Spoilers for They/Them below
In They/Them, a group of queer and trans teenagers endure the horrors of a conversion camp led by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon), a figure who, in the beginning, appears to be a promising ally. One of the camp attendees is Jordan (Theo Germaine), a nonbinary teenager who promises their parents they will attend the camp. In exchange, their parents will allow them to legally emancipate.
The film marked a big first for Germaine as its leading actor as well as for its director, John Logan, who made his directorial debut with They/Them. For Logan, who had produced and written several science-fiction and horror films, this was his first time working on a film with a queer and trans cast at the forefront. For Germaine, it was their first time playing a leading nonbinary character.
Growing up, Logan was a big fan of horror and slasher films, however, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Logan found that LGBTQ+ characters were practically nonexistent within the genre. In the rare event that this community received onscreen representation, they were often portrayed as villains, or they were the first to die in the films.
“I felt that lack,” Logan says. “I wanted to see myself represented in my favorite genre, because I love horror movies. [During the early stages of They/Them], I met some people who had gone through conversion therapy, and they told me stories about it, and those stories were so horrific and provocative. I wanted to write about the empowerment of queer kids.”
From the beginning of They/Them, Jordan openly identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, however, is placed in the boys’ cabin after Owen decides Jordan is more masculine-presenting.
Germaine says when preparing for the role of Jordan, they drew from actual experience, within the film industry and from their own personal life.
“I wanted to see myself represented in my favorite genre, because I love horror movies.”
“There are definitely a lot of places in my life that I have felt very much pushed into one kind of box or the other, even to the point of people telling me that using the pronouns that I use aren’t valid, and I needed to pick one or the other,” says Germaine. “My agents and my manager have been really, really supportive of helping me figure out the things that I really want to go after. And I’ve auditioned for things that are all different kinds of gender. But dealing with that pressure and being put in those boxes just really sucks. Sometimes it prevents you from just being able to be a person.”
They/Them is one of very few films in which a nonbinary actor plays a nonbinary character, who is also the film’s lead, and Germaine admits they felt a lot of pressure being at the forefront. They wanted to make sure they were approaching Jordan in a way that felt honest and authentic. This was equally as important for Logan, who worked with trans actor and consultant Scott Turner Schofield to executive produce the film.
“There are definitely a lot of places in my life that I have felt very much pushed into one kind of box or the other, even to the point of people telling me that using the pronouns that I use aren’t valid.”
Logan sent every draft of the film’s screenplay to Schofield and GLAAD to ensure that he was portraying trans and nonbinary people in a truthful and inoffensive manner. While They/Them primarily focuses on the horrific aspects of conversion camps, Logan wanted to emphasize the power of chosen family.
In the middle of the movie, Jordan and his cabinmates perform an impromptu rendition of Pink’s “F*ckin’ Perfect,” led by a trans girl named Alexandra (Quei Tann.)
“I knew I wanted a musical number, because it’s a traditional part of summer camp movies and even slasher movies, that characters bond over a song around a campfire,” Logan says. “I wanted to give a chance for our campers to do that as well, because part of the movie is also about the totality of the queer experience, and that includes exuberance that includes joy as well. I’ve always loved Pink, and I’ve always loved that song, and what it accomplishes dramatically in the piece is our protagonist, Jordan, is at a very low point, and it’s through singing that song that they rediscover their power and their potency,” he explains. “On a personal level, I know how much it would have meant to me when I was 12, to have someone say to me, ‘You’re f*cking perfect just the way you are.’”
Both Logan and Germaine say that several of the scenes were emotionally taxing to film, especially the disturbing target practice scene. Equally as stressful was the film’s ending, where Jordan was faced with a difficult choice – to shoot Owen, or to leave the camp with his newfound chosen family without exacting revenge.
Ultimately, Jordan chooses the latter, which has left viewers polarized. Some are glad Jordan chose not to react violently, while others say they should’ve shot Owen. According to Logan, this was the only version of the ending he could imagine.
“On a personal level, I know how much it would have meant to me when I was 12, to have someone say to me, ‘You’re f*cking perfect just the way you are.’”
“That was always the glorious ending for that character,” Logan says, “to step toward kindness, forgiveness, and understanding, rather than to give into the bloody temptation of revenge.”
While They/Them centers around a group of repressed teenagers, Logan and Germaine both say that the film allowed them to explore their queerness and their gender identities freely. Both say that the story allowed them to work through personal struggles they were facing at the time.
“There is a lot that I was going through last year, when the film was [in production],” Germaine says. “And there were a handful of ways in a period of my life, where I didn’t actually feel like I could be myself, and working on this film, and playing a character who was so strong and their sense of identity – who was so very much like ‘Yep, these are my pronouns, this is who I am, fuck you’ – was a really good reminder for me, that I can be that way too. And I didn’t expect to feel that way, but that was like a personal vulnerability of mine that I learned about and worked through.”♦