Finding Home

The media is an institution that plays a serious role in the perpetuation of prejudice and discrimination against gender-variant people. [1] Documentary films serve as powerful mediums for storytelling, shedding light on various aspects of our world. One such intriguing documentary is Fairy Garden, Gergő Somogyvári’s documentary film that unveils the touching story of Fanni, a 19-year-old transgender teenager, and Laci, a 60-year-old homeless man, as they build a ”home” full of support and acceptance together. Nestled on the outskirts of Budapest, deep within the heart of the woods, a weathered and ramshackle hut becomes an unlikely haven for two souls who became outcasts in their society. In this essay, I will try to explain political issues brought up in the film, and discuss how the film operates in this context and how media can shape people’s attitude towards something.

In 2011, the criminalisation of homelessness was implemented by the Hungarian Government and they went even further by amending the Constitution (Article 22): “Habitual residence in a public space is forbidden.” The Law on Misdemeanours was also amended, this the prohibition of rough sleeping came into effect on 15 October 2018. [2] In June 2018, the parliament passed a constitutional amendment banning homelessness, making an appeal to the Constitutional Court no longer possible. [3] If homeless people sitting or lying somewhere do not follow police orders to leave the site and head to a shelter, they can automatically be called to do community work.

Back then director of the film, Gergő Somogyvári wanted to make a fast and short report about this issue and show something to the public to counter Hungarian government propaganda. During this fieldwork they met Fanni and Laci in the woods, then they shot this film for three and half years. As the film unfolds, viewers witness Fanni grappling with the challenges of adolescence and identity as a trans teenager. We also shared the last years of Laci's life, who always helped Fanni and loved her as a father.

What is home? Where is home? – is it something you build with your hand or is it some connection you have with people? A homeless man is building a house for himself with scraps of wood and whatever he can find. A teenager who had a family, perhaps a house, but not a ‘home’. A teenager found her ‘home’ in a homeless man. Is poverty a crime? Is being trans a crime? The film asked me a lot of questions, yet it gave me a lot of answers. Besides the narrative of inhumane discrimination, this film shows the importance of the media. The biggest example is the film itself, and within the film the only way to connect with the outside world for Fanni was social media.

In order to discuss the role of this film on these issues, we must first understand the situation in Hungary. In 2020, Viktor Orbán’s government outlawed the changing of gender on official documents. They put them at risk of harassment, discrimination, and even violence when they need to use identity documents. Also in June 2021, the Hungarian parliament passed a law that effectively banned the portrayal or promotion of homosexuality and transgender issues in educational materials for minors. The law triggered widespread national and international criticism. Protesters in Hungary, as well as various LGBTQ rights organizations, activists, and allies, expressed their opposition to the legislation. Many argued that the law was discriminatory, infringed upon freedom of expression, and contributed to the stigmatization of LGBTQ individuals. The protests took various forms, including street demonstrations, social media campaigns, and statements from advocacy groups. Internationally, several European Union leaders and institutions condemned the law, and there were calls for action against Hungary. LGBTQ rights supporters and activists within Hungary and abroad aimed to raise awareness about the implications of the law and advocate for its repeal.

Media can play a transnational role in shaping political attitudes towards sexualities and minorities in general, especially affecting the views of more impressionable, younger individuals. [4] In the film Fairy Garden, Fanni's only connection to the outside world is social media, which may have been her way of seeking validation. By documenting all the things Fanni is going through, I believe this film is an attempt to change public attitudes toward trans people. As Joelle Ruby Ryan suggested in her article, documentary filmmakers encourage all viewers to critically reflect on their own history as gendered subjects, and they make clear the dire need for social change. Ruby Ryan took five films as an example and she clarified that some types of representations present transsexual people as tragic victims. As for Fairy Garden, Fanni living in the woods, getting all these hate comments and doing sex work due to financial difficulties are not something to be desired. But I don’t think this film wanted to make Fanni look like a victim, nor ‘otherize’ her. This is just reality, this is just a life she is living. Rather than that I think they wanted to convey some idea to the public by accurately expressing the harsh reality she is living in everyday.

In conclusion, through the lens of Fanni and Laci's unlikely companionship, the documentary urges audiences to reconsider preconceived notions about identity, acceptance, and the broader human rights condition in Hungary. Despite the country having strict laws, the film bravely works to show transgender people like Fanni as real individuals and break free from the limited perspectives that have persisted for decades. In this sense, the documentary is more than a cinematic creation; it is a potential catalyst for societal transformation.

[1] Ryan, Joelle Ruby: "Diversifying and complicating representations of trans lives: Five documentaries about gender identity." Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources 31.3 (2010): 10-17.
[2] Fruzsina Albert: European Social Policy Network: The criminalisation of rough sleeping in Hungary, ESPN Flash Report (2018)
[3] Keno Verseck: Hungary: When Poverty Becomes a Crime (2018)
[4] Phillip Ayoub, Jeremiah Garretson: “Getting the Message Out: Media Context and Global Changes in Attitudes toward Homosexuality” Comparative Political Studies, 50, 8, (2017): 1055-1085.


Solongo Soninbayar
ELTE BTK Film Studies