Reflecting on Trans in Focus: With Corporatism absent, now is the time to reclaim space and
utilise our voices

Kate Fahy 03/07/2020

Through all of the pain, grief, agitation, anxiety, suffering and hardship that this current pandemic has caused, I have really been latching onto the idea (perhaps for the sake of sanity) that these times have brought some long-absent power to the people. Quarantime has gone from baking banana bread and zoom quizzes to proactively tackling systemic injustices. The Black Lives Matter movement has led to global conversations on anti-racism, the symbolism of celebrated slave-owners have been physically torn down, almost every large organisation in the UK is currently introspecting on institutional racism and how to be better, education on black history is yearning to be improved. BLM has achieved real, tangible change, and its efforts are far from done.

The people have reclaimed the streets, and COVID has meant that it has been necessary to do this with care, thought, and meaning. After months of feeling ‘what the fuck is happening right now’, the other day it finally hit me properly that we were living in a very different time; that things had irreversibly changed. It was when I was walking through Brixton and noticed all of the out of date poster advertising, the emptied bus stop adverts that had been replaced by Extinction Rebellion posters, and posters for a campaign to save a local treasure – the grocery shop Noor and Cash which was under threat of eviction (the campaign has fantastically won its battle against the billionaire DJ who owns Brixton Village). Corporatism is absent, it is even struggling. It has temporarily lost presence and power, and in turn the people, the local communities have reclaimed space and voice.

This was felt so strongly at last weekend’s Black Trans Lives Matter march in London. Last year I went to London’s Pride march and found myself bored, standing behind a fence watching corporation after corporation adorned in rainbows – not marching for queer rights, but marching for advertisement and profit. In antithesis, the BTLM march was solely led and formed by queer people. In fact, it was a protest led by black trans people – just as Stonewall was. This time everybody was adorned with flowers in homage to Stonewall leader Marsha P. Johnson. It felt like the true roots of Pride, it felt powerful and vibrant and beautiful, and angry and united.

It is painful that protest is still necessary. Current issues in the UK seem to revolve around the myth that in giving trans people rights, cis women will lose theirs. This fear is being most prominently circulated and acted upon by the likes of Equalities (this irony is always too much to bear) Minister Liz Truss and author JK Rowling, who for some unknown reason has become the TERF master.

Trans people do not have enough of a role in the implementation of their own rights to exist and this cannot be the case. Through our Trans in Focus season, the primary goal was to hear the voices, experiences, and history of trans people through cinema, and to in turn be educated and also generate a discussion. Despite all the painful and oppressive things that trans people have always faced and are currently facing, it gives me hope that these conversations are currently so wide and present, and that people are uniting both on the streets and on the internet to fight against oppression, and to protect trans life.

From the programme, my favourite films have been the shorts. This is probably because they were all directed by trans filmmakers/artists. Feature films directed by trans people are scarce thanks to lack of opportunity and resources, and bigotry in production and distribution. There are films directed by cis people that are about trans life – some of which are good and some of which are not. But I feel that the best stories are told by the people who know those stories; who live them.

Woman Dress by Thirza Cuthand is my stand out, and I think that’s because of its allegiance to story-telling – to the power that it holds, also the impact of its suppression. It delves into a story of a Two Spirit person in indigenous Canada that had been handed down for generations, until it stopped being told due to shame and fear imposed by Colonialist ideals and general suppression of indigenous existence. Only 6ish minutes in length and super low budget, the film really inspired and educated me. I wasn’t aware of the concept of two-spirit people, and had barely given enough thought to the fact that colonialism, westernised ideals and religion had all had a huge impact in removing the historic and sacred existence of trans and non-gender conforming people globally. It was a real thrill to be able to have Cuthand join our discussion of her film, and while we have been consistently bummed that we have not been able to put on these screenings physically, it did reveal the potential of the digital – to communicate and connect with a filmmaker on the other side of the world.

It really feels like we are all on quite a wild ride right now. There is no doubt fear as to where it will land, but it feels a whole lot safer and stronger as we take it on in unity. Let’s keep raising one another up, let’s keep talking, learning, unlearning, fighting. Let’s keep story-telling. 

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