Filmmaker Matt Kliegman, a recipient of the Sundance Documentary Fund, was accepted to screen his film in the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival in their Documentary feature program. Kliegman's documentary feature Markie in Milwaukee was ten years in the making. The Journey of Markie Wenzel is a unique one. A Midwestern transgender female, she ponders the sacrifices made and questions whether they are too great. The pressures experienced from her faith-based community pushed Markie to reconsider de-transitioning.
Kliegman follows a painstaking narrative of Wenzel's struggle in order to be true to herself. Markie made the decision at the age of forty-six to start living as a female, coming out as a transgender woman. This shocked many in her circle of relationships especially in the fundamental church community she once served as a licensed minister, often serving in specialized ministries with her wife and children (when she still identified as male). The immediate consequences were that Markie's twenty-year long marriage came to an end and her three children had a difficult time relating to her. Her family was left confused.
Kliegman begins to film Markie as she is putting the pieces of her life back together, in a new career path as a TSA agent and working toward sexual reassignment surgery. Markie tries to reconcile with his ex-wife and children but that proves to be more difficult than imagined. Over time the sadness of being left out of the loop as her children and grandchildren aged she began to question the path chosen. She missed her former relationships and connection with the church so she decided to renege on her female identity and "de-transition".
Kliegman explains, "She literally lays her female identity to rest at the family's cemetery plot, rejoins her former church family and tries to rebuild the relationship with her immediate family." Now as a man, "It's a process that creates an unsettling tension, and as the final moments of the film unfold, we are left to wonder if Markie's female identity is left in the past or if it will possibly return."
Kliegman documents the choices and changes of Markie's complicated life and answers the question as to why he should tell her story. First of all, the timing culturally is right to address transgender issues. The idea of de-transitioning is a controversial topic within the trans-community and Kliegman notes that several articles appearing in magazines, such as The Economist, The Guardian, The Atlantic openly present the pros, cons and ideas to ponder.
Secondly, Kliegman sees Markie's unique drama that comes out of her conservative religious value-system. She's not willing to put her faith to the side as if it is meaningless. Markie is not a youngster but an experienced sixty-year-old dealing with her gender identity. It's complex! The ideals and reality of religion, gender identity, relationships and physical appearance (including being seven-feet tall, weighing 400 lbs and very masculine), all collide and each has a rightful place in Markie's personhood. So, what's a girl to do? Markie says, "I have a female mind, emotions and spirit stuck in a male body and nothing makes us more lonely than our secrets."
Kliegman closes, "It is my sincere hope that by watching Markie's story the audience will question what it means to be thought of as different, and how hard it can be to accept ourselves when those around us refuse to accept who we are."