The theme for this LGBT+ History month is ‘behind the lens’, a theme which aims to celebrate LGBT+ storytelling in TV and Film as well as celebrating queer people who work in the industry. Network members have shared their stories of how seeing representations of LGBT+ people in TV and Film affected them.
As someone who identifies as a non-binary, trans butch person – I had to wait a while before I saw a representation of someone else like me on screen. Until the age of 47 to be precise. On another continent too, as the film of which I am speaking, MAN MADE, was only shown in selected cinemas in the United States during in 2019. I was lucky as 1) my twin’s wife had seen a promotion of the film on social media, 2) it was going to be showing in their home town of Athens, Georgia, and 3) I was on holiday visiting on them in the US when it was being shown.
The film is about an all-trans bodybuilding competition held in Atlanta, Georgia. It follows the physical and emotional journey of four trans guys as they prepare for the competition. Spoiler alert: the moral of the film is that all the competitors are winners for having the courage to get up on stage and be proud of who they are.
The film is a rarity on several fronts, because it’s:
- Got a feel good, positive vibe and happy ending
- About trans men
(The only other one I know about a trans guy is the 2002 film Boys Don’t Cry, which depicts the 1993 murder in Nebraska of Brandon Teena aged 21, certainly not what you’d describe as on screen inspiration …)
- Directed by a trans guy too – delivering on the creed of ‘nothing about us without us’
- Focused on something other than the surgical transformation of transition
As one of those who feature in the film, Mason Caminiti, said here:
Bodybuilding empowered me to take control over my life by transforming my body in ways that I couldn’t fathom. It also made me realize that what I do and who I am has real, measurable, physical, and mental results. Most importantly, my success matters not only to me, but to others. I let nothing stop me, including the opinion of naysayers and the self-doubt that lingered most of my life. I realized that I count and belong to something greater than myself. I’ve lifted weights as if my life depended on it because indeed, it has.
Bodybuilding offers a ready metaphor for personal transformation, showing how exhibiting one’s strength after years of privately embodied pain, can be freeing – even euphoric.
Having grown up during Section 28, I only fully understood my identity at the age of 35 after chatting with a guy in my gym who was generous enough to disclose he was trans. I can’t say if I’d have seen MAN MADE when I was growing up if I would have transitioned sooner. What I can say, is the film showed me I’m not alone – I’ve finally found my tribe.
For others, I hope the film offers inspiration as to how it’s possible to take control of your body to reduce dysphoria while waiting for medical support. It portrays the many different trans masculine bodies with their different starting points and journeys. Finally, rather than finding your body an everlasting source of shame – it teaches you how to love your body, to take pride in it and to fully embrace its potential.
Written by PC Al Smith of West Midlands Police. Al is the Trans Lead for the National LGBT+ Police Network and you can find out more about Al here.