet on whether or not we disappoint each other at any given time, but we love each other. And for us, just like for Evelyn and Joy, that’s enough, even without us really knowing each other. Love is more than enough. It’s everything.