Trans Media Arts

| Feb 8, 2016

Hello again all of you entertainment seekers! 2016 is in full swing. It’s February already. It’s the awards season. Star Wars is still breaking records at the box office. Boy, that would have been cool to have a trans actor or even a gender non-conforming character in Star Wars. Hey, you never know what they are cooking up over there at Disney. There is always hope for us transgender sci-fi nerds.

Love is in the air with the dawn of February. Valentine’s Day is closing in. Love, and finding love can be a difficult subject for transgender folks. This can be a very sweet, or very difficult time for our community.

A scene from Her Story.

A scene from Her Story.

A new web-based series is tackling that subject very well. According to the show’s website, Her Story is about two trans women in Los Angeles who have given up on love, when suddenly chance encounters give them hope. Violet is drawn to Allie, a reporter who approaches her for an interview, while career-driven Paige meets James, the first man she’s considered opening up to in years. Will they risk letting what they are stand in the way of being loved for who they are?

Trans women in the media have long been punchlines, killers, indications of urban grit, pathetic tragedies, and dangerous sirens. Rarely have they been complex characters who laugh, struggle, and grow, who share strength in sisterhood, who seek and find love. Her Story depicts the unique, complicated, and very human women we see in queer communities, and explores how these women navigate the intersections of label identity and love.

Co-written by Jen Richards and Laura Zak, directed by Sydney Freehand (Drunktown’s Finest), with cinematography by Bérénice Eveno, and produced by Katherine Fisher/Speed of Joy Productions, Her Story features predominantly LGBTQ women, on and off-screen. With this project we have the opportunity to positively shift cultural perceptions of trans and queer women. Their press release says, “We invite you to join us in helping to make visible the lives of women who too often are made invisible.”

I watched the series and liked it. I thought it was well done and well acted. The cinematography was top-notch, the characters believable and felt like you knew them already even though each episode was only 6 to 11 minutes. It was as if we joined them in the progress of a long running show where the characters are not only fleshed-out, but honed as well. I hope to see more of this show. They could easily expand the episodes into 30 minutes. I will be on the lookout for it in the future.

In India, a pop music outfit named 6 Pack Band has garnered more than 1.6 million views on YouTube with their debut song and video Hum Hain Happy— a cover of Pharrell Williams’s popular number Happy (2013).

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According to Y-Films, over 200 members from the transgender community were auditioned before the final line-up was determined. At times, even boys dressed up in saris pretending to be transgender would show up for auditions. “We didn’t know whether to advertise the auditions on television or radio or print, because we didn’t know how savvy they (transgender people) were. So, we created a team that went to traffic signals and on local trains across various pockets of Mumbai like Malvani, Malad, Virar, Vasai, Kurla, Kalyan and Mankhurd,” says Shameer Tandon, project curator. Tandon previously launched successful names like singers Shaan, Shubha Mudgal and Viva, India’s first girl pop band.

From singing at celebrations to being part of a band, the journey has not been easy. Since society has always been harsh on the community, the singers were often cynical about the project. “They did not trust us in the beginning,” says Tandon, adding, “They would say, ‘Our parents kicked us out of the house and people make fun of us when we walk on the streets. How will you change something that’s been happening for years’?”

With five more songs in the pipeline, the 6 Pack Band looks set to recreate the success of its first music video all over again. The band plans to release a song on the 6th of every month, starting from February. Each song will weave in experiences of the community members.

“The song Happy captures the philosophy of the community. Despite all the prejudices against them, the community is always happy; they come clapping, bless us and leave,” says Ashish. (From the Hindustan Times)

Kylo Jane Grace

Kylo Jane Grace

The Force Awakens and the Internet went crazy after Laura Jane Grace posted a photo of herself with a Kylo Ren helmet and her guitar on Instagram three days ago. The trans Against Me! lead singer and transgender advocate is a big fan of the franchise.

The photo sparked a back and forth between Grace and her fans on twitter, bringing up the idea to have her appear in Star Wars VIII. The official Star Wars twitter page took notice and had some fun with it, sparking fans to start a petition to have her appear in the next movie. That would be something else for all transgender folks to know that someone in the community is in something as giant as Star Wars. As we well know, there are a lot of sci-fi fans in our community as well as musicians. I suppose, she would want to play a darker character judging by her choice of mask.

A recently rebooted The X-Files episode was more than a little awkward, but not for the same reasons as the previous two (in which Mulder and Scully joked about Uber and Obamacare). The episode, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, fumbled to portray a transgender character and landed somewhere between out of touch and transphobic.

Shangela, the trans character, is stereotypically cast as a truck stop prostitute and speaks in an overblown dialect that sounds more like Tracy Morgan in drag than an actual person. Shangela hits a monster with her purse and describes the incident to Agent Mulder, mentioning her transition in an offhand remark: “[the monster wore] tighty-whities, same kind I used to wear. I transitioned last year.” She also tells the FBI agents that she is on crack.

The episode may aspire to offer a lesson in tolerance, but it is a poorly executed one. Though writer Darin Morgan frames dialog about Shangela with a shrink’s claims that the real monsters dwell within us, the portrayal of her remains othering and shallow. This is evidenced by Mulder’s attempt to explain the transgender experience to an ancient lizard creature:

Lizard: “Man, she hit like a man!”

Mulder: “That’s because she used to be… she once… she’s transgender.”

Lizard: “What? You can’t transform into a different sex! That’s nuts!”

Mulder: “It’s not nuts, it’s actually a very common medical procedure. You don’t need the surgery, technically, to—”

Lizard: “Maybe that’s what I could do! It’s a cure! I’ve got to stop transforming! I’ll do the surgery!”

Mulder: “No, completely different.”

Lizard: “Tell me how much it costs, I’ll do it.”

Mulder: “They cut off your genitals.”

Lizard: “No, leave it. That’s a step too far, isn’t it.”

(From attn.com)

I was disappointed in the show’s portrayal and half-assed attempt to make light of transgender people. It was supposed to be a silly and light-hearted episode, and one that was trying to bring aging Mulder and Scully into the 21st century. But, all it did was perpetuate the stereotype of transgender people as drug users and prostitutes who talk like caricatures of women.

Viva_posterA new film at the Sundance Film Festival is Viva, a story about Jesus (Héctor Medina), a meek hairdresser whose clients include drag queens at a local Havana nightclub and elderly women who don’t have enough to pay him. With his mother having passed away and his estranged father in prison, he gets by on his own, yet is struggling to break out of his shell and genuinely express himself.

Jesus’ closest friends are the locals that attract tourists and a neighborhood “whore” — as one of his clients calls her — who takes advantage of his local dingy apartment, complete with a tattered mattress. One evening, when she leaves behind her lipstick, Jesus applies it; with a few glances into the mirror, his newfound dreams of participating in the local drag show emerge. An avenue for Jesus’ emotional breakthrough comes through his exuberant mentor, Mama (Luis Alberto García), who manages (and leads) drag performers at the nightclub. After an unexpected audition, he offers the timid Jesus a chance to perform on stage, leading to a wooden, buttoned-up performance, but one that doesn’t deter him from improving. This set-up could easily parlay into the tried-and-true story of the road to self-empowerment, but the story soon takes a drastic shift when Jesus’ aggressive father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría), a former boxing star, gets out of prison and forces himself into his son’s life. After a violent initial encounter, the two men, coupled with warring ideologies, slowly begin to find some common ground. Through this tale of redemption and reconciliation, Medina, with palpable brilliance, charts the emotional arc of his character, a gradual rise in confidence and the ability to speak out for what he desires.

Viva screens at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and opened on February 5. (From Film Stage.)

bowieFinally, in books, we honor the great gender-fluid musician who passed away this year, David Bowie. Bowie was no stranger to the power of sexuality and gender. He was definitely a space oddity. It’s a great loss to the music world and the world of people who question the binary of gender and embrace it’s fluidity. Enchanting David Bowie: Space/ Time/Body/Memory written by James Penner and Future Nostalgia: Performing David Bowie written by Shelton Waldrep honor this international legend.

At age three, a young David Bowie discovered some makeup in the upstairs bedroom. He put lipstick, eyeliner, and face powder all over his face, and when his mother caught him in the act, she was startled by his transformation: “[F]or all the world he looked like a clown.” Although amused at first, she warned him not to play with makeup because “makeup wasn’t for little boys.” A cursory glance at the rock star’s extensive career reveals that his childish fascination with the outré has never actually waned. When Bowie first discovered rock music in the 1950s, he was consciously aware of the medium’s inherent theatricality and the ways in which rock music could become a conduit for radical forms of self-transformation.

Future Nostalgia: Performing David Bowie (2015) and Enchanting David Bowie: Space/Time/Body/Memory (2015) — insist that Bowie should not be viewed simply as a rock musician: “Bowie’s ongoing cultural performance is an elusive and pliable text that can be read and reread from various critical vantages. He will be missed by many, but his works will live on, inspiring and re-inspiring generations.”

Until next time folks, remember the ones you love this month with a little extra something. Spring is right around the corner. All of that snow you have piled up will become water for the flowers and trees. Think warm thoughts and get in some Netflix binge-watching before Spring.

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Category: Fun & Entertainment, Media

Amanda F. Steele

About Amanda F. Steele: I am a transwoman originally from Pittsburgh, PA. I have been living full time for 4 years. I work in retail but am an artist/Graphic Designer and aspiring writer. I tend to address the controversial in my writing. I would love to change the world one article at a time. I moved here to The San Francisco Bay Area to start over, again. The adventure continues...

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