Markie In Milwaukee

Matt Kliegman (2019 Documentary)

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Assembled from over 10 years of footage, Markie in Milwaukee tells the story of a midwestern transgender woman as she struggles with the prospect of de-transitioning under the pressures of her fundamentalist church, family and community.


A significant contribution to the contemporary canon
of transgender narratives.

This film generated some of the most powerful emotions
we experienced while screening this year.

Aint It Cool

11/30/2019

Freddy reviews a documentary titled MARKIE IN MILWAUKEE

MARKIE IN MILWAUKEE follows Mark, a seven foot, 400 pound man preaching in the local fundamentalist church.  The documentary starts with a sliver of a scene showing Mark shredding any remnant he can find of his past life.  The only glimpse we get of this past life is a smiling Mark, in a wig before it’s rended in his shredder.  In the decade of film that this documentary was spliced from we learn that Mark is very conflicted.

Four years before that scene we watch as Mark transitions into Markie, the female he always felt he was internally.  Markie is as sweet and caring as her male counterpart.  Just a gentle giant wanting human connection like the rest of us.  Problem is, once she dawns the wigs and dresses, she’s immediately ostracized.  At points it seems like her only friend is a local photo booth she uses to document her progress.

Markie tells his wife her darkest held secret and the inevitable divorce begins.  Her kids, raised by Mark in a fundamentalist Christian church, also cut themselves away from her confusing choices.  You really feel for Markie as she sets out to be, who she was all along.  She ends up very alone and before getting her complete transition surgery she receives an e-mail which Markie clearly feels is a message from God.

Markie elects not to go into surgery and become Mark once again.  Everyone she lost, seemingly reappears and everything is back to normal.

Except this documentary will have you questioning what is normal.  It’s a movie that I’d recommend to everyone.  It’s not in your face with this subject, it’s matter-of-fact.  Where most of these type of movies tend to have a great supporting structure helping the person through their transitions, here we have Markie, utterly alone.
There are scenes here that cut to the very core of who we are as people.  It’s a weird concept to think of someone stuck in the wrong gender.  It’s even weirder to me, to see people love this person and turn off that love because they want that person to be someone else.  I can’t make sense of that either, honestly.

There are no answers in this film.  It’s merely showing a transgender woman trying to come to terms with her own heart at the expense of those she cares about.  I can’t pretend to understand what making a decision of that magnitude feels like.

MARKIE IN MILWAUKEE helps me understand, with its sympathetic take on Markie, using her own words.  We see the confusion.  We hear the pain.  And in the end, you realize you’re not so different from this suffering human being.

Matt Kliegman does an amazing job with this 1h 32 min documentary.  This is not a subject I’m drawn to, yet I couldn’t take my eyes away.

My favorite scene involved Markie at his school reunion.  Other alumni are shown giving Markie shit for his (he’s Mark at this time) gender switches.  He takes it in stride, being the gentle seven footer that he is.  It all culminates in a gut-wrenching class photo.  Once the pic is taken everyone slides into their natural groups.  The conversation growing in volume as Markie stands in the same place looking around, utterly alone.  It embodies his existence and made this guy want to give Markie a heartfelt hug.

Hammer To Nail

10/29/2019

A documentary alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, director Matt Kliegman’s Markie in Milwaukee follows Markie Wenzel, a transgender woman in Wisconsin, as she alternates between male and female identities, torn between her innermost desires and the pressures of religion and family. When we first meet her in 2013, she is a he, in the process of destroying photos and evidence of her female self, becoming, once more, Mark Wenzel. We then flash back to the process, begun in 2005, of Mark becoming Markie. A deeply religious man – and evangelical preacher, as well – Mark had long struggled with the woman inside him, begging to be let out. Married and a father of three, he was at a loss, until finally he just came out as Markie, unable to bear the strain any longer. The fact that he was 7 feet tall, weighed 400 pounds and was, in his own words, very masculine, complicated matters. Who would accept such a man as a woman?

Indeed, the greater question is whether Mark would accept himself as Markie. If my own use of gender pronouns in this review is heretofore inconsistent, it is because of the conflict within Mark/Markie him/herself. Mark/Markie is, actually, a wonderful exemplar of the need for gender-neutral pronouns such as “they.” One of the great aspects of this film is its refusal to judge its subject nor formulate any easy answers on their behalf. We are with Mark/Markie all the way, wishing them all the best.

Kliegman – here making his debut – is also remarkably open to the many different points of view from those who know Markie as both man and woman, who may, themselves, offer less kind opinions. Whether it’s Markie’s former preacher (not such a fan of the transition), Markie’s children (also not in Markie’s corner), or the members of Markie’s transgender community (including a more liberal preacher, and all more supportive), we are treated to a great variety of talking-head perspectives on the experience. No witness is more moving in their testimony, however, than Markie, themself, then and now.

Remarkable in its frank discussion of an important matter, Markie in Milwaukee is also extraordinary for its seemingly unfettered access to its protagonist, who appears all in for this intimate dissection of their process, even if they are not always sure what that process means. Who is Markie? A human being, in all their marvelous complexity. That’s all we need to know.

Ian Thomas Malone

11/1/2019

Markie in Milwaukee Is a Powerful, Often Unsettling Transgender Narrative

Transitioning is an incredibly difficult journey even under the best of circumstances. The highs of living out of the closet often contrast with the struggle for acceptance that far too many transgender people experience. Markie in Milwaukee documents ten years of turmoil that one transgender woman faced, coming to grips with her identity against a backdrop of an incredibly unsupportive community.

Markie Wenzel is a woman stuck between two worlds, facing a choice few ever have to consider. She’s an upbeat, soft-spoken person with a pleasant demeanor, if not a little socially awkward. Her height, close to seven feet, led to bullying at an early age, something that hardly let up as she began her transition in the mid 2000s.

As a minister in a fundamentalist Christian church, Markie encountered quite a lot of pushback from her community as she began to present as female. Her family all but abandoned her, refusing to accept a hiccup in an otherwise happy life.

The film offers a broad lens to examine Markie’s life at the various stages of transition, including the point where she decided to stop and return to life as Mark, a decision that was rewarded in the form of family visits, including a new granddaughter. Markie’s church took her back, basking in the glory of a sinner come to repent for the crime of being born different.

Markie in Milwaukee operates on an entirely different narrative wavelength than its subject, a moving narrative that highlights the many conflicts that transition brings out. Director Matt Kliegman largely lets Markie speak for herself, but the framing of the documentary often suggests that he’s at odds with the statements coming from Markie. The film carries the feel of belonging to Markie, but the audience is given plenty of leeway to suggest that there’s more beneath the surface that she’s not quite ready to tackle.

Kliegman puts the audience in a challenging position with regard to how to process Markie’s choices. Generally speaking, it’s considered inappropriate to second-guess the way a transgender person explains their identity. It is impossible to watch Markie in Milwaukee and not do just that.

This dynamic is most on display in scenes highlighting Markie’s church and her family. Despite a few efforts by Markie to suggest her detransition was not fueled by religious pressure, she contradicts herself on a few occasions. The footage from her church and children’s home demonstrates the intrinsic link between the two.

In all her years of transition, Markie found acceptance in the form of support groups and friendly strangers out in public. She didn’t appear to develop any meaningful connections beyond those surface level relationships. That kind of isolation is bound to be tough on anyone.

The saddest aspect of the film is the way in which Markie lives her life believing that she’s caused all this damage to her family. To say that that’s their problem, not hers, is an accurate reflection of the situation, yet Markie’s life is not improved by the notion that her identity shouldn’t be a burden on anyone else. For too many transgender people, the idea that our lives are an abomination is allowed to fester, tearing away at one’s psyche.

As a transition narrative, Markie in Milwaukee would have been improved by a stronger focus on the decision to embrace her old identity again. Kliegman touches on the subject a few times, most notably in a conversation between Markie and her therapist. One can certainly understand the sensitive nature of the subject matter, but the resolution to Markie’s story leaves more questions than it probably needed to.

Markie in Milwaukee is a flawed narrative, but a vitally important one in today’s climate. In many ways, Kliegman’s film is most valuable to the family members of transgender people, serving as a cautionary tale for the road that too many loved ones have to face alone. Markie Wenzel has been dealt a raw hand in life, but her story can help future generations to avoid the same hardships.

Solzy At The Movies

1/26/2019

Markie in Milwaukee follows transgender woman Markie Wenzel over a number of years through her struggles with transitioning and its impact on her life.

We first meet Markie Wenzel in 2013.  This is when she had decided to put off transitioning and go back to living as a man.  The reason for doing so is the toll that it’s taken on her.  She lost her family as a result.  Not only this but her marriage because of coming out.  If losing her family weren’t bad enough, she was no longer welcome at her church.  Pretty much anything shitty that could happen to a transgender person…well, happened.

After a brief portion in 2013, we go back to 2008 when director Matt Kliegmen first meets Markie.  This is more so to set the context of who Markie is and how much faith plays in her life.  This is what makes this particular documentary rather fascinating.  Markie is a conservative transgender woman and seven feet tall.  The latter part is definitely a negative when it comes to transitioning.  People don’t really think of women when they think of people who are seven feet tall.  That’s not to say that they don’t exist but I’m sure they’re out there.

When people think of conservative transgender women, Caitlyn Jenner is usually the one person who people can name.  In watching this documentary, Jenner isn’t alone by any means.  There’s no doubt that Markie’s religious beliefs play into her struggles in being transgender.  If there’s anything I’ve noticed about the transgender community, it’s that people usually give the side eye to those conservative members.  It’s not right or fair but it is what it is.

The film mostly focuses on Markie’s efforts to de-transition and reconcile with her family.  These efforts started well before the current administration came into office and attacked transgender rights.  It also started before those pesky bills forced people like me to come out on Facebook months before we’re ready to do so.  As the film comes to an end, Markie has come to the realization that she is who she is and has to accept it.  For the time being, she chooses to live part-time rather than full-time.

Having come out within a religious community, I can understand Markie’s pain.  There’s nothing worse than losing your friends and family upon coming out as transgender.  I’ve been there and believe me when I tell you that it’s not easy.  I wouldn’t recommend coming out and transitioning unless you absolutely have to do so.  As many of us in the transgender community can tell you, it’s either transition or die.  One can put of transitioning for as long as possible but inevitably, we’re pulled in that direction because it’s who we are.  But enough about my story…

We need more stories like Markie in Milwaukee in the public eye so as to help advance transgender rights.

Journal of Religion & Film

4/1/2019

Markie in Milwaukee is a fascinating memoir and an amazing documentary film, making its world premiere at Slamdance. Here’s the story. Mark Anthony Wenzel discovers at an early age that he is a woman in a man’s body. This is a problem for Mark for all of the usual reasons, but it is also a special problem because when Mark is in college, he is seven feet tall and weighs 360 pounds. He is a defensive lineman on his college football team. But Mark goes on to marry, have three children, and becomes a Baptist preacher. Now, however, Mark decides that the life he is living is one in which he cannot be true to himself. So, he enters a transition program. His family is horrified and angry. He separates from his wife and loses contact with his children. But God remains the cornerstone of his life and God helps Mark make the change from Mark to “Markie in Milwaukee.” Now Markie feels as though she can be herself, even though the alienation from her family and her church are quite painful. Eventually Markie gets a job at the TSA, a different church accepts Markie as she is, and her children begin to communicate with her. Markie thanks God for allowing her to be herself. But the loneliness continues. When the moment comes for Markie to have surgery, she is not able to go through with it. Markie is not able to deal with the permanence of the surgery. Then a voice from her soul—the voice of God—speaks to Markie and tells Markie that he is a man. So, Markie skips the surgery, stops wearing wigs and dresses, and takes his place in the world as a man and as a minister of the gospel. Mark says that God pulled him back from the brink and put him on his journey home. As a minister he decries the transgender community. And his children are now accepting of him, the church is accepting of him, and his fellow workers accept him as a man, even if his ex-wife does not accept what has happened. It is easier for Mark to function satisfactorily in the world as a man. The upshot of this is that Mark is no longer all alone: he is no longer lonely. Oh, you thought that was the end of the story? Hah! In the following scenes we find Mark dressing in a wig and women’s clothes, saying that he has not been able to give up Markie altogether. At home, Wenzel lives as Markie, and in public, Wenzel lives as a man. At the end of the film, Wenzel sends out a Christmas card. It has a picture of Mark and a picture of Markie on it and it is signed “Mark and Markie.” What makes this story fascinating is not the switching back and forth of Wenzel’s identity, not the fact that he is seven feet tall and weighs about 400 pounds now. What makes the story fascinating is that it raises crucial issues with being transgender. For example, one of the ministers claims that God made a man (to be a man) and a woman (to be a woman). This is put forward as an obvious truth—God’s truth—without ever raising the issue about who created Wenzel. Didn’t God create Wenzel as well as men and women? If so, what does God ask of transgender (or gay and lesbian) individuals and what does God ask of those—especially Christians—who interact with people whose sexuality is not like their own? You cannot miss this obvious omission on the part of the minister, nor can you miss the importance of the question. The story also raises the question of whether religion helps or hurts transgender individuals. When Wenzel is transitioning to womanhood, he thanks God for helping him be true to himself. When Wenzel goes back to being a man, he again thanks God for helping him find his true self. At the end of the film he is not thanking God. Is religion crucial to our self-understanding or is it an excuse for our phobias about sexual orientation and identity? You cannot leave the theater without raising this question. There are other similar and important questions that are raised by the story, questions that make this a fascinating narrative. Markie in Milwaukee, however, is also an amazing film. It is a documentary; not a docudrama, where you can make up whatever story you want. This film documents Mark’s and Markie’s journey, as well as Markie’s torment and struggles. It does so in a remarkably sensitive fashion that allows us to see clearly how the narrative affects Wenzel and how it affects those around him and how religion plays or does not play into the journey of Markie in Milwaukee. The movie is not just about Mark or Markie; it is a window into the souls of all of us.

Unseen Films

1/27/2019

In Brief: MARKIE FROM MILWAUKEE (2019) Slamdance 2019

I don’t have a great deal to say about MARKIE IN MILWAUKEE other than see it. This is a portrait of a giant of a man who transitioned into being a woman and decided to transition back because of his faith and reaction of his family. It is a deeply moving portrait of a person trying to find themselves in their own eyes and the eyes of God.

I was moved.

The reason I don’t have a lot to say is because I don’t want to talk about Markie, rather I just want to go up to him and give him a hug and say I’ve got your back. That’s a weird reaction to have to a film, but it’s a testament to Matt Kliegman’s film which does more than just show us an interesting character, but instead makes us his/her friend.

While Markie is going to get all the attention, we need to take some time out and note how good a job Kliegman did in putting the film together. After seeing the film I genuinely feel like I’ve been hanging out with Markie for years and not an hour and a half. Kliegman‘s ability to do that is rare because most filmmaker don’t often manage to have the walls between a subject and the audience be so utterly obliterated.

Yes, this is a film that is more than just a portrait of person trying to find themselves, this is a thoughtful and thoughtful examination of what the self is. What part does belief and religion play in all of that? Kliegman gives us much to chew on and a couple of weeks after seeing the film for the first time I am still pondering it. The fact that I am still pondering it is another reason that I don’t have a lot to say right now. The fact that this is a film that requires interaction with it is what makes it so great. We can’t simply say it was good and move on, but we much wrestle with it.

This film is a masterpiece. It is also one of the best films at Slamdance and highly recommended.

Hammer to Nail

10/29/2019

A documentary alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, director Matt Kliegman’s Markie in Milwaukee follows Markie Wenzel, a transgender woman in Wisconsin, as she alternates between male and female identities, torn between her innermost desires and the pressures of religion and family. When we first meet her in 2013, she is a he, in the process of destroying photos and evidence of her female self, becoming, once more, Mark Wenzel. We then flash back to the process, begun in 2005, of Mark becoming Markie. A deeply religious man – and evangelical preacher, as well – Mark had long struggled with the woman inside him, begging to be let out. Married and a father of three, he was at a loss, until finally he just came out as Markie, unable to bear the strain any longer. The fact that he was 7 feet tall, weighed 400 pounds and was, in his own words, very masculine, complicated matters. Who would accept such a man as a woman?

Indeed, the greater question is whether Mark would accept himself as Markie. If my own use of gender pronouns in this review is heretofore inconsistent, it is because of the conflict within Mark/Markie him/herself. Mark/Markie is, actually, a wonderful exemplar of the need for gender-neutral pronouns such as “they.” One of the great aspects of this film is its refusal to judge its subject nor formulate any easy answers on their behalf. We are with Mark/Markie all the way, wishing them all the best.

Kliegman – here making his debut – is also remarkably open to the many different points of view from those who know Markie as both man and woman, who may, themselves, offer less kind opinions. Whether it’s Markie’s former preacher (not such a fan of the transition), Markie’s children (also not in Markie’s corner), or the members of Markie’s transgender community (including a more liberal preacher, and all more supportive), we are treated to a great variety of talking-head perspectives on the experience. No witness is more moving in their testimony, however, than Markie, themself, then and now.

Remarkable in its frank discussion of an important matter, Markie in Milwaukee is also extraordinary for its seemingly unfettered access to its protagonist, who appears all in for this intimate dissection of their process, even if they are not always sure what that process means. Who is Markie? A human being, in all their marvelous complexity. That’s all we need to know.

EDGE Media Network

10/24/2019

Filmmaker Matt Kliegman’s compelling debut documentary makes for very uncomfortable viewing, especially for those of us who have difficulties with Christian doctrine. This is the story of 50-something-year-old conservative fundamental evangelist Mark Wentzel, who transitioned into Markie Ann – only to later transition back after (he claims) God spoke with him.

Mark is seven feet tall and weighs 400 lbs., which makes him stand out in any situation either male or female.  When Kliegman starts this story, we see Markie at the height of her unhappiness, having been dismissed by her church and becoming totally estranged from his ex-wife and three grown children. Kliegman, however, already has a wealth of archival footage, so he can show the time when Markie Ann first accepts her true identity and experiences elation. He even goes back further, to when Mark was a licensed preacher and Sunday school teacher of the fire-and-brimstone variety.

Asides from his/her conservatism and traditional values, Mark/Markie is socially awkward, which doesn’t help him/her fit in many situations. His/Her job as a TSA inspector is hardly a means to encourage friendships.

The decision to halt the transition comes a week after the urological surgeon has greenlit gender reassignment surgery, which is the final point of no return. It sees Mark going to city hall and undoing all of the legal changes he has done so far, and, as he says, officially marking the death of Markie Ann.

His church welcomes the suit-clad Mark back with open arms, and he finally gets an invite to meet his two grandchildren for the first time. He puts on a brave face and reiterates that his reversal wasn’t just about accepting his original gender as a reality, but also a matter of finding his way back to his God.

However, despite the optimistic spin on which Kliegman ends this excellent, but disturbing, documentary, looking at Mark’s face it’s clear to see he is not 100% convinced.

Film-Forward

02/07/2019

A number of recent documentaries have centered on individuals who either transitioned or are transitioning, but the fascinating Markie in Milwaukee, which recently had its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival, stands out from the rest. Mark Wenzel, who was born male, began living publicly as female eight years ago and has now decided to de-transition; that is, to resume his male identity. What follows is a chronicle of Wenzel attempting to re-integrate himself into the world he left behind, as well as a deep dive into the past for a better understanding of the forces that have shaped his very unique journey.

Director Matt Kliegman, who has years’ worth of footage of Wenzel during her near-decade as Markie Anna, constantly goes back to the photographs, audio recordings, and video of the subject going all the way back to his youth. Through these artifacts, we get a sense of just how long he had been wrestling with the desire to be female and how much effort he put into trying to deny it for much of his life. Before transitioning to Markie Anna, Wenzel entered into a traditional marriage and became a devout Christian minister, but years later, he’s firmly estranged from both. In particular, Wenzel’s grown-up children still seem confused by their father’s past actions, and during one especially heartbreaking interview, his daughter admits her belief that Mark broke up the family because she didn’t make him happy enough.

In fact, Wenzel gives up being Markie Anna in an effort to re-connect with both his family and the fundamentalist Baptist church he had belonged to. Now in his mid-50s, he stoically goes through the process of wearing men’s clothing again, and he describes himself as having been “wicked.” What makes these moments especially powerful is how sincerely he chastises himself. Viewers definitely get the impression that throughout the time Wenzel spent transitioning, a part of Markie Anna felt it was wrong, a sin against her creator. What makes the subject matter so compelling is how much of a walking paradox Wenzel is. Based on the footage of Markie Anna, there is no denying that she is free and comfortable. Her sense of happiness when socializing with her co-workers is downright infectious.

That Wenzel himself, much less anyone, could view Markie Anna as immoral comes across like a terrible rush to judgment. Yet we also understand how isolated an existence Wenzel leads, and we come to understand just how much that wore Markie Anna down during the eight years spent transitioning. Yes, there are more progressive Christian churches in Wenzel’s vicinity, but as the film explains, the different branches of Christianity are like separate languages. His former fundamentalist Baptist pastor expresses little regard for transgender persons, but in Wenzel’s heart, it is still his church.

Heading down the home stretch, the real suspense derives less on whether he gets back what he lost but what will be the cost of doing so. If Mark exists, does that mean Markie Anna cannot? Despite occasionally wallowing in dark emotions that are perfectly matched by the desolate Midwestern scenery, the film closes on an optimistic note, suggesting the possibility of having one’s cake and eating it, too.

Eye For Film

02/12/2019

At seven foot and just shy of 400 pounds, Markie, of Markie In Milwaukee, is an unusual candidate for transition. Because. Let’s face it, Markie (or Mark, as he finishes this documentary) stands out like a sore thumb wherever he goes. A giant brick house of a guy – times two as a woman.

Despite that, Mark, as Markie, carries herself with an impressive femininity. She fits. Or at least she appears to.

And yet the elephant in the room – no, we’ve moved on from Mark’s size – is the loneliness of being Markie. For after coming up through a series of fundamentalist, evangelist positions across a range of churches, Markie is an outcast.

Because, as a friend and Minister explains, God created man and God created woman and all this transgender stuff is just not natural!

That pretty much encapsulates why Markie is so on their own. No-one from their religion will associate with them, let alone approve of their decision. So the first half of this documentary is a very bleak place.

Markie, broadly happy in herself, is very obviously lonely. Here and there, she interacts with her new “friends” in the local trans community. But those are poor affairs. Anaemic encounters where a stumbling Markie seeks approval for her decision from an audience that claps politely but gives back little of real substance.

Her family has left her. Her wife is gone; her children will have nothing to do with her.

In many ways this is the exact opposite of the typical transition documentary. In place of personal demons vanquished and a struggle more or less supported by people in her life, Markie is on her own. Ostracised by all those nice Christian persons whose approval she once enjoyed.

As she owns to an evangelical audience after she has come back to Mark, post-detransition: “For seven years I put up with all the bullshit. I lost my family. I am virtually alone because of it.

“But no-one in the church told me to detransition!” No, God Almighty himself came down and told him to do it.

Mark never thought he would be on a platform such as the one he occupied in church, again. He was, he explains graphically, “on the brink of disaster and God showed up and called [him] back.”

The documentary therefore falls very neatly into two halves, dividing almost exactly at the mid-point (45 minutes). Before is arid desert, shot, seemingly, in deliberately washed out tones. A winter of discontent.

After is summer. Here is Mark welcomed back into the bosom of the church, attending socials. Here is Mark’s family again, for the most part welcoming him back: here his children, here his grandchildren.

Though as one of them explained their take on their dad’s decisions, one wonders quite what he sees in them: “He has us. We’re his family. Are we not good enough for him?”

Because transition is all about you, the nearest and dearest and nothing at all to do with the individual transitioning! With family like this, Markie never stood a chance. For, as pre-transition Mark makes clear, Markie has always been there and, in purely abstract form, is a success.

But Markie means permanent exile from all she holds dear. Preaching again, post-transition Mark asserts: “I’ve sinned and deserve to be punished.”

Except his own community has already been doing that very efficiently for the best part of a decade.

With its light touch, candid camera approach, this documentary gets under the skin of the issue. Forget the rhetoric and the preaching. Being trans in Bible Belt America is a very lonely thing. You might survive it if you are young, or not much of a people person, or bolstered up by a creative, academic community. But it is no place for a middle-aged, blue collar fundamentalist.

The documentary, shot over a ten year period, captures tone and mood rather better than it sets out the narrative which, with jumps back and forth to Mark before and after and in-between, is at times quite confusing.

Still, the truth that shines through is that a community whose central claim is that it loves the sinner is, on the evidence of this film, quite unable to love the transitioner.

Milwaukee Record

10/18/2019

Every once in a while, we stumble across people whose stories beg to be heard. You see them at a coffee shop, maybe at a show, or, in director Matt Kliegman’s case, at the airport. “Markie was putting out some signal, and I picked up on it,” says Kliegman. “I felt a magnetic pull, and was compelled to stop and talk with her.”

Kliegman was flying back to Milwaukee to visit his parents when he met Markie Wenzel, a recently transitioned, towering seven-foot-tall, former-evangelical-preacher-turned-TSA agent. Markie’s charm and charisma led Matt to reach out right there at Mitchell Airport, starting what would become a decade-long storytelling adventure.

“At the beginning, I didn’t set out to make a feature-length film,” says Kliegman. “I just knew there was a story to tell.” Over the next couple of years, he would fly to Milwaukee more than 20 times to film Markie, slowly piecing together his documentary, Markie In Milwaukee.

Kliegman filmed Markie during everyday life: going to the grocery store, the State Fair, Brewers games. As their time together continued to unfold, there didn’t necessarily seem to be a beginning-middle-end element that would turn the recordings into a narrative film. But Markie’s magnetism kept Kliegman coming back. “We were really just hanging out, becoming friends and seeing Milwaukee through her eyes,” says Kliegman.

Then, in 2013, Kliegman received a call that would change the course of Markie’s story, and the direction of the film. During that time Markie reconnected with the evangelical community and decided to de-transition—or go back to presenting as a male. This was only a few weeks before Markie was set to have her gender affirming surgery.

“As a friend, I supported any decision Markie decided to make,” says Kliegman, “but I didn’t think this was the end of her story.” At this point, Markie’s congregation welcomed her back with open arms, and with that support, Markie lived again as Mark—serving as a church leader and a preacher, and reconnecting with family.

During this time, Kliegman spent a lot of time with Markie, filming her homecoming and reconnection with the evangelical community. There was a powerful story to be told here—of faith, of tenacity, and of spirit. “I wanted to make sure this film didn’t come off with an evangelical lean or as a conversion story,” says Kliegman. “That’s not what this is about.”

Markie’s experience was anomalous. As a preacher, her church and faith said her existence was an abomination. As an actualized, transitioned woman in the LGBTQ community, her background as a preacher and her still-strong faith isolated her from people whose churches rejected them. Markie continued to try to connect her new community through religion, though it was often not welcome. “The LGBTQ community was welcoming and receptive, but when Markie started talking about Jesus, they just rolled their eyes,” says Kliegman. “She still wants to educate, to spread a message. She went out of her way to become a leader again, but it didn’t stick.”

For Markie, there seems to be no “right” answer. Determined to live the rest of her life in a fulfilling, self-affirming manner, she’s beginning to forge her own path forward. With the wild success of the film, Kliegman and Markie are touring the world, sharing their story together through film.

Leave it to Livia Peterson

10/21/2019

Trans people are discriminated against because we may have a difficult time accepting them for who they are. Markie Wenzel is a trans woman residing in Milwaukee, but she is not accepted by her family, friends, and the like. As she was preparing for sex reassignment surgery, she ponders and changes her mind. We observe Markie transition from a woman to a man and how the de-transition affects everyone within his circle.

Considering Markie in Milwaukee was filmed over ten years (reminds me of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood), the director Matt Kliegman completely immerses us in Mark’s life without sugarcoating his feelings. Markie in Milwaukee beautifully sheds light on the Milwaukee’s LGBTQ+ community without stereotyping the trans community and reminds us we should be inclusive to all, regardless of our gender, preferred pronouns, and the like. As the Trump Administration continues to divides us more than ever, we must accept people for who they are, as it allows the world to be a better place. B+

Slug Magazine

01/03/2019

This documentary follows Markie Wenzel, a transgender woman and former fundamentalist Baptist preacher, on her journey discovering her gender identity. It begins with her initial transition then, as the strain of rejection from church and family wear on her, the process of de-transitioning.

Director Matt Kliegman first began this project over a decade ago, filming over the years of Markie’s transition. “I met Markie in 2007 when she was working at the airport in Milwaukee as a TSA officer,” Kliegman says. “I almost walked by without stopping, but I had a genuine empathetic response when I first saw Markie and felt like I was picking up on an emotional signal she was putting out. Over the next few years, we got to know each other by filming short, inspirational videos for Markie’s blog and a Tumblr account I started to chronicle the process. We did all sorts of quotidian Wisconsin things—went to the state fair, visited the Brewers stadium and explored the various scenic nature spots around Milwaukee.”

Throughout the Film we see snippets from Wenzel’s past as a preacher and interviews with her family and community, most of whom believe that Markie’s choice to transition is a mistake and an act against God. They all serve to give the audience a better sense of the world Markie is coming from and the isolation she is feeling.

Markie in Milwaukee offers an uncertain but hopeful tone, especially as Wenzel re-introduces herself to the audience as both Mark and Markie and announces her resolve to move forward in life, accepting herself without fear or restraint. Wenzel says, “Several things have changed my situation since finishing filming the documentary in 2016. I have a restored relationship with my family. I have a great ability to be able to reach out to others experiencing hurt and try to help meet their needs. I have a renewed compassion for others and a strong desire to try and make a difference.”

Kliegman remained persistently committed to telling Markie’s story through this film. “In 2012 I was planning to accompany Markie to her gender affirming surgery appointment and had made plans to come to Milwaukee and travel with her to Green Bay where the procedure would take place,” he says. “A week before I got a call, [when] she told me she would not be undergoing the surgery and would start living as Mark again.” Markie had thought that Kliegman would no longer be interested in filming her story, “but we soon realized what a powerful story we had on our hands, and filmed extensively throughout 2013,” Kliegman says. “At this point, we knew we had a story to tell that could only be told as a feature-length film.”

Scenester

Markie in Milwaukee, which was a 2015 Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program selection, tells the engrossing story of a 7 foot tall transgender woman from Wisconsin who transitions back to a man because of her faith. It is a heart-wrenching journey. Wenzel, a former Baptist minister, is a dynamic force that is a truly inspiring.

Screen Anarchy

Slamdance 2019: Exclusive MARKIE IN MILWAUKEE Trailer Debut

Given the current political climate in the U.S., and especially, having in mind the recent attention drawn to transgender rights issues, it’s difficult to imagine a better time for Markie in Milwaukee to arrive. It will screen at the Slamdance Film Festival later this week.

Directed by Matt Kliegman, the documentary was “assembled from over 10 years of footage,” according to the official synopsis. “Markie in Milwaukee tells the story of a Midwestern transgender woman as she struggles with the prospect of de-transitioning under the pressures of her fundamentalist church, family and community.” The film’s producers include Kliegman, Zac Stuart-Pontier, Morgan Whirledge, Larry Fessenden, and Andrew Moynehan.

We are proud to debut the trailer, which you can watch below. The film will screen at Slamdanceon Saturday, January 26 and again on Tuesday, January 29.



MATT KLIEGMAN (Director) – Matt Kliegman is known for his work on Bomb Fetish (2012), Markie in Milwaukee (2019) and Carriage (Everybody Knows Where Babies Come From) (2008).

LARRY FESSENDEN (Executive Producer) – Larry Fessenden is an actor and producer and the director of the art-horror films DEPRAVED,NO TELLING, HABIT, WENDIGO and THE LAST WINTER, as well as he TV films SKIN AND BONES and BENEATH. He has operated the production shingle Glass Eye Pix since 1985 with the mission of supporting individual voices in the arts.

Produced by: Matt Kliegman, Zac Stuart-Pontier, Morgan Z Whirledge
Starring: Mark Wenzel