Commentary

What I learned about gender -- and compassion -- the last time I interviewed the Wachowskis

Early in 2015, while promoting their movie “Jupiter Ascending,” the Wachowski siblings were sharing a drink with me at a Century City hotel, discussing how their lives had changed since Lana, the elder of the two, had come out publicly as transgender in 2012.

They described a disorienting new world where strangers either flashed aggressive stares at Lana or offered her warm, enveloping hugs. They lamented the loss of anonymity in their downtime — as people pestered them in their Chicago Bulls season seats, or demanded selfies at an LGBT block party that had once been a low-key good time for Lana and her wife.

“Maybe you didn’t actually know what you were giving up,” Lana’s younger sibling said, of the highly public coming out experience. “I don’t think you suspected that this was the price you were going have to pay.”

At the time, the shy, thoughtful person making those statements was going by the name of Andy Wachowski.

On Tuesday, she revealed that she, too, is transgender, and named Lilly.

In a statement to the Windy City Times, Lilly, 48, said that she was pushed to disclose that she is transgender by a journalist from England’s Daily Mail newspaper, who knocked on her door on Monday night.

“I knew at some point I would have to come out publicly,” Lilly said in the statement. “You know, when you’re living as an out transgender person it’s … kind of difficult to hide. I just wanted — needed — some time to get my head right, to feel comfortable. But apparently I don’t get to decide this.”

The Daily Mail issued a statement denying that it had tried to coerce Lilly into revealing her transition.

“As Ms Wachowski herself says, we were not the first media organization to approach her and we made absolutely clear at several points in the conversation that we were only interested in reporting the story if and when she was happy for us to do so and with her cooperation,” the statement read, in part.

The Wachowskis, known for visually and thematically ambitious films like the “Matrix” trilogy and “Cloud Atlas,” and their recent Netflix series “Sense8,” have always been deeply private.

When Lana, now 50, came out in a video the siblings cut to accompany the release of their “Cloud Atlas” trailer, it was the first media or public appearance either had done in 12 years.

I interviewed the Wachowskis twice — once in 2012 and once in 2015 — and was struck by their unusual mix of intellectual voraciousness and Midwestern unpretentiousness. Lana, with shocking pink dreadlocks and a ready laugh, could talk for hours about anything from 9/11 to “The Illiad” to my red, patent leather purse. Lilly, who had not yet transitioned, was more reserved, but acerbically funny, and gender-bending in her presentation, wearing dark nail polish and a flowing head scarf.

“Go away. We’re busy complaining about you,” Lilly said to a Warner Bros. representative who stopped by our table. (In fact, they had been praising the studio’s compassion during Lana’s transition.)

On screen, Lana and Lilly have presented a nuanced view of gender, going back to their first feature, the 1996 crime thriller “Bound,” which centers on a clandestine affair between two women. In “Cloud Atlas,” they cast some actors to play the opposite gender.

“We wanted this feeling that we’d get the dissolution of borders and boundaries,” Lana said when I asked her about that casting decision in 2012. “The whole system of understanding what the other is — man, woman, white, black, Western, Asian — there are all these barriers to understanding the human-ness that’s underneath these distinctions.”

To interview the Wachowskis on the topic of gender was to get schooled — they foisted my questions about female directors and action heroines back on me, pushing me to probe deeper.

“Yes, women are getting some roles, but they’re basically playing men,” Lilly said to me.

“Can you tell a story where the main character is a woman who doesn’t have to beat people up and be stoic and emotionally withholding?” Lana asked me. “Can you tell a story where a female character uses just her intelligence and her empathy?”

At the time of our 2015 interview, the Wachowskis had just finished an intense period of work shooting the first season of their Netflix series in Iceland, and Lilly, in particular, was introspective about what would come next. She seemed tired, and eager to go home to Chicago and lead a quieter life, out of the public eye.

“When you make films … you go into a decompression chamber, and your world disappears,” Lilly said in our 2015 interview. “All you have is the movie. We have each other, at least. People grow up; people get older. … There’s big gaps in your life. For me, I want to reconnect to that. I don’t want to miss that stuff as much as we have been. It’s heartbreaking. … I want to be able to reconnect to my family and my friends and just say, ‘Stop.’ ”

Lilly did not ultimately get to set her own timetable for coming out publicly, and GLAAD issued a statement Tuesday saying the director, “should not have been forced to disclose her transgender identity before she was ready to do so.”

In 2015, I asked the Wachowskis why they were willing to talk to a journalist after years of keeping us at bay. Was it a contractual obligation, I wondered?

“It’s a way to have a meaningful connection with another human being,” Lana said to me. “And please don’t punish us for it.”

MORE:

'Jupiter Ascending': The Wachowskis' long journey

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

9:38 a.m.: This article has been updated to include a statement from The Daily Mail.

This article was originally published at 7:42 a.m.

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