When The Matrix premiered in 1999, no one had seen anything like it before: kung-fu blended with philosophy blended with technology blended with epic romance. The revolutionary first film grossed over seven times its budget at the box office, paving the way for three live-action sequels and an animated prequel anthology.
Trans viewers have long found their own experience reflected in the series. It seemed at least implicitly confirmed that the films represented the trans experience when the Wachowskis, the sibling duo behind the series, each respectively came out as trans women in the years following their release. In 2020, Lilly Wachowski confirmed that she and her sister Lana intended the film to be a trans allegory. Writers have previously analyzed some of the many trans themes throughout the series, but this June, writer and trans woman Tilly Bridges will release Begin Transmission: The trans allegories of The Matrix, an end-all, be-all analysis of the entire series.
Bridges spoke with LGBTQ Nation from her LA home to discuss her new book.
LGBTQ NATION: Tell me a bit about yourself and this project
Tilly Bridges: I am a screenwriter, a comic writer, podcast writer, gaming writer. I’m part of a writing team with my cis wife. I am a trans woman, and I’m a mom. And when I came out — publicly anyway — in the summer of 2020, I started writing weekly essays that I called Trans Tuesdays, just sort of chronicling my transition and the experience of being trans in this world.
Almost immediately, I began getting asked about The Matrix, because it was around that time that Lilly and Lana Wachowski had come out publicly to say that they intended the franchise to be trans allegories. People wanted to know what that meant, and since I’m a screenwriter and a trans lady, I thought, I’ll sit down and watch them again and write an essay about them. I was always a big fan of the movies, I really loved them, for reasons I didn’t understand for a long time, and I found that they were so specific to the trans experience that it ended up becoming a series of 24 essays that covered the entire franchise, and I turned those into a book.
LGBTQ NATION: Besides the occasionally informal language, this book almost reads like a dissertation or thesis. At times, you literally go second by second through a scene to analyze its use of color, dialogue and plot. Why did you decide to dive this deep?
TB: The reason was when I started watching it to take notes for the very first essay, I was totally surprised by how very deep and layered the allegories were. In watching them, it made me, as a trans person — and very specifically a trans woman — feel seen in a way that I still haven’t found in any other media.
I wanted to be sure that the trans people who would be reading my essays, and now the book, understand how this entire franchise understands you on a visceral level. Because it is about you, it is for you. It meant so much to me to see that kind of representation and feel so very seen that I just wanted other trans people out there to feel the same way, to know how much these movies are about them and are theirs and ours as a community. Because we have so little in terms of media representation, much less that’s actually good representation.
LGBTQ NATION: Absolutely. As you recommend in the introduction, I followed along with your analysis as I rewatched the films. Almost immediately there’s that scene in the first ten minutes of the first movie when Trinity approaches Neo at the club and she has this exchange with him. The way you frame her lingo through a trans lens made me as a trans person feel so seen to the point where I started to cry.
TB: That’s exactly how it is! It’s like, Oh my god, you understand me down to my core! Like, I got goosebumps just hearing you talk about that scene.
LGBTQ NATION: Yeah, there are moments that you point out in the movies that made me go, Wait. If this isn’t trans then how is this supposed to be interpreted? Because your analysis feels so airtight. But there are some moments where readers may go okay, she’s really stretching for this one. How would you respond to those critics?
TB: I mean, everyone brings their own different baggage to art which helps you or maybe even forces you to see things in certain ways. But the most telling part for me was that I wrote my essays on the first three movies before the fourth movie had come out. I was excited to see it, but I was kind of terrified because I thought, What if this completely blows up everything that I’ve written about? But I saw The Matrix Resurrections, and my mind was blown. Because not only did it not break anything that had come before interpretation, but it reinforced all of it all the way through.
I also just want to say that after I realized I was trans and accepted my transness, I looked back at all of my own writing from years ago from, you know, when I was even a kid, and I can see in there I was working through my own questions about gender and my identity, even though at the time I couldn’t have told you that’s what I was doing. But that doesn’t make it any less of an exploration of gender and identity.
So I think part of the allegories of the movies may have been [the Wachowskis] working through issues without necessarily being conscious of it. But there are also plenty that were very, very conscious and could not have been accidental. So I think it’s maybe a mixture of both.
Begin Transmission: The trans allegories of The Matrix is available on June 27, 2023 from BearManor Media. You can pre-order it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can find Tilly Bridges on Twitter and Instagram.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.