Doc details ‘challenges’ of ‘heroic’ trans bowler’s journey

Our League follows Michelle Guzowski, a trans woman, who returns to her beloved bowling alley after an extended hiatus. (Alison Scarpulla)

A gripping new documentary details the “joys” and “ugliness” of a trans woman’s journey as she merges her trans identity and love of bowling.

Our League follows a community of bowlers from just outside Cleveland, Ohio who cope with change when new owners take over their beloved alley, Mahall’s 20 Lanes. The close-knit group must also confront their own bias after a longtime league member comes out as trans.

In the documentary, Michelle Guzowski describes Mahall’s as her “safe place” where she can escape from the pressures of work, bills and the outside world. Guzowski has called the lanes her home for almost 20 years and decided to return after a period of absence since transitioning in her 50s.

While Guzowski has begun living as her authentic self, she still faces bigotry and anti-trans hate within her community. This includes other people in her bowling league struggling with their own biases as they misgender her and discuss their discomfort with the rise of LGBTQ+ acceptance in society.

She tells PinkNews that she’s always identified as transgender even though she “didn’t know what that was” for 50 years and didn’t know if it was possible for her to live as her authentic self.

Guzowski adds that she’s been bowling her entire life, but it was a “challenge” to merge her “two worlds together” given the conservative landscape in the bowling community.

“Because the bowling world is pretty much mostly male-dominated, and there are a lot of, shall we say, people on the far-right in the business,” she says. “But you know, I had to do what I had to do for myself and deal with whatever the consequences were.”

Michelle Guzowski says it’s been a “challenge” to merge her “two worlds”: being trans and a bowler. (Alison Scarpulla)

She recalls bowling at a different location when she first transitioned and encountered “a lot more negativity there” than she had in the safety of Mahall’s.

“They had a two-stall bathroom, and someone came in and literally threw water over the door in the stall I was at,” she describes.

In another instance, she says she was bowling on “lane 50” and was told that she had to use a “worker’s restroom down by lane one”.

“So I had to walk the entire length of the bowling alley almost, just to go to the bathroom,” Guzowski says, “and that was per the owner’s of the bowling alley, that was pre-surgery.”

She continues: “There was a lot of negativity. There were probably 80 to 100 bowlers in the league so I ran into quite a bit of negativity.

“I didn’t need that. Those two worlds did not merge very well there, but at Mahall’s they don’t care – they say they don’t care.”

Guzowski tells PinkNews that she knew that Mahall’s owners “would be very cool with everything” and felt she was “immediately accepted” when she returned to the alley.

The documentary captures some of Mahall’s patrons misgendering Guzowski, discussing her using the bowling alley’s bathrooms and disliking ‘promotion’ of LGBTQ+ ‘lifestyles’ when the alley participates in a local Pride event.

Michelle Guzowski sits on a white bench in a bowling alley and is writing on a piece of paper before her.  She is wearing a black top and tan bottoms
Michelle Guzowski says she will be “happy” if Our League “can change some people’s opinions” or if it can “inspire someone to be their true selves”. (Alison Scarpulla)

Sam Cullman, producer and director of Our Leaguedescribes Guzowski as an “obvious hero” since her story was at the film’s “heart” and it was essential to depict her journey at the center of it all.

He adds that the documentary also had to “convey how cis folks at the alley were struggling with some pretty big changes themselves” in the US and society more generally. So he says it was important for them to show “some of the ugliness amidst the joys and triumphs”, and he thinks that could be “challenging and uncomfortable for some folks” while watching Our League,

“As a doc filmmaker interested in reaching hearts and minds, that’s really the ideal, to stare truth in the face and reflect peoples’ actual experience because we have to know who we are and where we’ve been if we’re ever going to properly meet the future,” Cullman says.

Cullman hopes viewers will also be able to identify with Guzowski whether they’re trans or not as she’s “fierce”, “full of life”, “good humour”, “love” and “real dignity”.

Guzowski, who is also an amazing singer, tells PinkNews that she was lucky enough to invite some friends who had nothing to do with the documentary during a screening of Our League, She says her friends “loved it” and were “moved” by the film.

“There was one woman, she has a trans daughter, and it moved her to tears when she was talking about it,” Guzowski says. “It moved me to tears. I went over and gave her a big hug when she started talking about it.”

She adds: “If one thing happens out of this, if we can change some people’s opinions or if we can inspire someone to be their true selves, then I’m happy.”

Our League drops on PBS YouTube on 15 June.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.