‘Seahorse’ Review: A Powerful Documentary of Trans Parenthood

Seahorse follows Freddy McConnell, a trans man from the seaside town of Deal, as he embarks on a journey to have a child. Produced in association with the Guardian, Seahorse is directed by Jeanie Finlay, who acts as an off-camera observer, occasionally dipping in to gently prompt their otherwise articulate subject. Premiering at the 2019Tribeca Film Festival, Seahorse is a powerful documentary that reaches into the nuances of trans parenthood and renegotiates what a family unit can look like. 

The film traces Freddy’s steps toward pregnancy; beginning with him meeting with various healthcare professionals and deciding to come off testosterone. Seahorse captures the emotional and chemical changes that Freddy experiences as he goes through this process, and exemplifies the obstacles that trans men face on this journey. Freddy’s own mother is a firm and constant presence in the film, supporting Freddy and sharing reflections of their past. They both remark how Freddy, like many trans men, was told that he would become infertile if he began hormone therapy. Navigating a transphobic healthcare system forces Freddy to advocate for himself, calmly educating the doctors he meets about his situation. The first doctor presumes he has a partner, an assumption grounded in heteronormativity. In one scene, the camera watches Freddy as he pores through the pile of pregnancy forms, crossing out the gendered terms, symbolically carving space for himself into the cisnormative institution of parenthood.

CJ is another trans person, originally from Trinidad and one of Freddy’s close friends. With the introduction of CJ, Seahorse slips into a love story of sorts, as Freddy reflects on the importance of CJ in his life, and the complexities of queer friendships. Lovers once, the two of them decide to co-parent a child together. The pair stick together as they navigate a world that doesn’t see them. Together they visit ‘The London Women’s Clinic,’ a fertility center based in a grand townhouse. Its interiors are adorned with chandeliers, flowers and white furniture. This scene highlights just how the medical world conforms to the narrative that only cisgender women can give birth, and how this isolates trans and gender-nonconforming people from accessing support. 

Their co-parenting arrangement is quietly reaffirmed in their love and care for each other. As they embark on a search for sperm donors, Freddy begins to feel the emotional effects of coming off testosterone, and CJ is right by his side. When the first attempts of insemination don’t hold, the two try to move forward. Even Freddy, who remains a cheerful and immensely grounded presence in the film, feels defeated. Before they can begin another attempt, CJ leaves, removing themselves from plans to co-parent.

Now a prospective single parent, Freddy returns to his family home and spends time with his mother. Embarking once more towards becoming a parent, Freddy tests positive. It’s a joyous high point in the film, but the complexities of his emotions still resonate. He labors over an email to his estranged father, to tell him the news. A precarious relationship, Freddy reflects on how his dad rejected him in the past for coming out as trans and treads carefully with his email. He stresses that he wants space until after the baby is born, setting clear boundaries between them. This is someone who has affected Freddy’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem throughout his life and communicating with someone like this is a fine art. This moment resonates with many queer people who have strained relationships with their relatives. Freddy feels the weight of having to constantly reaffirm who he is, even to his own family. 

The conclusion of the film is a quiet crescendo of emotion with the birth of the baby. Freddy delivers in a water birthing pool, with the close support of his mother. A few months on, he reflects on his journey and remarks on how happy he is with his new son. Overall, Seahorse unveils the intricacies of identity and physiology, the nuances of parenthood, and how we construct our sense of self. 

★★★★

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