A Deal With The Universe is a buoyant insight into transgender fertility and follows director and subject Jason Barker as he attempts to get pregnant.
A Deal With The Universe highlights the nuances of transgender fertility through Barker’s own confessionals, where he candidly talks about his feelings of masculinity, of discomfort in his own body, and of being misgendered by healthcare professionals. Pregnancy and masculinity seem at odds with one another to many people, but throughout the film Barker reaffirms the multiplicity of his parenthood.
In an early scene, he performs a stand up routine dressed in a pair of ovaries, and discusses the return of his periods. Barker claims his own story free from the tropes of cinematic queerness; the medical challenge facing him is never a tragedy, but merely a milestone that he must rise to. Despite the couple’s optimistic resilience against the heteropatriarchal world around them, Barker feels ostracised from other trans men who are continuing to medically transition.
Water becomes a motif in the film; Barker and Tracey often walk along the sea front, the camera gazing out to the sunlight-dappled ocean. The metaphorical significance of water is clear; the rare cases of male pregnancy in the animal kingdom exists only among seahorse, pipefish and leafy seadragons. The marketing poster used for the film is a still from a scene where Barker is several months pregnant in a swimming pool. In the depths of the blue, Barker is shirtless, in swimming trunks, and with a heavily protruding belly. Protected in the body of water, Barker transcends the limitations and stigmas placed on him by society, and simply is.
The home video format weaves together diary-style entries from Barker, DIY talking-head style interviews with Tracey, and intimate fly-on-the wall cinematography. This looser style of documentary filmmaking allows for a richly intimate focus on the interior details of their lives. Through Barker’s perspective, Tracey sparkles on screen. The film is littered with adoring candid footage of her on the beach, laughing in the flat, and dappled with golden-hour sunlight. A Deal With The Universe places Barker front and centre as the narrator and protagonist, and in doing so frees himself and partner Tracey from a cis male gaze.
The process of getting pregnant is challenging for the couple; multiple setbacks and a further miscarriage disrupts Barker’s resilient optimism. In the midst of a cycle of unsuccessful pregnancies and grieving his lost child, we see how much strength Barker draws from the stability of his relationship with Tracey. For many couples, having a child is one of the driving forces in their relationship, and can often strain it tremendously. A Deal With The Universe shows how a queer couple explore the nuances of partnership and parenthood. The film’s conclusion is a celebratory relief when the pregnancy finally takes. The epilogue of the film, a montage of home footage of Barker and his growing son, leaves the audience with a sense of euphoric optimism and hope.
Through attentively vivid documentary storytelling, A Deal With The Universe explores the cinematic potential of queer representation. Barker is both delicately introspective and carefully aware of the barriers facing him on his journey. The film avoids any moral or political debate, and instead zeroes in on the human experiences of two wonderful people. A testimony to the capacity of transgender fertility and queer love, A Deal With The Universe is both realistic and utterly magical.