Doc explores bonds of identical twins who struggle with gender
In search of clues for a genetic predisposition to homosexuality, researchers are drawn to identical twins. While it may not prove anything, “Red without Blue,” which airs Monday on the Sundance Channel, is an interesting study of one set of twins. Mark and Alexander Farley were born two minutes apart in Missoula, Mont., on March 7, 1983.
When the documentary begins spending three years with them, Mark is living in San Francisco and going to art school. If that doesn’t tell you he’s gay, he will. Alex, living as Clair, is studying sociology and psychology in New York.
Over the next three years, they’ll regain their early closeness, which had been interrupted. Meanwhile, we learn about their first 20 years through a mosaic of family photos and home movies and the testimony of their parents, Jenny and Scott, who divorced when the boys were 11.
Jenny, who says they were “perfect children,” remembers suspecting the boys were gay when they were in kindergarten because they were “sweet and feminine.” After her divorce from Scott, she had an intense romance with another man and paid minimal attention to the boys. At the same time, her best friend, Dora, also divorced and moved in with Jenny and the twins. She and Jenny still live together.
“We sleep in the same bed,” Jenny says, “but we’re not gay.” (That sounds so Oprah!)
Alex came out in seventh grade while Mark tried to stay closeted. The kids in school assumed if one was gay they both were, and picked on both of them. In eighth grade, they both fell for 17-year-old Casey, who took advantage of them sexually and once brought over a 10-year-old boy and raped him in their bathroom.
In their teens, the twins weren’t getting along with each other and had few outside friends to whom they could turn. So they turned to drugs. Eventually, Mark decided they should commit suicide and Alex went along, but the attempt failed. They went through rehab, then were sent to separate boarding schools and kept apart for two years. By the time they reunited, Alex had decided to become Clair.
The sequence of events over the three years of “present-day” footage isn’t always clear. Mark’s appearance keeps changing, with different hair colors and styles and going back and forth from a full beard to clean-shaven. As her family becomes accepting of her decision, Clair remains undecided about having final gender reassignment surgery.
At first, Jenny takes the gender change as “one big “‘Fuck you’ to me,” while Mark sees it as a rejection of their commonality. He retaliates by calling himself “Oliver” for a time. (The credits list him as Mark Oliver Farley.)
Mark does find a stable relationship with David Suarez. But they’re separated when Mark spends a semester in Prague and David begins a longer stay in Paris. By the end of the film, some issues are resolved, others left open. Just like life.
Produced and directed by Brooke Sebold, Benita Sills and Todd Sills, “Red without Blue” has a “Real World” feel in the use of on-camera confessionals. But that’s offset by a lot of arty playing with images, especially from the past.
With shooting in Paris and Prague as well as San Francisco, New York and Missoula, it’s unusually ambitious for such an intimate documentary. And it tells an essentially positive story of a brother and sister who survived a lot of negative experiences to get where they are.
The title doesn’t refer to a conservative’s map of America, but the color coding assigned to the twins as children: Mark wore red, Alex blue so they could be more easily recognized. Telling them apart is no longer a problem.
Airs June 4, at 8 p.m. on the Sundance Channel.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 1, 2007.