Category Archives: Transgender

against a trans narrative (Dir: Jules Rosskam, 2008)

Filmmaker:
Year:
Country of Origin:
Format:
Running Time: 61 min

Still featuring Jules Rosskam (filmmaker) and his girlfriend in a confessional-style scene

Synopsis:

Through reenactments, interviews, and both informal and structured conversations, filmmaker and subject Jules Rosskam deconstructs the idea of a singular trans narrative. His reflexive film acts more as an intersectional conversation and discussion instigator than as a traditional story-telling documentary. The scenes in the film, which vary in type from confessionals to individual/group interviews to reenactments to dinner table conversations to “behind the scenes” footage, not only respectively contain challenging and controversial conversation, but also engage in conversation with each other, working cohesively to deconstruct the idea of one cohesive trans experience.

Rosskam, often using his own experiences, aptly addresses some of the most pressing, yet coded and hidden topics of FTM trans experiences both through reenactments and his own narrative. These topics include navigating the healthcare system as a transperson, transitioning while in a relationship, evolution from one part of the queer community to another, personal physical comfort in contrast with social perceptions, and constructions of both feminism and masculinity. While representing several experiences of FTM folks and those who surround them, the film also seeks express the importance of individual experiences and the multifaceted and varying aspects of physical and social gender transition.

The film also captures sociopolitical stances of a time around 2008 through its subject’s statements. This was timestamp was particularly noticeable in a conversation about feminism; a group of men are prompted to discuss feminism, and one states, “I wouldn’t go out and say I’m a feminist… I identify as a feminist but I don’t know if that’s a thing I should say.” Rosskam, who certainly engages with more current ideas about feminism and gender, introduces ideas that are just now (in 2015) starting to enter more mainstream vocabulary. Most prevalently are the concepts of passing and an idealized narrative; “the idealized narrative of what it means to be trans has become so pervasive that ultimately we’re all in process to get to a certain endpoint, and that endpoint is to be passable and read as a man or a woman in a world. And then if you’re not passable and read as a man or woman in this world, then clearly you haven’t finished yet.” Rosskam further challenges the binary that sits at the core of the idealized narrative, using footage of himself talking to his girlfriend about his social transition: “I’m afraid you’re going to lump me in with men – and I don’t see myself that way, I don’t identify myself that way.” Furthermore, Rosskam directly confronts the intersectionality that is too often ignored when discussing trans issues and narratives by asking his subjects “how do you think that your race and class impact your transition?” and related questions.

While Rosskam’s film is not a comprehensive view of trans lives, it offers a glance at many pivotal (and often silenced) issues. His involvement in the film (which ranges from confessional footage of himself, to vlogs with his girlfriend, to him appearing on screen to sync sound with audio) gives a humble tone of reflexivity and determination for self growth within an ever-expanding, intersectional, and complicated community that exists within a world designed to work against exactly the identities fostered in his community.

Related Subjects: Gender Studies, Feminist Studies, Queer Studies, Health Studies, Identity Politics

Critic Responses:

“Employing roundtable discussions, confessional on-camera monologues, acted-out skits, rehearsals of the acted-out skits, and rather fine rap poetry, the film can be applauded as an important tool for classroom use, but as a finished product for mass appreciation, Against is too haphazard, too unstructured, too insular. It’s a slightly amateurish paean to academic solipsism broken up by numerous episodes of power.”

Brandon Judell, CultureCatch

“It is inarguable that documentary is meant to create a motion, but “Against a Trans Narrative” does more than this. It creates a conversation, which is the first step towards understanding. Watching films such as these will encourage people to push for an open dialogue about how to make not only Colgate, but society more accepting.”

Reyna LaRiccia, Colgate Maroon-News

Bibliographic items:

Raun, Tobias. “Out Online: Trans Representation and community building on YouTube.” Roskilde University. http://rucforsk.ruc.dk/site/files/40335798/Tobias_final_with_front_page_pfd.pdf

Rosskam, Jules. “The ties that bind are fragile and often imaginary: Community, identity politics, and the limits of representation.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0740770X.2010.529256

William, Gabe. “How I knew I was Trans: My Story and the Trans Narrative.” Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo3Qav6cLtY

 

against a trans narrative (Dir: Jules Rosskam, 2008)

Film: against a trans narrative

Director: Jules Rosskam

Release Date: November 20, 2008

Country of Origin: USA

Runtime: 61 minutes
Synopsis:

Through reenactments, interviews, and both informal and structured conversations, filmmaker and subject Jules Rosskam deconstructs the idea of a singular trans narrative. His reflexive film acts more as an intersectional conversation and discussion instigator than as a traditional story-telling documentary. The scenes in the film, which vary in type from confessionals to individual/group interviews to reenactments to dinner table conversations to “behind the scenes” footage, not only respectively contain challenging and controversial conversation, but also engage in conversation with each other, working cohesively to deconstruct the idea of one cohesive trans experience.

Rosskam, often using his own experiences, aptly addresses some of the most pressing, yet coded and hidden topics of FTM trans experiences both through reenactments and his own narrative. These topics include navigating the healthcare system as a transperson, transitioning while in a relationship, evolution from one part of the queer community to another, personal physical comfort in contrast with social perceptions, and constructions of both feminism and masculinity. While representing several experiences of FTM folks and those who surround them, the film also seeks express the importance of individual experiences and the multifaceted and varying aspects of physical and social gender transition.

The film also captures sociopolitical stances of a time around 2008 through its subject’s statements. This was timestamp was particularly noticeable in a conversation about feminism; a group of men are prompted to discuss feminism, and one states, “I wouldn’t go out and say I’m a feminist… I identify as a feminist but I don’t know if that’s a thing I should say.” Rosskam, who certainly engages with more current ideas about feminism and gender, introduces ideas that are just now (in 2015) starting to enter more mainstream vocabulary. Most prevalently are the concepts of passing and an idealized narrative; “the idealized narrative of what it means to be trans has become so pervasive that ultimately we’re all in process to get to a certain endpoint, and that endpoint is to be passable and read as a man or a woman in a world. And then if you’re not passable and read as a man or woman in this world, then clearly you haven’t finished yet.” Rosskam further challenges the binary that sits at the core of the idealized narrative, using footage of himself talking to his girlfriend about his social transition: “I’m afraid you’re going to lump me in with men – and I don’t see myself that way, I don’t identify myself that way.” Furthermore, Rosskam directly confronts the intersectionality that is too often ignored when discussing trans issues and narratives by asking his subjects “how do you think that your race and class impact your transition?” and related questions.

While Rosskam’s film is not a comprehensive view of trans lives, it offers a glance at many pivotal (and often silenced) issues. His involvement in the film (which ranges from confessional footage of himself, to vlogs with his girlfriend, to him appearing on screen to sync sound with audio) gives a humble tone of reflexivity and determination for self growth within an ever-expanding, intersectional, and complicated community that exists within a world designed to work against exactly the identities fostered in his community.

Related Subjects: Gender Studies, Feminist Studies, Queer Studies, Health Studies, Identity Politics

Critic Responses:

“Employing roundtable discussions, confessional on-camera monologues, acted-out skits, rehearsals of the acted-out skits, and rather fine rap poetry, the film can be applauded as an important tool for classroom use, but as a finished product for mass appreciation, Against is too haphazard, too unstructured, too insular. It’s a slightly amateurish paean to academic solipsism broken up by numerous episodes of power.”

Brandon Judell, CultureCatch

“It is inarguable that documentary is meant to create a motion, but “Against a Trans Narrative” does more than this. It creates a conversation, which is the first step towards understanding. Watching films such as these will encourage people to push for an open dialogue about how to make not only Colgate, but society more accepting.”

Reyna LaRiccia, Colgate Maroon-News

Bibliographic items:

Raun, Tobias. “Out Online: Trans Representation and community building on YouTube.” Roskilde University. http://rucforsk.ruc.dk/site/files/40335798/Tobias_final_with_front_page_pfd.pdf

Rosskam, Jules. “The ties that bind are fragile and often imaginary: Community, identity politics, and the limits of representation.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0740770X.2010.529256

William, Gabe. “How I knew I was Trans: My Story and the Trans Narrative.” Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo3Qav6cLtY

 

Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project

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Running Time: 99 min

Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project is a self-reflexive documentary that explicitly responds to the lack of non-fetishistic media and pornography by allowing trans women to represent their own sexualities with partners of their choosing.

DVD Cover of Doing It Ourselves

Doing It Ourselves DVD Cover

The first scene features Tobi Hill-Meyer, the filmmaker, coming home to the newest film by Trannywood, a studio that produces pornography exclusively featuring gay trans men. She sits down on her couch and begins watching the film and masturbating with a Hitachi. After she orgasms, two of her friends, also trans women, come in, and they discuss the lack of “trans dyke” porn. They decide that with Hill-Meyer’s filmmaking skills, they could make their own porn and she begins filming her friends kissing and then moving into a bedroom. There are three more scenes, each beginning with a brief discussion of performers’ experiences with pornography and what they are expecting from their scene. The film features trans women in scenes with each other, with trans men, and with cis women, often in pre-existing relationships. The performers vary widely in gender presentation and consent is clearly verbally negotiated during sexual encounters, with participants laughing and admitting when things are uncomfortable.

Rather than fetishizing the bodies and especially genitalia of trans women as anomalous, the film emphasizes whole people and interpersonal dynamics. This is done with self-reflexive cinematography. The performers actively discuss filming themselves and there are frequent shots of the performers in the LCD display of the camera. In contrast to mainstream pornography, which shows genitals in intrusive, sensationalized close-ups, Doing It Ourselves features more medium shots, which focus on skin and body movement, frustrating habitual audience attempts to scrutinize physical differences. The performers’ identities also normalize gender and sex variation; surgical status is not emphasized in any way. The DVD extras feature interviews with all the performers, humanizing them and allowing them to speak for themselves about other parts of their lives aside from sex. Hill-Meyer also uses her work to build community, interacting online via tumblr and giving interviews in small queer publications.

Hill-Meyer is planning a sequel, Doing it Again: In Depth, which will be about how trans women navigate relationships and hooking up, both with trans and cis partners. It will explore how intersections such as race, class, ability and survivor status influence how trans women connect and flirt with sexual and romantic partners. It will be released as a two volume DVD, with a volume each on trans women with trans partners and trans women with cis partners. The Kickstarter campaign for the film raised enough funds that a third volume will be made about genderqueer and gender non-conforming trans women, as well as trans women with genderqueer and gender non-conforming partners. The open casting call again encourages people in mid and long term relationships to apply to represent intimate interpersonal dynamics, as well as identities that are underrepresented in pornography, such as people of color, people over forty, and trans men.

Southern Comfort (Dir: Kate Davis, 2001)

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Country of Origin:
Format: ,
Running Time: 90 min

Robert Eads and Lola Cola

English

Subject Headings: documentary, transsexual identity, health care, human rights

Southern Comfort is divided into the last four seasons of the life of Robert Eads, a cowboy from the Toccoa, Georgia backcountry.  Director Kate Davis spent one year living with Eads and filming his daily struggle with ovarian cancer.  More than a dozen doctors denied Eads treatment because he was a female-to-male transsexual.  Unable to receive treatment, the cancer ultimately claimed Eads’ life shortly after he spoke at the 1999 Southern Comfort conference in Atlanta, GA.  Southern Comfort, an annual conference for people affected by trans issues,

During the last year of his life, Eads pursued a close relationship with Lola Cola, a male-to-female transsexual. Davis documented their life together, as well as the tensions that resulted within Eads’ “family of choice.”  After bearing two sons, a period that he described as both the best and the worst in his life, Eads divorced his husband and lived as a lesbian before undergoing gender reassignment surgery to live as a woman.  At the time Davis was filming, Eads lived near several other transsexuals who came out publicly for the first time in the film.  Fiercely protective of one another, each member of the family sought to help Eads, who was a father figure and mentor to each.  Eads’ biological family, including his parents, son, and grandson, makes a brief appearance, but they still see him as a daughter and father and are unable to relate to the person he has become.  The loss of his biological family clearly pains Eads deeply, and he often mentions his grandson, to whom he has always been a man.

Davis highlights the frustration and anger felt by Eads and his friends over the medical establishment’s unwillingness to offer transsexuals parity. Those who underwent gender reassignment surgery shared stories about the expense and the doctors who did a poor job.  Footage of Southern Comfort reveals men and women discriminated against and threatened by a system ill equipped to address difference.  But as much as the film is about the difficulties faced by transsexuals in America, it also emphasizes the beauty and normalcy of transsexual relationships.  By showing both the unity and the divisions within Eads’ chosen family, Davis demonstrates that they are as human as her audience.  The film received numerous awards and critical acclaim, including a grand jury prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Will Hopkins 2011

Further Reading:

Official web site: http://www.nextwavefilms.com/southern/

Southern Comfort web site: http://www.sccatl.org/

World Professional Association for Transgender Health: http://wpath.org/

Meyer, Carla. The transsexual life, Southern style / HBO documentary explores fascinating ‘chosen family’. SFGate.com. 2002. < http://articles.sfgate.com/2002-04-12/entertainment/17538451_1_transsexual-southern-comfort-ovarian>

Mitchell, Elvis. Genders That Shift, but Friends Firm as Bedrock. The New York Times. 2001. < http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B01E5DC1639F932A15751C0A9679C8B63>