Who Is Allowed To Tell Trans Stories?

Zackary Drucker talks about the need for trans-led narratives in 2017.

Hollywood has been forced to confront a lot of its inherent biases lately, and the treatment of trans people—in front of and behind the camera—is at the forefront. The success of TV shows like Transparent and films like The Danish Girl has offered visibility, but also sparked debate on who should be playing trans characters, and who should be telling trans stories.

Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage

As a transgender artist, actress and producer, Zackary Drucker (Transparent, I am Cait) is often asked about trans narratives in film and television. In part, that’s why she’s curating the TransNation Film Festival, running this weekend in Los Angeles.

Friday night’s screening is The Death And Life of Marsha P. Johnson from filmmaker David France, a cisgender gay white man whose previous doc, How to Survive a Plague, chronicled the early years of the AIDS epidemic. France was recently accused by trans filmmaker Reina Gossett of undercutting her own Johnson project, Happy Birthday, Marsha, which Drucker is a consulting producer on.

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“There is nothing inherently wrong with cis filmmakers telling our stories,” Drucker tells NewNowNext. “We unfortunately haven’t arrived at a place where trans filmmakers have the same accessibility as cis people do. I think it’s crucial for cis filmmakers to always bring trans people in on cast and crew in order to tell our stories with dignity and compassion. People need to see us for our humanity, not just a reduction of our trans identities. Stories of people’s lives are always told through specific lenses, and there is no true neutrality when it comes to filmmaking. Whenever our stories are being told, we need behind-the-scenes representation to ensure they’re being told with respect.”

The importance of TransNation Film Festival, she adds, is highlighting trans stories that are often left out of the conversation. As such, the series includes experimental shorts, international documentaries, and even some controversial films like Starrbooty and Myra Breckinridge.

Too often, trans people’s stories—either fictional or real—are just plot points in other people’s narratives, Drucker says. Rarely do we see them navigating their own lives.

“The trans community has experienced such a long history of misrepresentation,” she adds. “TransNation gives opportunity and space for our stories to be told through different perspectives. No one experience is the same as another—and the world needs to see and acknowledge that. So often trans folks come together around a shared experience of trauma. We’re so maligned in film and television that coming together around healing and self-authored representations of our lives is crucial and a conduit for hope.”

The TransNation Film Festival runs through Sunday as part of TransNation weeklong celebration of trans identities.

Trish Bendix is a Los Angeles-based writer.
@trishbendix