The Most Dangerous Year (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

I would say that my major political view could be summed up with the idea of people first. However, I also practice the idea of trying to never say “I know” something that I can’t possibly know. So, I’ve have tried to always support the rights of people – which includes those of transgender individuals. With that being said, I have also struggled with the idea of when – as in at what age, specifically – can a person truly know they are the other gender. The Most Dangerous Year (2018) is a documentary directed by Vlada Knowlton, who is also a mother of a very young transgender child – which is a fact told to the viewer right from the beginning.  She follows the fight for civil rights of transgender people in 2016, specifically in Washington State, as well as across the country while more and more “bathroom bills” are issued, which seek to take the civil rights away from the trans community.

The Most Dangerous Year is a compelling documentary that sheds light on a topic from a very personal perspective

What you are probably wondering or foaming at the mouth about at this point is the idea of how young the child is. During the film, there are several children ranging from ages 5 to 15-years-old, including the director’s transgender daughter, who is 5. In the past, I’ve been concerned that allowing a child to make such a choice is irresponsible on the parent’s end. How can such a young mind “know” something like this? While I know this film is biased, as are most documentaries, the representation of the children and their lives before the parents were willing to accept that the biological gender the child was born with was not the gender they identified as was enough to convince me that when you know, you know. Seeing images of Knowlton’s daughter before they accepted her and did not allow her to be HER, coupled with the stories of her early childhood, it was clear that she was an unhappy child. Then, once they embraced the reality of her situation, got help, and found a solid community, the change was apparent. This made me reevaluate my own stance. If the child is miserable, and suddenly that all changes by embracing what is a truth to the child, then there is evidence to support this idea; at least to me, there is. People first, remember?

With that out of the way, I was completely onboard with this documentary after the first ten minutes. My skepticism wore away, and I was instantly focused on the clear issue of many of the suggestions made by those supporting the “bathroom bills”. One, it is a clear case of “separate but equal,” a stance that was already set by the courts as “separate” is inherently not “equal”. The many arguments being levied as the reason a transgender person should have to use the bathroom of their birth gender are often blind to how they discriminate, or how they jump to conclusions that are protected by other existing laws. One such argument is “what is stopping a cisgender man or woman from waking up one morning and deciding they are “transgender”, just to get into the other gender’s bathroom or locker room”? The film does a great job of walking through all of the legal elements, although it is mostly from the perspective of people against the bills.

Knowlton does a great job of getting many experts – although not necessarily enough to prove many of the claims that are made – on the topic of transgender. Two doctors, Kevin Hatfield and Johanna Olson-Kennedy, are used to explain that transgender is not a mental illness, but actually connected to how our brains are wired. It is a strong scene, but again, it is two doctors representing an idea or theory isn’t necessarily a fact. Had Knowlton brought in a doctor or two who oppose the theory, it would at least give us the opportunity to decide who to believe – but instead, only this side is brought up. It is possible, of course, that there are no opposing views to be presented, but that seems unlikely, as there is a lot of controversy surrounding the topic. Again, I’m on Knowlton’s side – but I feel like this choice could be easily levied against the film by people of another point-of-view.

I found this film to be unbelievably inspiring and hopeful. There is no need for everyone to agree with everyone else’s choices (or perceived choices) in life, but if people aren’t hurting you or infringing on your ability to live your life, then why are you so upset? This film showcases many people with this perspective who traditionally may not fit into this mold. A Republican state senator, Joe Fain (it should be noted that while attempting to find out what official elected role he held, I discovered he’s been accused of rape, which does not help the point I was attempting to make at all), votes against the bathroom bill, upsetting many of his voters. There is a town hall meeting held and shown in the film where Fain addresses his constituents and is verbally threatened by one of them.

The other figure who I found to be unbelievably inspirational is Aidan Key. Aiden is a transgender man who seems to have dedicated his life to helping other transgender individuals, as well as the parents and families of those individuals. Key is shown also working with and educating local schools who have transgender students about how to better accommodate those students while working with the community to be accepting. There are moments where we see these school principals talking to parents, and again, the fear and discrimination shows multiple times during their meetings. It is often heartbreaking – but since this is a true story, we know these bills are ultimately beaten.

Final thoughts…

I found The Most Dangerous Year to be an emotionally moving educational experience from a competent filmmaker and storyteller. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that this film will spark a number of controversies, but that likely means more people will hear about it, and that’s a good thing. If our goal is to make our children happy and confident with who they are, it seems hard to deny what is shown in this film. The Most Dangerous Year earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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