Discovery and Loss: Intersections of Identity in the Business of Fancydancing (2002) and Transamerica (2005)

Open Access
Baylets, Reva
Area of Honors:
Comparative Literature
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jonathan Paul Eburne, Thesis Supervisor
  • Sydney Sue Aboul Hosn, Honors Advisor
  • Jennifer Madison Lawlor, Faculty Reader
  • identity
  • queer
  • Native American
  • two-spirit
  • transsexual
  • sexuality
  • gender
  • intersectionality
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Duncan Tucker
This project investigates the meaning of ‘identity’ and ‘home’ in two contemporary films, The Business of Fancydancing (2002, dir. Sherman Alexie) and Transamerica (2005, dir. Duncan Tucker). Both films would typically be defined as “nontraditional” in the context of American coming-of-age stories, a cinematic genre each nonetheless invokes. These films function as cultural representations of marginalized identities and their trajectories. Seymour, the protagonist of The Business of Fancydancing, is a gay/two spirit Native American poet who struggles with maintaining a sense of community identity after leaving the reservation. In Transamerica, Bree Osborne, a conservative transsexual woman in the process of transitioning from male to female (formally known as “Stanley”), embarks on a journey with an unexpected travelling companion after learning that she has a delinquent son, who is searching for his “father.” Both films provide fertile ground for an investigation of how these categories of home and belonging, as well as ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation have become much more dynamically nuanced in contemporary society, both in representation as well as in lived experience. This scholarly research seeks to conclude that these films provide a hotbed of themes around modern abilities to travel in America, both literally and figuratively in terms of categories of identity; these depictions elaborate upon and complicate the traditional Western ideas of bildungsroman. The Business of Fancydancing demonstrates the difficulties of navigation between intersections of identities whereas Transamerica depicts how intersections can come together to perform a “whole” identity. Using the medium and genre of road movie film, each elaborates upon theories of identity, complicating the process of identity creation and performance.