Two men could not be more different. Two men could not have more in common. Both filmmakers and careful observers of the human condition, Chase Joynt and Mike Hoolboom have written a love letter to one another, and the crucibles that have informed their friendship and identities. In You Only Live Twice, they create a unique collaborative memoir posing striking questions about love, sex, and death in a lyrical yet highly accessible manner.
Joynt, an award-winning documentarian and artist, is a good-looking bearded man who was assigned as female at birth and raised as a girl. Hoolboom, a veteran cultural producer in Toronto’s independent arts scene, also experienced a transition of his own, having received an HIV diagnosis in 1988, a time when most with the virus could expect to die. You Only Live Twice takes the form of correspondence between the two men initiated after they met at the Orly airport in France following a spontaneous memorial for French filmmaker Chris Marker.
Beyond their shared appreciation of Marker, the epistolarians discuss old girlfriends, family trauma, socioeconomic class, and their individual experiences of a “second life.” As Hoolboom puts it, “[T]he HIV drugs arrived and the certainty of an early death was snatched away.” And Joynt’s experience of the world shifted when he began to transition, was no longer perceived as female, and learned to navigate (and interrogate) the crises, pleasures, and privileges of life as a white man in North America.
A sort of call-and-response conversation on wide-ranging themes, You Only Live Twice probes heavy topics. Suicide attempts are staggeringly disproportionate among trans people. As Joynt explains, “We continue waking up in a world that sees our living as inherently confrontational.” Hoolboom is also deeply affected by suicide. His film Mark concerns his colleague and friend Mark Karbusicky, who took his life, and the impact upon their circle of friends and Karbusicky’s partner, trans artist and activist Mirah-Soleil Ross.
Both men discuss the notion of disclosure, or “coming out” as trans or poz, a continual process that can involve both empowerment and loss of control. Hoolboom dated a woman who told everyone she knew about his HIV status. As he says, “[I]t was the best possible thing that could ever have happened, but it was done without a note of consultation. I was mortified.” Both men have also felt the impact of medical science on their lives and evolving identities, in ways that are actually marked on the body, whether through surgical or hormonal interventions, or in Hoolboom’s case the subtle concave of his cheeks that indicates, to those in the know, a tell-tale side effect of some HIV medications.
Despite its complexity, the book is refreshingly clear, direct, and elegant, and pleasingly consistent in tone despite its shared authorship. The opening scene describes the surroundings in Orly: “The metallic clatter of motorized carts bearing the elderly across the endless real estate of the departure lounge.” This sets the expectation that the rest of the book will be as cleanly observed, and the authors do not disappoint. This is an ode to friendship that is as beautiful as it is revelatory
Correction June 22: A previous version of this review misspelled author Mike Hoolboom’s last name. Q&Q regrets the error.