In a lengthy, funny, mildly resigned statement made to Chicago’s LGBT weekly Windy City Times on Tuesday, The Matrix and Sense8 co-director Lilly Wachowski came out as a transgender woman, under the teasing headline "SEX CHANGE SHOCKER — WACHOWSKI BROTHERS NOW SISTERS!!!"
"There’s the headline I've been waiting for this past year," Wachowski says in the essay. "Up until now with dread and/or eye rolling exasperation. The ‘news’ has almost come out a couple of times. Each was preceded by an ominous email from my agent—reporters have been asking for statements regarding the ‘Andy Wachowski gender transition’ story they were about to publish. In response to this threatened public outing against my will, I had a prepared a statement that was one part piss, one part vinegar and 12 parts gasoline.
It had a lot of politically relevant insights regarding the dangers of outing trans people, and the statistical horrors of transgender suicide and murder rates. Not to mention a slightly sarcastic wrap-up that ‘revealed’ my father had injected praying mantis blood into his paternal ball-sac before conceiving each of his children to produce a brood of super women, hellbent on female domination. Okay, mega sarcastic."
Wachowski, 48, has her sister Lana Wachowski, 50, as a model for the coming-out process
The complete statement is gentler than that theoretical fire-spouting diatribe, but it still comes with an edge. Wachowski says her coming-out was prompted by a recent specific moment where a reporter from the U.K.’s Daily Mail turned up on her porch, urging her to come out to him before the National Enquirer started following her around. Recalling the case of Lucy Meadows, a transwoman primary-school teacher who committed suicide after Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn wrote a scathing, misgendering column about her, Wachowski instead elected to forestall a forced or accidental outing, and come forward on her own.
Wachowski, 48, has her sister Lana Wachowski, 50, as a model for the coming-out process. Lana privately transitioned around 2000, but went public in 2012, when the siblings gave a rare press tour in support of their film Cloud Atlas. Lana rapidly became a spokeswoman for trans awareness, winning the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award and opening up about her past, and the difficulty of early trans experiences, in a deeply personal speech.
But until 2012, the Wachowskis largely refused to participate in the press junkets, TV tours, and interviews that normally come with a filmmaking career. "My sister Lana and I have largely avoided the press," Lilly says in the statement. "I find talking about my art frustratingly tedious and talking about myself a wholly mortifying experience. I knew at some point I would have to come out publicly. You know, when you're living as an out transgender person it’s… kind of difficult to hide. I just wanted — needed some time to get my head right, to feel comfortable. But apparently I don't get to decide this."
But while the statement starts off rueful, personal, and angry, it quickly moves into broader political territory, calling attention to the disproportionately dangerous lives trans people face, and referencing the recent rash of proposed laws limiting restroom access for transgender people. Lilly praises her friends and family for their support, and rejects the idea of a simple gender binary, suggesting it’s time to "elevate the dialogue" past the basic either/or definition.
From the beginning of their shared career, the Wachowskis have had a strong rooting interest in writing and directing movies with female protagonists, often dealing with either open or coded LGBT issues. Their attention-grabbing debut film, Bound, is a racy, fun lesbian neo-noir starring Jennifer Tilly as a traditional femme-fatale type, and Gina Gershon as the much less conventional tough patsy who falls for her scheme. The Matrix’s action heroine Trinity (who has such an intimidating reputation, most people assume she’s a man) was so striking in 1999 that she became a visual and conceptual model for a decade of leather-clad cinematic lady badasses that followed. 2005’s V For Vendetta centers on a young woman going through a personal hell in order to transition into a symbolic role held by a man before her. 2012’s Cloud Atlas moves through different timelines telling different stories, but repeatedly using the same actors, who swap genders and ethnicities throughout the film. 2015’s Jupiter Ascending is a romantic space-opera fantasy about a woman slowly growing into her own cosmic power.
"I will continue to be an optimist"
And the Wachowskis’ latest project, the original Netflix series Sense8, deals directly with trans issues. Trans actress Jamie Clayton plays trans character Nomi Marks, whose abusive family purposely misgenders her and attempts to subject her to an unwanted lobotomy to "cure" her. Nomi’s plotline is a specific transgender nightmare, about judgment, rejection, denial of self, and loss of physical control. It always read like a personal statement. Now it seems doubly so. Wachowski’s coming out may leave the siblings’ body of films open to new interpretations, and make them seem even more personal than they already were.
Wachowski’s coming-out statement ends on a positive note: "I will continue to be an optimist," she says, "adding my shoulder to the Sisyphean struggle of progress and in my very being, be an example of the potentiality of another world." If that statement and Lana’s frequent public appearances since her coming-out are any indication, Lilly may become another trans spokeswoman and visibility ambassador. Certainly it seems likely that their work will continue to reflect their lives, possibly even more openly than before.