After watching the film I was struck by the undeniable power of testimony, the collective narrative of being unapologetically yourself and the fact that despite the unifying acronym there is not one LGBT experience. And that’s a good thing. Yet, I did feel lonely being the only trans person in the documentary, which is poignantly representative of the movement’s current focus that tends to see trans people as an afterthought, a gesture of inclusivity.
One person cannot represent anyone but themselves. The burden of representation is too heavy for one to carry. My journey isn’t reflective of all trans women, men and people’s lives (for example I say “fully transitioned” in the film, which varies for all trans people, and refer to my relationship with my body as “the wrong equipment” – some feel theirs is in fact “right”). The number of people of color featured is wonderful and so is the fabulousness of drag legend Lady Bunny (who adamantly points out drag queens’ and street people’s – let’s not forget about trans women’s – presence at the Stonewall Riots) and Twiggy Pucci Garcon (who represented the ball community and mentioned my legendary sisters there) – all of which helps diversify the portrait of race and gender.
I still find myself struck by the fact that I, this brown trans girl from Kalihi, a low-income, resilient town in Honolulu, was sharing cinematic space with groundbreakers, from Ellen DeGeneres and Wanda Sykes to Larry Kramer and Lupe Valdez. It dawned on me as I sat down in that dark theater that my life, my story, a snapshot of my existence will forever be archived as part of our movement.
A little girl growing up like I did will be able to see herself in this film. She will not have to hunt down the footage, like my dear sister Reina Gossett had to when she sought and uncovered footage of Sylvia Rivera at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally. This will be on HBO, not hidden in archives or blazed into the faulty memory bank of witnesses.
Personal stories are vital to culture change and I believe that this film will be pivotal to changing people’s perceptions about the LGBT community, but personal narratives are not everything. True progress occurs when we’re able to contextualize our personal experiences and come to the realization that we are part of a movement of people struggling with similar and dissimilar systemic oppressions.
As reported in Vanity Fair, the fight for marriage was a major catalyst for the creation of this project. And it’s with a note of bittersweetness that I celebrate the premiere of this film and the striking down of DOMA. The freedom to marry is important (it took decades of organizing, movement resources and millions of dollars), as I said on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry (clip embedded below) on Saturday, but so are daily access issues that low-income, homeless, incarcerated, HIV-living, immigrant, jobless and LGBT communities of color face, which frankly are not sexy issues that make passersby feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And these issues don’t garner the same resources and media focus as marriage.