Elevate Difference

Against a Trans Narrative

Directed by Jules Rosskam

I did not know what exactly to expect when I inserted Against a Trans Narrative into my DVD player. Anticipating its arrival, I ran a brief Google search on the film and found myself at the official website, which seemed intentionally ambiguous. 

About an hour later, I realized that Against a Trans Narrative was arguably the best movie about gender I’ve ever viewed. It’s remarkably intelligent, sensitive and powerful. A documentary that presents contesting views about gender issues, transgender identity, queer and lesbian politics, and how all of the above play out in real life, it's a captivating and educational watch.  The film is a collection of dialogues—a number of small groups in intimate settings gather around a monitor and view and react to various skits. These skits range from a couple in which one of the partners is transitioning from female to male, conversations with real people who are or have transitioned genders, and personal narratives from people who identify as such. Interspersed among segments are bold spoken word performances from Willy Wilkinson. 

The filmmakers made an active and conscious attempt to diversify those whose opinions are voiced, as showcased by the differing generations, races, genders, and ethnicities of the participants in these dialogues. For example, one of the focus groups consists primary of college aged youth, while another is an older generation who experienced and was active in the Womanist movement of the 1970s. (I appreciated this very much!)

One of the most amazing things about this film is that it skillfully and without accusation casts the spotlight on the viewer to ask them the same questions as the participants. It challenges one to reconsider their thoughts and opinions on gender, sex, and relationships with the implication that we all have feelings on the subject which inevitably inform the way we understand and relate to people. In this sense, Against a Trans Narrative is very successful in creating dialogue; while a simple goal, it’s often difficult to achieve.

Written by: Yujean Park, February 23rd 2009

Hey Angel- You should be able to get in touch w/ them through their website: http://www.againstatransnarrative.com/

Yujean - Do you know where I could get a copy of the film? I haven't been able to find it for purchase.

Sorry, Yujean, not Yu Jean. My bad. Lawrence

Thanks, Yu Jean, for your thoughtful review. I hadn’t heard of this film and wouldn’t likely have heard about it otherwise. I’m curious as to what you think the film’s title means. What I mean is, “Against Trans” might (or might not) have something to do with the issue of passing, which of course can have the effect of further entrenching, not questioning the correctness of a gender-binary system. I’m just tossing out ideas here. The “Narrative” portion of the title might also suggest the worth of dislodging and unprivileging viewer perspectives but also of calling to mind all that good high-theory stuff about bodies and texts and voices. If this is your first foray into gender-based films, you might want to check out “You Don’t Know Dick” (from the mid-late 1990s) and of course “Orlando,” starring Tilda Swinton, from about 1987 or so. I collect transgender and transsexual memoirs, and those are two good examples thereof, one being documentary style, the other being a more professionally done, not to say truly Hollywood-style production. Anyway, thanks for your review. Lawrence Hammar.