My spouse and I just attended the 27th annual LGBTQ+ film festival in our town, and we saw some pretty great films. Overall, we both preferred the documentaries over the fictional narratives, but we did like all the ones we ended up picking out. I’ve had a varied relationship with this festival over the years – when I was younger, I wasn’t sure I belonged, and it was just so thrilling to even be there at all. I volunteered one year, and formed some lasting relationships through doing that. Then I kind of shunned it for a few years, deciding I didn’t have time for it, and the ticket prices were too pricey. In the past 4 years, I changed my tune and realized we are lucky to have this festival in our hometown, and we should make the most of it. We pick out a handful of films each year now, and pre-pay (to get a slight discount). I’d have to say that at this point, the novelty of being there as a super-fan has started to wear off, but I do still look forward to it each year, regardless… here are the films we saw this time around (links are to film websites, trailers, or reviews):
Zen in the Ice Rift – This was a narrative drama from Italy about a transmasculine teenager who is really just at the beginning of their journey into who they really are. They’re on the boy’s hockey team (only because their town is so small and that’s the only option), are getting bullied, and are acting out a lot in response. It was pretty hard to watch, but definitely well done – themes of victimization and violence, definitely a trope at this point.
The Ground Beneath My Feet – This one was from Austria, about a workaholic woman who’s sister has suffered yet another psychotic break and is hospitalized. The woman starts to question her own sanity while trying to juggle all aspects of her super stressful life (a lesbian affair with her superior being only one small tendril of her falling-apart-life). Really well done, edgy, gloomy thriller-drama.
Label Me – From Germany, this one was about a refugee from Syria who begins an ongoing money-for-sex relationship with a man who seems very well off and very isolated at the same time. It gets interesting when the two men navigate that line between intimacy, sex, money, and everything else that falls in between.
Leave it to Levi – This was a documentary about a porn star who works exclusively with Cocky Boys. It was just totally fun, but there was depth too, when the film explored his relationship with his mother and his forays into dressing in drag and going totally against the norm of the Macho Porn Star.
Gay Chorus Deep South – This documentary was full of heart. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir toured 7 southern states in order to raise awareness of anti-LGBTQ+ laws that have been popping up in the wake of the 2016 election. Along the way, we see some amazing personal stories of some of the chorus members, specifically from people who were born in the south and made it to the (relatively) safe haven of SF.
Changing the Game – By far, this one was our favorite. So many strong emotions going on. Between this one and Gay Chorus, I did a lot of crying! This followed the trajectory of 4 transgender teens from 3 different states (which all have different laws about transgender people competing in sports) and how they navigated what they had to do to keep pursuing the sports they love. They all came up against so much hate, but also so much love and support, specifically from coaches and parents / guardians.
My spouse and I had a lot of fun going to a bunch of fims during this year’s local annual LGBTQ+ film festival! I liked all the films we picked out this time around. Here’s a little more about them (some of the links are to trailers while others’ are for the films’ websites:
Pulse – This Australian film was part of the “ImageOut There!” series, it definitely took some interesting twists and turns. What if people could surgically switch bodies, like for example go from a disabled teenaged male body to a “picture perfect” teenaged female body? This is what Olly chooses to do, with his/her reasonings unfolding slowly throughout the movie. A different and unique perspective leaning a little too heavily on the fantasy of what it means to be a woman: not much insight but plenty of pitfalls.
Man Made – This may be my all time favorite movie I’ve seen at the festival over the years. I cried a lot (and that’s saying something because lately tears are super hard to come by!) It’s a documentary that follows the journeys of 4 transgender men as they prepare for the only all-trans bodybuilding competition, in Atlanta, GA. Their stories are heartwarming, heartbreaking, and they hit on a bunch of emotional points in between.
Cola de Mono – This Chilean film was also part of the “ImageOut There!” series. It’s a feature length that focuses on one family on Christmas eve, 1986. The men in the family have been “cursed” by homosexuality, and the next iteration is now playing itself out. It’s super melodramatic, definitely campy, but not in a fun way. They undertones are full of hypersexuality, perversion, ritual, and horror. The film takes its name from a traditional drink similar to egg nog, which translates into “monkey’s tail.”
Studio 54 – I didn’t really know anything about the behind-the-scenes, so I learned a lot! The documentary featured a lot of interview time of the more “silent” partner, Ian Schrager (the more public partner, Steve Rubell, passed away from AIDS / hepatitis in 1989.) My spouse pointed out that it was a smart idea not to rely on a bunch of famous people being interviewed about it – that seemed like the easy choice, but this way the film spoke for itself a lot more.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post – My spouse was super psyched this was part of the festival, because they had heard of it and had just finished reading the novel that the film is based on. It takes place in Montana in 1993; when Cameron is caught in the backseat of a car with her girlfriend, she’s sent to a conversion therapy camp called God’s Promise. It was awesome to see this with a theater full of people because there were so many sound bites that got big laughs (although the writer and director didn’t seem to account for those interruptions, there wasn’t a beat for us to catch up, meaning we ended up missing dialogue because we were laughing so much. At one point, the audience burst out with a round of applause!) This was thoroughly entertaining and also disturbing – a more dramatic partner piece to “But I’m a Cheerleader.”
This year was the 25th anniversary of our local annual LGBTQ+ film festival! We made an effort to invite friends to different films this time around, which was fun – connecting with some people we hadn’t seen much lately was nice. Most of these links are to trailers, and a couple are to the films’ websites.
Beach Rats – I went to this one by myself, and I was surrounded by gay men, for the most part. There’s something about that that I really embrace; it doesn’t happen often enough. The general story-line is that this young man is living a double life – hanging out with his friends drinking, smoking pot, playing handball, going to Coney Island, getting a girlfriend. When he’s by himself though, he turns to online websites to hook up with older men. I like the way it was filmed. Really sparse. And the story-line takes an unusual twist.
Tom of Finland – This is the Finnish entry for best foreign language film for the upcoming Academy Awards – how cool is that?!! This was a really well done bio-pic. I really didn’t know much about him other than what I saw of his drawings. He fought in WWII. He had a complex and interesting relationship with his sister. He had a long-lasting partner. He had fans all over the world, but especially in California, and they made sure he knew he was celebrated, flying him in for parties he inspired, etc. Highly recommend!
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson – You can watch this movie on Neflix if you want. So, this is really only some of the story. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the production of this film and who’s work is being credited, which we only found out about the day before we were going to see it. Here’s one article that gets into all the details: What Would Trans Art Look Like if it Was Only Made By Trans People? To sum it up in one sentence, a trans-woman of color – Reina Gossett – has been working on a film about Marsha P. Johnson, and she had done a ton of legwork and archival studying. Then this dude – David France – swoops in with his finances and his connections and essentially steals the work that had been made thus far. So, our experience was a little bit soured, but I have to admit it was still a good film. And I hope Reina Gossett is still feeling empowered to move ahead and create her own film – the more films that will educate people about transgender people and issues, the better. I just realized I didn’t say anything about what this film is about – so go watch it on Netflix! Haha.
Alaska is a Drag – This one was kinda campy. It features twins who are stuck living in Alaska – a gay guy working at a fish cannery, learning boxing, and fantasizing about making it big as a drag queen, and his sister who has cancer and is getting regular treatments, but her spirits are high, indulging in the world of drag her brother creates. It was so-so. Definitely different, but not all that compelling.
Freak Show – This was SUPER campy. Directed by Trudy Styler (Sting’s wife!) A kid has to move to a southern state and attend a super conservative high school. His mom is Bette Midler, er, I mean, a mom played by Bette Midler. He endures bullying on top of bullying and hate crimes and more and more violence. He then decides to up the ante and run for homecoming queen. Laverne Cox has a small role – that was one of the best parts. Also, costuming was stunning, but otherwise, I wasn’t a huge fan.
Saturday Church – This centers on a 14 year old boy named Ulysses. Similar themes as Freak Show, but the approach is a little more realistic. He starts to question his gender identity amidst bullying at school and conservative viewpoints from relatives. He meets other gender variant people of different stripes, they all convene at a youth service / shelter on Saturday nights. Kate Bornstein plays the person in charge of the space!!! They eat together, attend “balls” together, and talk about hardships. I liked this film a lot!
Content note: sex and sexuality.
Also, spoiler alert for this super obscure film that is probably hard to find, but totally worth it!
My spouse and I just saw The Lure, a Polish film re-envisioning The Little Mermaid (meaning Hans Christian Andersen much more so than Disney, although there are elements from both). It takes place in the 1980s, and these particular mermaid sisters are vampiric vamps who come ashore in order to perform as singers/dancers/strippers. One of them also joins Triton’s punk rock band. There is no sea witch in this version; instead, they are exploited by the humans around them, for their talents. The director likened them to “immigrants, abused by the locals (used in the sex industry) on their way to their real goal—America.” I didn’t quite catch that hidden meaning, although that’s super interesting; I guess I was looking at it through a trans-specific lens, and I saw a bunch of parallels that resonated.
The two sisters have two very different focuses/goals. “Golden” wanted to perform and find her way to America. “Silver” falls instantly in love with the young bass player at the nightclub. Golden, very early on, warns her sister, something along the lines of, “would you be willing to eat him if need be?” While on land with legs, the mermaids have no sexual or excretory organs. They’re paraded around, and it’s said that they’re “as smooth as Barbies.” When water is splashed on them (Think, 80s movie, Splash !!) and their tails re-emerge, they do have a “vagina” of sorts – it’s just super unconventional. Also, they have a strong fishy smell (d’uh!), and another quote from the director, “they represent innocence, yet their odour and slime recalled girls maturing, they menstruate, they ovulate, their bodies start smelling and feeling different.” The reason I’m focusing in on this in particular is because it is Silver’s motivation for what she does throughout the rest of the story. She does want to marry the bassist, but even more clearly, she wants them to have sex, and he won’t, the way that she is. There is a really graphic surgery scene where she loses her tail and gets new, permanent legs, fully formed with vagina and everything else. She gives up her singing voice, as a trade off. There then is a sex scene, which does not go as planned. And then, OK I’m going to leave it at that, to not give away anything more!
I related to this sexual conundrum, as a trans-person. Not literally, of course, but, in a way. Just to cover the base-line, in general, trans-people feel all sorts of ways about sex and sexuality and their own anatomy. It really is all over the map, from person to person. And, as well, I’m sure, there are cis-people who feel a total disconnect, for a variety of reasons. So it’s not really a “trans-specific issue,” but, overall, it is surely more common among trans-people. Following that disclaimer, I’m actually only speaking about my personal experience in the next couple sentences. I do not relate to what I have. And I never did. I’ve created some work-arounds, in my head, over time, that have helped. And I’ve been able to become more present, which is nice. But I still get hung-up. And upset that there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.
I’m not the only one, by far, who is making this connection between trans-people and mermaids. If you are familiar with Jazz Jennings, 16 year old trans-activist, author, spokesmodel, youtube celeb, etc., she has linked the two in some very strong ways. She even has a company called Purple Rainbow Tails, through which she sells mermaid tails she’s made herself raising money for trans-kids. I found a really interesting article that touches on Jazz and mermaids called, Transgender Mermaids. Here’s a quote from it!
Of course, the question that most people ask is “Why mermaids — why not some other animal or creature?” The reasons may be varied and complex, and they may vary with each girl. However, a common theme is that mermaids may hold a special appeal because they have a high level of human feminine facial features and upper body features while having a lower body that isn’t that of a traditional human female. Many transgender girls may relate to this because they know that they are truly females no matter what their genitalia may be.
Also, Mermaids UK is a support resource and advocacy group that has been around since 1995(!!!) focused on helping transgender kids and adolescents, and their families.
I was once in a really obscure play, a reworking and twisting of the children’s play, If Boys Wore the Skirts. The original was “a satire on what may happen if women continue to copy the clothes that men wear. According to this play, in self-defense the men may take to wearing feminine things. Here we see a bunch of rugged males forced into skirts. The setting is a schoolroom in the present.” (Present, meaning 1958.) The version that I was in was a mature audiences, tripped-out dream-like version. As one of the “schoolboys,” I got to imagine and create my own genital-themed skirt, called a “groinment.” I had such a blast with this, probably much more than anyone around me could have known! I’ll leave you with two images of what I came up with: