Shelby Hadden is the writer, director and producer of the amazing, touching, informative, provocative, unforgiving short, animated film about living with pelvic pain. The film is called Tightly Wound. I interviewed Shelby to learn more about the who’s, what’s and why’s of this film.
1. Sara: You’re vulnerable and honest in this film. What got you to the point where you felt like you needed to tell your story? Were there any reservations in telling your story? Describe the process in your mind, where that first seed of telling your story, in any format was born.
Shelby: So, for a long time, I’ve had this idea in my head that I wanted to make a film about vaginismus and I didn’t know what that would look like. I thought that going to a physical therapy session and doctor’s appointments sounded really boring to make a documentary into. Those things are not very cinematic. That’s such internal work. Even if it wasn’t taboo to look into someone’s pelvic floor, you wouldn’t be able to see it. I had been bouncing around some ideas in my head and all of them were bad ideas. I didn’t have too much of a fire to go after it yet. I definitely didn’t imagine that I’d be making a personal film. That was not on my radar.
But, a couple years ago, the guy that I mention in my film (that laughed in my face), that was a really big moment for me and that’s when I started going back to physical therapy. So, I had gone to physical therapy before I moved to Austin and it had been a couple of years. I moved to Austin for grad school and you are so busy in grad school, I wasn’t thinking about my body. But this guy laughed in my face and it was really traumatic. It was really…it messed me up for a while. So I went to physical therapy and I was feeling so frustrated. It really came from a point of frustration that I decided to write it. I was frustrated with PT and I love my physical therapist to death, but physical therapy is a lot of work and it’s really hard and it was discouraging. I was mad about that and I was mad about this guy that laughed at me and I was mad that I felt that I couldn’t date like a normal person. I felt like online dating or using Tendr, or the ways my friends can date or just explore their sexuality or whatever it is, I couldn’t participate in the same way.
I’m a filmmaker and the way I deal with things is by creating and telling stories. I started writing an essay and then in writing the essay I had the idea to make a 2D animated film. It has been a slow “coming out” process in a sense for the last year.
Last Fall, I was taking a women and gender studies class. It was called Feminism and Creative Non-Fiction and we had to write an essay for our final project that was creative non-fiction. I asked my professor if I could develop this idea and write it for this class and she was on board. She was great because she really let me work by myself and kinda work on my own terms since it was so personal. I did present it at the end of the semester to the whole class. I remember how scary that was. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I really thought I was going to throw up beforehand. I had everyone’s attention in the room and they were a really kind, compassionate, receptive audience. Then I submitted it to a women and gender studies conference at UT. I did that. And that was a little less scary. You know at that point, I had already brought on Sebastian who is my animator and we were talking about making this film. That was always a goal for about the last year or so. And then I got the BUST piece, kind of locked it in the summer. They told me they would be publishing it in the Fall. I had Bedpost [Confessions] and both of these steps are bigger and bigger audiences of putting myself out there in bigger and bigger ways.
It is definitely tough being this vulnerable and telling such an intimate, personal story. It’s hard. But, like I said before. I was mad. I was really mad. I was so alone. I felt that I had so much to say. Even my best friends with the best intentions don’t know what to say. They don’t…they’ve never had pelvic pain or sexual dysfunction or these attitudes towards sex and dating that I had and it was just painfully lonely. I wanted to put something out into the world without any interruptions – without somebody telling me it would be okay or that one day I would fine some guy who was going to make it all better. I wanted control. I wanted to have power in the situation and that was telling my story. That was a very long answer.
2. Sara: Why do you think that your pelvic floor issues kept you from having a boyfriend?
Shelby: I’ve never had luck dating. I never had a middle school boyfriend. I was always the last one asked to prom, if I was asked at all. So for a long time, the pelvic floor issue didn’t have any bearings on that. But then, as I got older and I didn’t have these experiences, I think it kept me from being confident. Which I think probably pushed people away. And then the guys I was dating…what I would tell them, as angry as I am at them, I don’t blame them because they’ve never heard of these things, so they don’t know how to react. So maybe the guy that laughed in my face felt just super uncomfortable. You know, I’m not trying to make excuses for them, but maybe if we talked about it, if we were all aware of it, people wouldn’t have these kind of questions, or they wouldn’t be afraid to ask, or maybe they wouldn’t be so afraid that they would just recoil and say “Nevermind! Talk to you never!” and leave. One of my friends recently found out that she has an STD. She called me and said “I think you are the only one that knows how scared I am for my future partners to tell them that I have this.” In my mind I was thinking “I’m so jealous! I WISH I had an STD! That’s something people know about it. They’ve heard of it so there is a framework for it.” I think all of that has kept me from having a boyfriend so far. Hmm.
To be continued…
My continuing education company, Alcove Education, is acting as associate producer because we could not not attach ourselves to this project. Shelby is currently raising money to complete this film which is a fifteen-minute visual essay. If this film project touches you and you have the means, please consider a donation of any kind to her Kickstarter project here. (<— click this word) If you don’t have the means, but it still touches you, please share the trailer here. (<— click this word) If you want to read the essay she wrote for BUST magazine, you can find it here. (<— click this word) If you feel that she speaks to your situation, please show the trailer to your healthcare providers. It will give them a glimpse into your experience. That’s all we can really ask for, right? In life. Some sort of empathy. Some sort of shared experience. Some sort of validation.
If you have any questions, please leave them anonymously in the comment section below or email me at [email protected]