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Regretters unfolds as a long talk between two men who underwent sex-change operations to become female only to immediately regret the loss of their penises. Its accusatory title aside, the film is less about the tragic indecisiveness of a couple of transgender people than it is about the desperation of homophobia and misogyny, the complexity of gender, and all the social expectations that come with a set of genitalia. Neither man ever really identified as the opposite sex, but both believed that living outwardly as women would help them escape their “failure” as men. Mikael Johansson, who holds a “typically feminine desire for home and nurturing” and cites The Bridges of Madison County as his romantic ideal, says he “practically lied to the psychiatrist” in order to secure his surgery in 1994, but “regretted [it] immediately” once the bandage came off. “I just clung to the belief that it would make things better…since people were always saying I had ‘feminine behavior,’” he says. Orlando Fagin came of age in the ’60s, when living as a gay man wasn’t an option. “It was against the law to be gay,” he says. Fagin turned to street prostitution, where he worked as what police called an “ass-bandit” while he dreamed of embodying the role of the idealized housewife. “A man would come home at night and say, ‘I missed you all day.’ Provide you with housekeeping money. Bring you flowers. You painted such a picture,” he says. He underwent his surgery in 1967, a decision which still “haunts” him. The men soon discovered that society’s opinion of less-than-masculine men was rivaled only by its opinion of women. “The response you get as a woman is very different compared to the response a man gets,” Johansson says. “Men get more respect.” The film’s greatest revelation is how even two men who share such unusual life circumstances still don’t experience gender in the same way. “I don’t know what I am,” Fagin says decisively, midway through their conversation. Johansson winces. “Sounds complicated,” he says. “No it isn’t, believe me,” Fagin responds. “That’s the point.”
Screens with I’m Just Anneke at 6:15 p.m. at Discovery HD Theater; also on Sunday, June 27, 11:15 a.m. at AFI Silver Theater 2.