Swimming against the current is an expression that many people in the LGBTQ community can relate to. But for Veiga Grétarsdóttir, coming out as trans would lead her to taking on the incredible challenge of navigating the entire Icelandic coast counterclockwise against the ocean current.
Her experiences are chronicled in the new documentary, “Against the Current,” which will debut in America on Friday.
Directed by filmmaker Óskar Páll Sveinsson, the film follows then-43-year-old Veiga as she confronts both the choppy waters of the Icelandic coastline, as well as the obstacles she’s faced throughout her process of coming out and transitioning.
“When I came out as a transgender woman, I thought everybody would reject me,” Veiga said.
After surviving two suicide attempts, Veiga decided she needed a change of direction in her life, even if it meant going against the current.
“In 2016, I went back to my hometown after being away for 20 years, and I got into kayaking – just short trips in the summertime in Ísafjörður.” she said. “I was taking clients from the U.S., Germany, UK, all over the world, and I just realized it didn’t matter for the clients that I was a transgender woman. So, in a way, that helped me get over my depression.”
Only three years after taking up the sport, with encouragement from Guðni Páll Viktorsson, who in 2013 became the first person to kayak clockwise around Iceland, Veiga would make history as the first person to ever kayak counterclockwise around the country.
Since the release of the film in Iceland, Veiga has received a lot of public support, and just this month received the Fjallkonan (Lady of the Mountain) honors during the 2021 Icelandic national day celebrations — becoming only the second trans woman ever to do so.
But the responses that have meant the most to Veiga is hearing from others in the trans community who have been empowered by her story.
“There was a woman who contacted me, a transgender woman who came out just last autumn, and she’s two years older than I am, and she’s just basically starting her transition now,” Veiga said. “She told me that when she told her father that she was trans, he said, ‘I’m gonna do everything I can to get her off this nonsense.’
“Then her father saw my film, and he saw my parents speaking about me, my siblings and my ex-wife and everybody. After he saw the film he called her and just said, ‘You have to see this film!’ He said afterwards, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to support you.’ I’m getting a lot of reactions like this.”
After an odyssey of 103 days and more than 1,300 miles, Veiga continues to set new challenges for herself, and use her platform normalize trans women’s visibility in sport.
“I had started planning another expedition before doing this in Iceland,” she said. “I’ve made a deal with another film director, and we’re going to make four documentary episodes. I’ll start in two weeks paddling half of Iceland again, then I will take on Norway and then Sweden and Finland.
“We’ll make one episode of each country. This will be not about me as a trans person, just about all the obstacles that will be along the way on a trip like this. We’ll focus on nature, the beauty of the nature, and also about trash, the plastic pollution that’s just filling our oceans.”
We’ll be keeping an eye out for this upcoming docuseries, directed by Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir and produced by Krumma Films, which Veiga announced yesterday on Instagram will include her kayaking partner Ciara Harrington. In the meantime, “Against the Current” opens Friday with both virtual and in-theater engagements starting June 25th at the Quad Cinemas in New York and Laemmle’s Monica in Los Angeles, and a subsequent June and July release throughout the U.S.
If you only take one thing away from the film, Veiga says she wants people to know “you only have one life. We should just live it for ourselves, not for what other people think. I’m doing lectures in Iceland; I go to companies and schools to do lectures just to talk about my transition and the trip around Iceland, and I always say, ‘You know, we’re just human beings. It doesn’t matter what we have between our legs, and it doesn’t matter how we use it.’”
You can follow Veiga Grétarsdóttir on Instagram at @_againstthecurrent.