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: