A new short documentary film, TRANSMORMON, follows the life of Eri Hayward, a 25-year-old transgender woman who grew up in the Mormon church in Utah. The film examines Eri's relationship with her identity, her family, and her upbringing in a Mormon community. Clips of home videos and photographs are interspersed with footage of Eri telling her story, and interviews with her parents, who share what it was like watching their child become who she is today.
At 4 or 5 years old, Eri began realizing that she was not seen as a girl, and was expected to grow up and become a father, rather than a mother. Her parents, Ed and Keiko, remembered moments from her childhood where Eri expressed distress over her assigned sex. This put a strain not only on Eri's sense of self, but also on her faith.
"When I was explaining to myself that I was a boy, it was because God made me that way," says Eri. "Which didn't make a really great relationship, as a 5-year-old, between me and God – along with the Mormon culture and how it can be really, really difficult to understand something, when it's either not prevalent, or it's just hidden."
As a teenager, after being ordained in the priesthood of the LDS church, Eri came out as gay and left the private Mormon high school she was attending. Later, Eri came out as a transgender woman to her parents, who took her seriously and helped her with the first steps toward accessing healthcare. As she transitions with support from family and friends to live as who she is, Eri's future in the LDS church is uncertain.
"She hasn't been coming to Church with us for quite a while. I think it's difficult for her to come there because she does feel like she's judged sometimes from people," says Eri's father, Ed. "She has a strong belief and a strong faith, and I just want the obstacle removed that keeps her from being able to live the faith that she's always believed in her whole life."
"I think maybe being so unhappy in my body for the longest time helped me really separate what are physical things, and what are my spiritual components," says Eri. "I don't think I succumbed to my body, I think I succumbed my spirit and what it needed… But when it comes down to it, the only thing that I can believe in is the relationship between me and God."
TRANSMORMON has been featured by The Atlantic, People.com, and The New York Times, and received the 2014 Utah Short Film of the Year Award. Watch the full documentary film below: