It takes work to keep people divided, and culture can help or hurt that project.
The award-winning documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen looks at history through the lens of how movies and television have represented trans lives.
News to me was just how early trans characters featured on screen. A year before the infamous Birth of a Nation, for example, D.W. Griffiths made Judith of Bethulia, whose cast included a shady/comic “eunuch” wearing dresses and black face.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Movies in America emerged in the Gilded Age, when instead of a post-war progressive reconstruction, America had re-configured white male power and the same plantation style of politics that had preceded the Civil War.
Good/Bad, Black/white, worker/boss, citizen/not — movies like D.W. Griffith’s helped underscore who was safe and who was not. And it’s no surprise that line-crossers who messed with gender were cast as comic or threats.
Today, emerging from another Gilded Age, we’re reckoning again with our divides, and alongside the racial ones, today’s Republicans are obsessed with denying trans people their humanity and healthcare. Just as they have spent years attempting to control women’s and girl’s — and all bodies Black, Indigenous, Asian, Brown and poor — states are passing bills to ban healthcare, deny jobs, even ban trans kids playing on sports teams.
And perhaps that’s because when it comes to our all-important divides, it’s our bodies, and what Karl Marx would have called their wants, needs and desires that most commonly lead us to cross borders.
Class, race, gender, sexuality, place. What would shift in our minds, and our relations with each other, if we put trans lives and perspectives at the center? In addition to celebrating trans survival and trans courage, the makers of Disclosure subtly raise that question.
And the answer’s worth thinking about, especially in June (Pride Month). What if we celebrated the borders we cross, when we dare to, for love? And felt pride?
You can see my interview with actress activist Laverne Cox, Sam Feder, and Amy Scholder, co-producers of Disclosure this week on the LF SHOW on PBS stations nationwide and on YouTube, or catch it on radio or as a podcast.