Denial tells the story of Christine Hallquist on two different fronts as she becomes the first transgender CEO to transition in America.
Life has a funny way of happening. When Derek Hallquist started to direct this film, he was covering his father’s battle in transforming the Energy Industry. While following his father around, the biggest bombshell was dropped that nobody would have foreseen. When Christine Hallquist comes out as transgender, it changes the direction of the film. What could have been a random documentary about a Vermont CEO becomes something more. The resulting documentary is one that enables us to learn another important story.
Christine Hallquist was in first grade when she knew that she was a woman. This was during the 1950s so living an authentic life was out of the question. As the former Vermont governor candidate puts it, if she came out at 15, she would have been placed in a mental institution. If she came out at 20, she wouldn’t have had a family. She put off transitioning until 50 because she started to feel suicidal. It’s not that she hadn’t felt suicidal before but the feelings grew stronger. Thus, it becomes transition or die.
Because the film was shot in 2015, it was before Hallquist became a prominent transgender candidate for Governor of Vermont. When filming started, Hallquist was working as the CEO of Vermont Electric Coop. It’s through this office that she worked to address the issue of climate change. Appropriately, there’s a clip early on of the former vice president, Al Gore. Addressing climate change in Hallquist’s position becomes tricky. The only real result is through the electric grid and its efficiency.
In addressing climate change, Hallquist manages to start up one of the first smart grids. But even as he comes a pioneer in the energy industry, there are those who are not keen on change. Hallquist wants to make these changes with transparency but it doesn’t come without the unfortunate backlash. This transparency issue is where the film starts to go in a different direction. If Hallquist is transparent about energy, can one be transparent about their own issues in life with their family? The answer is yes but it’s not without the appropriate anxiety. It’s the moment that leads the CEO to come out to her son.
Being transgender comes in all shapes and sizes. Hallquist grew a reputation in an industry dominated by men. As we watch the film, we wonder how her employees will react to the news? Just because Vermont is in New England doesn’t necessarily mean that the response will be preferable. As with anyone else, there are those who cut Christine out of their lives. It’s unfortunate.
With Christine coming out, the family dynamics change. There’s the question of Christine’s wife, Patricia, and how she reacts to the news. This being said, there’s a lesser focus on Derek’s two sisters regarding the news. We also see how the family must fake things around people who don’t know until Christine is ready to share. You know what they say? It’s a sprint, not a marathon. No transition is the same and everybody has their own timeline.
Even as Christine Hallquist comes out, she’s still the same person. The only difference is that she’s dressing feminine rather than masculine. At the same time, she has to deal with the same fears that any transgender American deals with no matter the job. At the end of the day, Christine just wants to do her job as anyone else would.
Denial starts off as a documentary covering one person’s plan to change energy but this film ends up becoming something that could impact lives very differently.
DIRECTOR: Derek Hallquist
FEATURING: Christine David Hallquist, Cortney S. Warren, Phillip Schewe