A romantic getaway in the Catskills or a couple doomed for a breakup? This Valentine’s Day, I encourage you all to watch Beck Kitsis and Chris McNabb’s incredibly vulnerable and romantic short, aptly named Valentine. Born from their real-life relationship, this 10-minute film is a story about gender and identity and how one couple struggles to redefine their relationship amidst transition. Incredibly relatable and delicately composed, this is a snapshot of the human experience, because at its heart it’s about the willingness to grow together.
“We’ve been together for eight years now, but that early period of transition was full of uncertainty”
Intimacy can be hard enough in a new relationship, but imagine how it must affect partners with years behind them, with one of them in the process of shifting gender identity. This is exactly what happened in the real-life, long-term relationship of Kitsis and McNabb and provided a uniquely authentic experience to the narrative of Valentine. “When I finally came out as non-binary [at 26], I had already been dating my partner Beck, a cis woman who identified as straight at the time, for two years”, McNabb explains. “We’ve been together for eight years now, but that early period of transition was full of uncertainty”.
Examining how such shifting identities can affect a romantic relationship, Valentine explores the strength of the bond between two people deeply in love. There’s a particularly vulnerable scene that stands out in the film: When Corey shaves and feels wonderfully feminine as their partner Mia is suddenly faced with feeling anything but. “I’m going to be smoother than you,” Corey innocently says to Mia in the film and in one small on-screen interaction we’re gifted the insight of an emotional situation that’s otherwise hard to fathom. These little emotional injuries that happen are never malicious, but the product of change. McNabb and Kitsis manage to capture many such growing pains throughout the film, revealing the ways that transitioning can turn not just a relationship, but one’s perspective of themselves, on its head.
As McNabb reflects: “As I was navigating the path of rediscovering myself and my identity, Beck was wondering what our relationship meant for her sexual orientation — in and of itself a fundamental part of her own identity.” Valentine is therefore incredibly nuanced, constructing each scene with immense sensitivity. And while the film explores specific queer themes and experiences, it poses many of the same questions that all couples face, namely ‘what do you do when you love someone, but feel like you’re growing in different directions?’ And just like Corey and Mia or McNabb and Kitsis, people never stop growing and must figure out how to grow together as partners – because that’s what we do when we love someone.
Authenticity was very important to the filmmakers in the production of the film, so they assembled a team with the help of GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization, to include other trans creatives both in front of and behind the camera. The incredibly moving portrayals of Corey and Mia were played by two non-binary actors, Jacob Tobia and Sadie Scott and their performances were undoubtedly vital in the success of the short. The directorial duo also decided to work with intimacy coordinator, Meleza S. Morris, on set, so they could foster effective communication between actors and production and ensure their performers felt safe during the physically and emotionally intimate scenes.
With Valentine, the filmmakers don’t shy away from the complexities of transitioning within a romantic relationship and hope to show this trans experience in a positive light with a compassion that’s so long overdue. The pair are committed to creating stories that center around queer characters so that the next generation of queer kids searching for validation and affirmation can see themselves reflected on screen. “To have that in my own childhood would have been everything — perhaps I could have spent more time just living my life, rather than imagining it”, McNabb concludes.
Produced by BetRed Stories and NITE SHIFT, Valentine screened at the Tribeca Festival, Palm Springs International ShortFest, Outfest Los Angeles and many more. Together with McNabb, Kitsis is developing the queer home invasion film Deer in the Wood and the slasher episodic series House of Thorns. Kitsis is also co-writing/producing the Sundance and Cinereach supported horror film Strawberry Summer, while McNabb is developing a short film about a trans vampire and editing an animated feature documentary called Chain of Rocks.
Keep an eye out for those projects, and in the meantime…Happy Valentine’s Day!