‘Denial’ is a powerful documentary of two halves. On one side, it tells the struggle of the energy industry as it struggles to adapt to climate change and global warming, while, on the other side, it also shares the transition of Vermont Electric Cooperative’s (VEC) CEO into Christine Hallquist.
What starts as a son filming his father’s fight to transform the energy industry and adopt greener processes, but soon enough morphs into an extraordinary first-hand account of how a father and his family process the news that he is transgender and ready to transition into Christine Hallquist.
Many people may also know of Christine Hallquist as the first ever openly transgender candidate for governor in the United States. While breaking boundaries and making history, Christine’s story will sound similar to many others. It’s a tale of identity, family, strength, and the courage to be your true self.
To coincide with Trans Awareness Week, ‘Denial’ is available to stream on Revry from November 16th. The documentary is a powerful and inspirational watch and is sure to resonate with people around the world.
We caught up with Christine ahead of the film’s release to learn a little more about ‘Denial’, becoming her true self, and her words of wisdom for the transgender community.
Hi Christine, how did the film come about?
The film was the work of my son, Derek. He and I were always close. I became the CEO of Vermont’s second largest electric utility and went to work at solving climate change using the electric grid.
In high school, Derek used to go to work with me during power outages and liked to film the excitement of power restoration. In 2010, a decade after graduating from High School, he decided to document the work that I was doing in terms of transforming the electric grid. Three years later, in 2013, I revealed to him that I was transgender. Of course, this came as quite a shock.
He decided to continue with his documentary and weave the plots of gender transitioning and transitioning of the electric grid together, showing how to deal with, and overcome difficult challenges.
How does it feel to be able to claim the title of the first business leader in the country to transition while in office?
Transitioning is very hard. It was a 10-year journey from the time I decided to make the transition to actual completion. I did not expect to be the first CEO to transition on the job. The last year of my transition was primarily focused on preparing business and my local community. I went online and searched for any other business leaders who had transitioned and did not find any.
At the time I thought it was unusual, however, it did not occur to me that I was the first. Using my business experience, I decided to treat the transition like a new product introduction and went about putting together the schedule: key milestones, who should be contacted and when, as well as the communications plan.
In retrospect, I am very proud of how things evolved and how well I was received by the greater community. It was hard, but the process was well thought out and enabled me to move forward with confidence.
How difficult was the decision to come out as your true self?
My spouse was aware of my transgender identity, the two of us agreed that we would go to our grave without revealing this truth. When I reached my late forties in age, I began to feel very guilty about the fact that I was hiding this from my children. My three children believed they had an honest and open relationship with me, meanwhile, they did not know this fundamental and important truth.
When I made the decision to transition, I was sure I would lose everything. Know this, the truth was more important.
Facing my transition was even harder than facing my own death. In early 2014, I had a very aggressive cancer and it was becoming clear that I might not make it. I pulled our employees together, as well as our Board of Directors and let them know that there was a chance that I could die.
A year later, when I decided to announce my intention to transition, I met with our Human Resource Manager to ask for help. She wanted to know why I could not announce my own plans to transition, yet I was able to announce my own possible death a year earlier. I told her that discussing my transition was more difficult than announcing my own death. By the way, the cancer was cured. It turned out to be driven by my testosterone. We eliminated my testosterone and the cancer went away.
I know my gender was killing me mentally, I had no idea it was killing me physically.
Having such a pivotal position in your community, was there ever a time you thought you might never be able to do it?
I made the decision to transition out of honesty with my children. Once I made that decision, it was a matter of time and readiness. I never questioned the decision or thought I might not be able to do it.
I was sure the consequences of the decision would result in serious and negative consequences. That said, living my truth became more important than life itself.
How was the response from your family, business, and community when they found out?
The response was very consistent. I found people to be very supportive when they first heard the news from me. Business associates and community acquaintances were very supportive over the long term, however, those that were closest to me, including family, friends and close business associates, struggled the most.
After a few weeks from hearing the news, there were lots of questions and confusion. It took the longest time for those that were closest to me. After they had time to think about the news, there was a general feeling that there had been a violation of trust. People around me felt that they did not know who I really was and it took a long time for them to adjust to the new reality.
I did lose at least one set of close friends over the news.
Did you learn anything about yourself during the filming of the documentary that you were previously unaware of?
When I saw the documentary for the first time, it was clear just how difficult this struggle was for me. I was working so hard to make this work for everyone that I was not aware of how hard it was for me.
All through the documentary, the struggle could be seen on my face. During the entire filming of the documentary, I was working hard on two very important issues; climate change and gender identity.
The documentary gives me an appreciation for how much effort I put in to try to accommodate everyone.
The film has two sides to it. One focusing on the impact of clean energy and global warming and the other focusing on your story of coming out as transgender. Was this ever a conscious decision and how important was it to show these two topics together?
Derek set out to make a documentary on the electric grid and its role in solving climate change, he was not aware of the fact that I was transgender. I revealed this to Derek three years into the project and he struggled with what to do.
He finally realized that the job of a documentary film-maker is to tell the truth. Derek simply told the truth.
Why should people watch ‘Denial’? What does the film stand for to you?
The reason to watch ‘Denial’ is that it is a beautiful film about the love between a parent and son, family, and how we deal with difficult struggle.
It happens to deal with two very difficult issues that are front and center for our country; gender identity and climate change. Watching this documentary will leave you with an appreciation of how one can deal with very difficult issues in a loving and honest way. You will laugh, cry, and leave the movie with a profound sense of hope.
For me, this documentary shows just how difficult gender transition was for my family.
I did not understand the full extent of their struggle until I saw the movie. It showed me that we often avoid the truth because we believe it will be too painful for others to deal with.
Ultimately, the truth is all that we have. It is so important for me to learn just how powerful honesty can be.
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be struggling to come to terms with their identity?
Get help. I don’t know how anyone can do this on their own. In 2010, I started to see a transgender counsellor, she asked me what my goal was. I told her that as a man I am a very strong leader, confident, and knowledgeable but as a woman, I felt weak, full of shame, and I could never imagine being a strong leader. Five years later, on December 2, 2015, I transitioned from Dave to Christine.
Not only was I ready for the transition, I was actually excited.
Today I am an even stronger leader, which enabled me to be the first major party transgender candidate to be nominated for governor in America. This would never have happened if I did not have help.
‘Denial’ is available to watch on Revry from November 16th.
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