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'Markie in Milwaukee': A journey of identity and acceptance

Markie Wenzel in "Markie in Milwaukee."
Markie Wenzel in "Markie in Milwaukee."

A 7-foot-tall fundamentalist Baptist and former minister, Markie Wenzel made the decision at age 46 to come out as a transgender woman and start living as female. This decision estranged her from family, led to a dismissal from her church and a loss of community.

The documentary “Markie in Milwaukee” is about how Markie put the pieces of her life back together and worked toward her goal of sexual reassignment surgery. But over the course of the next decade, Markie begins to question her path and struggles with the prospect of de-transitioning under the constant pressures from the outside world.

Matt Kliegman is the director of the documentary and a Milwaukee native. He says he first saw Markie at the General Mitchell Airport when she was working as a TSA agent. Kliegman was in town to visit family, and says he was immediately drawn to her.

"I never had this feeling, but I felt a hand kind of guide me and be like, 'You need to get to know who this person was,'" recalls Kliegman.

Eventually, they connected and formed a friendship that then developed into Kliegman documenting Wenzel's life over multiple years. "Markie was someone who spent a lot of her life sharing her story, and talking about herself. She was a preacher and a lot of the content was autobiographical [about] her challenges, and was always documenting her life in one way or another. So it was just kind of a perfect match," he says. "It was just a privilege to be there and to help her find the words, to communicate it and bring it to an audience."

The documentary also spotlights the larger conversation around our fixation with identity and asks, how can you accept yourself when those around you won't? "It's hard to watch someone you know struggle and she was always incredibly optimistic most of the time, despite all of this," says Kliegman. "The issue wasn't Markie, the issue was the world that just couldn't make Markie the hero she deserved to be."

He believes that Wenzel's story of perseverance and determination can be an example and inspiration to others walking similar paths. Kliegman says, "I think anyone going through specifically transitioning with a family and a community that's not supportive can think, 'Wow. If Markie could do, I can do it,'... I would love if [the film] could lead to further acceptance and people perhaps evolving to live every part of yourself live authentically."

Markie in Milwaukee will be screening at the Oriental Theater on June 23 at 6 p.m. with Kliegman in attendance. You can find more information here.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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