Travel into The Trans Imagination with Orlando: My Political Biography


Liberation is an act of imagination. To imagine an alternate reality, politics simply does not work. To conceive of an equal, beautiful future, poetry, grasping at the ineffable, is the only possible medium. 

Orlando: My Political Biography (Paul B. Preciado, 2023) is a free adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s seminal 1928 text. Telling the story of a poet who changes sex from male to female before floating through the centuries, it is a seminal transgender studies text, especially in the way that it collapses binaries in favour of the picturesque. 

Preciado has thought long and hard about Orlando, especially as it pertains to his own gender. He re-stages and re-lluminates the text by casting a wide net of trans men, women and non-binary people to play Orlando. According to him, everyone has a little bit of Orlando in them. 

A proper essay film, fitting for its inclusion in the hybrid-friendly Encounters section, Orlando: A Political Biography, mixes fantasy and reality to excellent results. In between readings for Virginia Woolf’s text, the films protagonists — all introducing themselves as people playing Orlando — are given the opportunity to read from the book as well as talk directly about their experiences. Mixing in musical montages, humourous asides (including an amusing Godard reference) and a feeling of the arabesque, Orlando is a polemic wrapped in poetry, a space for contemplation filled with fascinating implications. 

As a cisgender person, I felt like I learned a lot about the trans experience here, especially as the very idea of transitioning is presented more as a personal journey than simply moving from one gender to the other. There are thousands of grey areas in-between. It’s not up to people like me to start making judgements or assumptions, but to let trans people speak for themselves and come to a more empathetic understanding of their inner truth. 

While a little stagey and repetitive in parts, the final thesis is undeniably moving, especially in the way it completely refuses to even briefly entertain the so-called concerns of bigots. Triumphant, defiant and totally empathetic, this excellent film shows the power of imagination to potentially change the world. I’m hoping the PR agency handling Orlando find the right voices to talk about this movie, as I feel I lack the imagination to put this marvel into words. Perhaps a little like the multi-fictional, multi-dimensional Orlando themselves, I’m still on a journey too.  

Website | + posts

Redmond is the editor-in-chief of Journey Into Cinema.