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Arts & Life

Arts | Oregon Lens

Growing Up With A Transgender Brother


Thomas Crombie (right) as a child, with his brother.

Thomas Crombie (right) as a child, with his brother.

Courtesy of Kate Crombie

As a filmmaking student in Portland, Kate Crombie could have tackled any subject — culture, politics, class, the environment. Instead, she got personal.

Kate’s brother, Thomas, is a training consultant and speaker. He came out to Kate and the rest of his family as transgender four years ago. He was the perfect subject, and all the family photos and home movies that clearly documented his pre-transition life were right there.

Why did you choose your brother as a subject? 

 I feel like my work is based around people. Educating people. I’ve seen Thomas go through struggles, jump through tons of hoops. It was something I wanted to educate people about.

The piece notes the statistically high rate of suicide attempts by transgender people and Thomas talks about being assaulted because of his perceived orientation. Was it hard for you to talk about subjects like these with him?

Just thinking about the stuff my brother had to go through made me pretty emotional sometimes. Nobody wants to see somebody they love and are close to go through that. But I guess I’m used to talking about that kind of stuff. My mom works for Lines for Life Foundation so we’re pretty open talking about situations like that.

Your piece contains a lot of family photos and footage from old home movies. Did you know from the start you wanted to build your film around these?

Usually when I start a project I don’t see it like that. But I saw this in my head that this was the best way to go. I wanted to show our home movies so the audience can see the difference, and how much Thomas wasn’t a normal girl growing up.

Are you in any of the photos?

I’m in one. Me and my three brothers, we’re standing by this wooden bear. It’s about halfway through.

What was family life like with Thomas?

When I was growing up we just accepted who he was. I had a sister, but it was always a struggle to get him to act like my sister. That was a frustration for me, so I never really considered him my sister. For example, I would get so excited when my mom would get us to wear matching dresses. But he hated it. It was frustrating for me.

When did he come out to you? (There’s footage in the movie that was taken right before he came out.)

We started calling him “him” 4 years ago. But as the video says, it wasn’t that much of a shock.

How was it to get your other family members to participate?

My brother Patrick wasn’t super gung ho right of the bat. He’s just not the type who likes to call attention to himself. 

What about your parents?

They’re not really in it. They’re in the end of it but I don’t even know if they know. I just ran out of time. I plan to have an interview with them but scheduling didn’t allow for it.

Did your family help Thomas with his transition treatments?

They paid for one treatment but he pretty much did it himself. Not that they wouldn’t. He just does it himself.

You include a little footage of his hormone therapy. Does Thomas share with you and the rest of your family about what he goes through as a result of that process?

He lives with his fiancé Nicole. I feel like she bears more of the brunt of that. But he mentions it sometimes. He calls it ‘Puberty 2.0.’ He says it’s awful and he feels bad for any boy going through it.

Did your feelings about your brother change while doing the movie? 

We’ve all been really close, but I think it brought us a little closer. It helped me to understand more, understand what he has to deal with. I think it was nice for him as well to see how supportive we are by seeing how interested we are in this.

I was a little nervous asking him to do it, because I didn’t want it to seem like I was making him a spectacle. But he’s very education oriented, so he’s very for it and very willing to participate.

You want to make a longer version of this film. What will it be like?

I want to cover more issues in depth. It’s still going to be personal about Thomas but it’s going to be broader. It will cover health care, legal issues, and talk about trans women.

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