Erik & Erika (2018)

Erik & Erika
Director: Reinhold Bilgeri
Writer: Dirk Kämper
Cast: Markus Freistätter, Ulrike Beimpold, Lili Epply, Gerhard Liebmann, Cornelius Obonya, Anna Posch, August Schmölzer, Nives Bogad, Harald Schrott, Marianne Sägebrecht, Rainer Wöss
Seen on: 17.3.2018

Content note: cis and dya fuckery, trans- and intermisia

Erik Schinegger (Markus Freistätter) grew up as Erika, always uncomfortable in what society expects of girls and unable to reconcile it with his own wishes. Until he starts skiing – a sport that he really loves. After he wins some big women’s races for Austria, a medical check reveals that he might not be a girl after all as everybody assumed he was – and Erik has to face some questions about his own identity and make some difficult decisions regarding his body and his career.

Look, I know that my plot summary is less than perfect with how it talks about Erik Schinegger, but honestly, it’s the best I could do and still have it have anything to do with the actual film. Because Erik & Erika is a mess and incredibly biologistic, heteronormative and sexist especially for a film that is about a trans and inter guy.

In case you aren’t aware, Erik Schinegger is a real person. And it may very well be that he is comfortable with the framing of his gender as the film has done it here. Maybe he is framing it that way himself. I don’t know and even if I did, it is not my place to criticize how he sees himself on an individual basis. But watching the film and seeing how they frame being transgender and intersex, made me incredibly tense, if not to say anxious.

As the film tells it, Erik’s genitalia at birth were ambiguous to the midwife so she basically flipped a coin and called him a girl. But during his medical exams later as an adult, the doctors describe it as him having a penis and all interior male sex organs, it just doesn’t look that way. And even though Erik does struggle shortly with the idea of not being a woman, it actually all clicks into place with that realization: he has always been a tomboy, he was never happy wearing dresses or having to deal with household chores or what have you, he fell in love with a girl; and now it turns out that all of that stuff doesn’t mean that we have to question binary heteronormativity or the correlation between genitalia and gender, it just meant that there is biological fluke that led for Erik to be put into the wrong box and with a bit of corrective surgery, he can finally be put into the right box and live his heteronormative life. Especially that ending suffocated any possibility of deviation from the strictly enforced boundaries between men and women.

Given that already by virtue of their very existence, trans and inter people challenge so many assumptions so many people have about gender, it is depressing that a film about a person who is both trans and inter can be so rigid in its ideas about gender. It made me wish that somebody else (preferably not a cis, dya dude) made the film – somebody who has at least an inkling of an idea about queer/gender theory. Bilgeri is not that person.

Because it is an interesting story and it would deserve a good cinematic treatment. One that leaves some room for queerness; one that casts an intersex person as Erik (at least as far as I know, Markus Freistätter is dya); one that doesn’t just accidentally capture the pressure on Erik to have surgery to “””fix””” his genitalia (at least it felt accidental to me) but realizes the assumptions and meanings there as well; in short, one that does right by inter and trans people.

Summarizing: Erik Schinegger and trans & inter people in general deserve better.

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