I know that the film Transamerica was a big breakthrough for tranny visibility in the USA. But believe it or not, there's more to transgender than director Duncan Tucker and evening soap star Felicity Huffman can bring to the silver screen. In fact, there are movies being made all around the world that cast real live trannies in the tranny roles.
There are documentaries that get made about people who take gender exploration a hell of a lot further than man-becomes-woman or woman-becomes-man. Many of today's radical tranny films never make it to your local Cineplex, but they're out there. I'd love to give you a single link that would open for you the treasure trove of films about radical gender transgression, but no one's put a list together yet. You're gonna hafta google them for yourself, but I promise it'll be a fun search.
Or, if you're lucky, you live near a city that holds a transgender film festival. Don't worry if you're not in one of those cities. I live in New York, and there's not one here. San Francisco has one, though: Tranny Fest. And Seattle has the 2nd Annual Translations tranny film festival, this coming Labor Day weekend. You could still make your travel plans, and Seattle's gorgeous in the summer. You just missed London's Transfabulous this past June. But fret not. I'm gonna write about that next week.
Failing a full-fledged tranny film festival, you can always catch a few of us in most film festivals calling themselves "Lesbian and Gay," or "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender." (It's called LGBT, pronounced as if the B and T were silent.) Many of those festivals do have a tranny track of films, and sitting in the audience at that kind of screening does make my heart leap with joy cuz I'm sitting there for a solid two hours with so many of my family. And look, if I left out a tranny film festival, I'm sorry. My bad -- please send me the link care of the comments section, and I'll include it in my next blog.
But then there's Amsterdam where every two years, people from around the globe gather to celebrate the image of neither/nor gender in film. Film makers, actors, photographers, theorists, journalists and activists from all over the world, and the only thing they've got in common is that they're work somehow contradicts the notion that in this world, there are men and there are woman and never the two shall switch. It's the Netherlands Transgender Film Festival, founded and directed by Kam Wai Kui in 2001.
Kate and Director Kam Wai Kui
Kam Wai asked me to attend the 4th of these festivals, this past May, 2007. I had a wonderful time, meeting so many members of my tribe. Look, it's one thing to look up at the screen and go, "Wow, look how ugly that brave Felicity Huffman has let herself become. Why, she's almost ugly enough to be a real live transwoman." Okay, meow, but it's true. It's another thing to look up and see yourself, or someone really a lot like you and go, "Wow."
Gender doesn't have to be black and white. It can be a sparkling jewel with many facets, and that's what wowed me in Amsterdam: I met gender freak artists who capture us magnificently! Please treat yourself, and peruse the online festival program and see for yourself how bedazzling gender can be. There was art that crossed lines of age, race, nationality, and class. There was some pretty polished stuff and a couple of charmingly rough home-filmed pieces. It was a space where we could meet each other and exchange ideas and art and politics. We even talked about ::gasp:: sex! A lot, in fact. And wow did that ever feel good, because in the USA you so rarely get to sit around in public and discuss sex, do you? Nothing in the Netherlands Transgender Film Festival was boring!
One of the highlights of my visit was Laxmi, a lovely young hijra guru from Bombay (she prefers to call Mombai by its colonial name, she says it has more class). Laxmi is the guru of a collective of hijras in Bombay. Hijras are not-man/not-woman, and they have existed in India for thousands of years as both a reviled outer caste and as a revered group of healers. Laxmi and I adopted each other immediately, and I'm now officially her momma. I also meet and spend time with Anita Khemka, an Indian photojournalist who had been documenting the hijra underground, focusing in part of Laxmi. There are around 3.3 million hijras in India today, and it's extremely difficult if not impossible for these people to get any work other than sex work and begging. Laxmi is working to change that. Laxmi, and Anita Khemka's work with her, have been documented the film Between the Lines: India's Third Gender, by German film maker, Thomas Whartman.
But wait, there's more! In addition to the film festival itself, Kam Wai programmed in several academic and political discussion plenaries, where I got to know the work of Dr. Josephine Ho. She's Professor and Chair of the Department of English, at National Central University, Chungli, Taiwan. Dr. Ho is also President of the Cultural Studies Association in Taiwan, as well as the Coordinator for the Center for the Study of Sexualities. Please check out the links on her website. And on top of all that there were two complete gallery shows, featuring the work of Anita Khemka's Hijras of Mumbai (which is how Anita likes to say it), and French photographer, Kael T. Block's exhibit of fabulous full color portraits of young trans-men, called XX Boys.
The Amsterdam Film Festival was capped off by the Hormonotron Pary, billed as "the place to be to get your shots of gender queer fun and excitements." I attended, and indeed I found my excitements.
Okay, that's it for this week. See you next week with even MORE places that people with neither/nor gender are hanging out.
Kiss kiss, and remember: we are everywhere.