January 2010


Pride Film Festival: Let’s talk about the T.

I guess that I’ve been somewhat fortunate that I’ve had incredible exposure to diversity in my life and that whenever I’m presented with something new, it rarely throws me for a loop.

Like transgender individuals.

Apparently I’m oblivious to the social problems that face the Ts because although I lived with one I never really experienced the guilt-by-association discrimination.

And, come to think of it, I’ve only been called queer in a hateful way to my face twice, that I can think of, and I’ve only been a minority in some visible way a handful of times in my life: rural Louisiana, South Africa, Swaziland, and Armenia. In Weimar as long as I keep my mouth shut, I pass as a local.

So it’s at this point I need to admit that the Pride Film Festival has opened my eyes a bit wider with respect to the issue that Transgendered individuals face. Two films explicitly touched on the topic: Kaden Later and Switch.

Kaden Later was an semi-animated short about a couple, one half of which was an FTM individual. I didn’t talk about it because as films go, it was neither great nor bad, it was just there. Now that I’ve had pause to reflect, I think it’s a far better film than I initially thought—and ended up making the point that individuals are individuals.

This is in the context of three things, I might point out: First, I had breakfast at Rachael’s Café last Sunday; I’ve been thinking back to dinner with Emily, better known as the Transkitten, last November in Hamburg; and I saw Switch Sunday afternoon.

Rachael’s the Transgendered owner of Rachael’s Café, and while she wasn’t there when I was there, it’s clear that she’s created a community space that attracts a lot of customers and has become an important performance space and venue for people. I have to give her mad props because she’s been successful: had you asked me when she opened it, I would have said that it’s location south of Third Street in Bloomington was going to harm it: people on foot rarely cross Third Street to go anywhere unless it’s home.

Meanwhile I’ve been following Emily and her blog Transkitten since I first discovered her last summer—she’s taking a big trip soon to get her surgery—and for me it seems perfectly natural that she wants this surgery. I don’t question it; it is, for me, just a statement of fact that she’s doing something that she needs to and wants to do in order to improve her life. I’ve never really given it a second thought—and I hope the fact that I treat it this way isn’t wrong.

So this brings me to Switch, the documentary about Brooks Nelson, a man who was a woman before. He’s married to a sweet woman and the film explores how he became him, and the response to this switch by his friends, family, and community.

Some aspects of this film were a revelation to me—like the fact that apparently girls harass each other in the toilets, to the point were pre-him Brooks would have problems with other women in the toilet. Brooks talked about what a relief it was to use men’s toilets because you could use the toilet without fear of harassment. Two things disturbed me about this and I’m not sure which order to present my disturbances but I’ll start with the women’s restroom: I thought women peed in stalls with shut doors—so how could it matter? I believe that harassment happens because you tell me it does, but before this film it never would have occurred to me that it would be an issue in women’s toilets. And secondly, I find some men’s rooms intimidating—especially in cruisy gay bars where the dude at the next urinal is more interested in showing you his cock and getting his hands on yours. That said, I would think that in general men’s rooms are much more open to harassment because your backs are exposed to everybody and often urinals lack real dividers. That said, I don’t know Brooks’ genital status and I presume he probably uses stalls for privacy.

It’s a shame that transgendered individuals face problems in the real world – it seems strange to me that anybody could have an issue with somebody changing their gender.

The fact that anybody takes offense actually offends me.

Follow Up note: I forgot when originally writing this post about the film Prodigal Sons, which also deals with Transgender issues. As I previously noted, I found the film excellent.

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