Three powerful indy documentaries that explore transgender life

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Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger

This film, directed by Sam Feder, showcases Kate Bornstein—author, performance artist, and gender theorist. The title is taken from Bornstein’s 2012 autobiography, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir. Bornstein is a self-described “trans-dyke, reluctant-polyamorist, sadomasochist, and recovering Scientologist.” Feder describes her as “a role model for a generation of people that is learning how to define its gender and sexuality, and survive in a world that frequently greets them with hate and hostility.”

And, indeed, Bornstein has inspired queer youth through her lectures, book signings, and readings at colleges and universities across the U.S. Her books include the whimsically titled My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else (1998) and Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws (2006)Kurt Vonnegut said of her, “How lucky we are to have such a clear and intelligent writer.”

This documentary is an off-the-cuff portrait of a provocative and funny thinker who points out that she has more Twitter followers than the Church of Scientology. With her quirky glasses, tattoos, and piercings, Bornstein exudes a warm hipness. “When people say ‘Kate Bornstein’ I’d like them to think eccentric Aunty Kate. Someone who looked after her kids,” she says. 

The film is currently screening around the country. Check out the website for upcoming dates. 

My Prairie Home 

This 2013 Canadian documentary, written and directed by Chelsea McMullan, follows transgender singer/songwriter Rae Spoon. McMullan first learned about Spoon in 2007, when she was making Deadman, a western-themed film set in British Columbia. She was searching for “subversive” country-folk music for the soundtrack when someone suggested Spoon.

Rae Spoon grew up in an evangelical Christian household in Calgary, Alberta. Not surprisingly, their [Spoon prefers the gender-neutral pronoun] family didn’t support their gender experimentation. McMullan’s film, a kind of documentary musical, juxtaposes images of the stark Canadian landscape with Spoon’s sad, melodic music. We see Spoon crisscrossing rural Canada, interacting with the local—often less progressive—residents of the countryside. Spoon addresses this: “People always ask me why I come back to the prairies so much. It can be very awkward for me, but there is a shared history that is just as much mine as anyone else.”

The film was an official selection of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story

For more than 20 years, Chris Beck was an elite solider, serving with Seal Team 6, a counterterrorism unit, and working with the Pentagon. In 2013, he retired, and appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 to reveal his transition to Kristin Beck. This documentary, which aired on CNN in September, chronicles the ups-and-downs of Beck’s new life. We see the bigotry of her former military colleagues, and also the support and encouragement she received from family and friends. When asked if she would have preferred coming out as transgender while still in the military, Beck says, “Yeah, I’ve wanted to transition since I was in third grade, but then I would’ve missed out on [my Navy SEAL career]. And I know that I’ve saved a lot of lives because of some of the actions I’ve taken in the middle of some pretty tough circumstances. I don’t know if it would’ve been a better life, a worse life, a different life.”

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