Lexie Bean is the author of two books and is a trans/queer survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The New York City transplant designates as nonbinary and certainly has lived the travails of pinning down an identity. Hence, The Ship We Built was published in 2020, and a definite autobiographical component doubles for a young transboy named Rowan. So now in process of finding a buyer for their screen adaptation of the middle-grade novel, Bean chronicles a meaningful journey for those in similar shoes. And the filmmaker easily resists the temptation to not let a Hollywood ending water down the nature of this struggle.
“I’ve noticed in a lot of stories that represent young trans people or young people in general, there’s pressure to have a very specific happy ending,” they said. “So the audience doesn’t have to worry anymore, and my thought is, let the audience worry.”
There’s more to the approach than preferring a more in-between and open-ended outcome, though. “I think it’s a disservice to the communities reflected as a whole to be like - ok, all’s better now,” Bean reasoned.
This way the element of how long will this good place last remains in play and keeps the writing of their ship very real. Still, the unraveling provides a hopeful outcome too, but like Rowan, Bean’s story and survival has come in stages. The younger version grew up in rural Michigan and didn’t fit so well into traditional gender norms. Not only did Bean have to wait for the actual language to exist, but the option to be anything else wasn’t really available.
A logistical solution, on the other hand, was another matter. “I am the one who left,” Bean joked coyly, and NYC helped usher in the necessary vernacular. “I identified as a girl. I also Identified as a pansexual or bisexual or a queer person, and now I still identify as pansexual or queer. But I have found the word trans or nonbinary,” said the 30-year-old.
Unsurprisingly, the story evolved in a similar manner. Originally meant to be just a picture book, an animated short film eventually took shape and involved a young lesbian girl with a crush. “The story changed alongside me,” said Bean.
Thus, Rowan is the beneficiary of the writer’s current expression and exploration. However, the boy arrives at his identity with the language of a 10-year-old. Not trans, not survivor, said Bean “He finds his own name. There’s a lot of power in finding a word. A word that comes with a community and with resources.”
Bean didn’t want to typecast the struggle either. So the word trans does not appear in the book or the screenplay. People who are not what society wants them to be can be unfairly subjected to punishment, incarceration, and loneliness, according to Bean, and that can be gender-related or not.
Unfortunately, Rowan is up against an even greater threat. He suffers abuse at the hands of his father, and in keeping, the tragedy coincides with Bean’s experience.
A victim of incest and later trapped in an abusive relationship, they had to piece themselves back together, and the realization gave rise to the second book.
Bean felt healing their whole self was daunting so an alternative path emerged. The survivor realized it would be better to resurrect one piece of their broken body at a time, and the understanding led to Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. Published by Jessica Kingley Publishers, the 2018 novel features a series of letters by survivors and each addresses a specific body part.
Bean wrote the first letter and posting online had similar content rushing in. Serving as editor and contributor, another important blueprint came about. “One of the reasons for writing the book is the letters serve as a portable support group - so to speak,” they said. “Where survivors can meet someone in a place where they might not have direct access to resources or community.”
More than words, Written on the Body has now had Bean speaking at numerous schools across the country. “I’ve heard from teachers who included the book in their curriculum and tell me how many really awesome conversations it has established for their group of young people,” said Bean.
The speaking tour has also taken Bean to crisis and health service centers. In accordance, a crucial aspect of activists’ work is to claim a stake in the MeToo movement for nonbinary and trans people. Bean believes that including the demographic in the conversation adds nuance and creates solidarity while increasing the domain of who gets to ask for help.
On the other hand, the screen adaptation has largely been a simultaneous synergy of one. “I wrote the screenplay as I was writing the book,” they said.
The challenge derives from familiar ground. “The book is all (Rowan’s) letters that are attached to a balloon,” Bean revealed.
That said, the completely first-person perspective had to be adjusted for film. So voice given to his parents, teachers, friends, and antagonistic societal forces, Rowan must interpret the events on a deeper level, and the results of delving deeper were obvious for Bean. “Writing the book and screenplay at the same time was extremely helpful in grounding myself in developing the story as a whole,” they said.
Even so, Bean still had to bring out the inner monologue of Rowan, and a voice-over residency at a Santa Cruz Workshop allowed the character the ability to speak up with more clarity. They studied the vehicle in terms of letter writing, and the immersion eventually brought Bean to two films where children were victimized. In Room and Beasts of the Southern Wild, Bean took close note of how the children interpreted violent moments. Then imagining a better future as a contrast was very compelling, they said of both films.
Bean also takes into account the age and imagination of the main character. So the opportunity to use elements of “magical realism” was seized upon. “There are points in the screenplay where we cut to a more visual interpretation of Rowan’s experience and then cut back to reality,” they said.
A place where the writer lives and doesn’t have them pondering whether a different pen could have freshened the story. “It’s hard to navigate around the issue of being a young transperson and sexual abuse,” they said. “One has to be really sensitive to that, and I am, because it’s my lived experience.”
Of course, they’re perfectly willing to share once a film project goes into motion, and with the help of their agent at William Morris, the search is on for collaboration. “My dream director would be someone who is part of the LGBTQ community and/or someone who may have experience of childhood sex abuse,” revealed Bean.
Either way, Bean knows the story will be brought back to the core that inspired the plot. “The Ship We Built is about how important it is to have at least one person who sees you and understands you,” Bean said, and no matter who they are, the writer is happy to deliver the message.