Films Take on Trans Issues
by Julie Johnson

Trans Week (plus some) commences today, after two weeks of films and lectures, with the film It’s A Boy! a story of three people in transition from female to male. The event focuses on building community and educating the campus about trans, an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, trans gender, intersex, cross dresser and other gender variant people.
“We wanted to have the opportunity…for all the people I know that get confused about why I am the way I am [to learn about trans], and I can’t afford to explain that to everybody,” junior co-organizer Harper Tobin said. “Plus, my experience is different from others. People are curious and puzzled. They want to be supportive but don’t know how.”
Originally intended to be a lecture-focused series, Tobin said the focus shifted toward film, including narratives, documentaries and other video works, as she discovered the great wealth of video devoted to trans identity. “I realized that there were all these great films on the subject, and that San Francisco, Olympia and Holland have annual trans- themed festivals,” Tobin said.
“I felt the films were helpful in fostering a basic awareness of trans people’s different experiences and some issues in the trans community. Trying to create such an awareness is an important process that I wish more Oberlin students had participated in,” sophomore Maggie Raife said.
Notable filmmakers include Canadian native Mirha-Soleil Ross. Ross, a transsexual prostitute from Canada, has been involved in transsexual and prostitute community activism since the early ’90s. Video and performance art have been key methods through which Ross has tried to approach issues such as gender identity, transsexuality, self-representation and AIDS education and outreach.
Of the four Ross films shown, her most recent film was perhaps the most viscerally powerful of the group. Only four minutes long, the film showed a masculine hand lovingly tracing another person’s body from the breast down the stomach to male genitalia and slowly back up to the neck. It was a quiet gesture of love, acceptance and celebration of the body.
Ross’ documentary, I Would Never Have Known...a Conversation with Peter Dunnigan addressed the female-to-male transgender experience of Dunnigan. Identifying early on with a masculine role, Dunnigan discussed the alienation he felt within both the straight and queer communities as a woman-born man, distinctly different from a “butch” lesbian. He also talked about how the marginalization of trans people, and people of any ostracized group, forces them to look for escape routes through self-destructive means, including drug abuse and violence. According to Dunnigan, supportive communities must be created within trans communities, queer communities and straight communities to erase the detrimental alienation of trans individuals.
Dunnigan’s call for a more supportive community for trans people sparked a discussion of ways in which to build communities through institutional changes, re-politicizing drag, promoting self-education and by deconstructing history to incorporate the presence and struggles of trans peoples. Similar steps can be seen in Oberlin’s attempt to re-approach drag ball as more than an event exposing the novelty of drag. Another sign of growing awareness is a recent proposal in OSCA to create space for gender-neutral bathrooms, replace the usual male/female categories with open gender categories, as well as giving trans students priority in single room assignments.
“I felt the discussion, though small, was open and productive, though mostly for non-trans people,” Raife said. “Unfortunately we did not discuss trans awareness and issues of the trans community specifically at Oberlin, but perhaps that happend at another event.”
Another notable film shown this week was XXXY by flimmakers Porter Gale and Laleh Soomekh. The film was about intersex identity, focusing on two intersex individuals and their stories. One of the people interviewed told about how he went through 16 separate operations, at least one per year between the ages of three months and 12 years. An estimate of 1 in every 2,000 children are born intersex, and the film pointedly exposed the frequency as well as the imperfect and emotionally and physically destructive nature of cosmetic surgery on the genitals of intersex infants.
Other events included a lecture last week by Allison Mieselman, a lawyer from Maryland known for her significant and distinguished involvement in trans issues, and films about hermaphrodites, cab rides shared between a transgender cab driver and a pauper passenger, and other interview films featuring trans people.
“It’s an opportunity for trans people on campus to see each other,” Tobin said, hoping the series will “get people to think about what gender is about.”

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