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Flap Jack

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 1/03/2016 Kelly Hughes

2016-02-29-1456772437-3731855-Evergreen.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-02-29-1456772437-3731855-Evergreen.jpg

Today we might take for granted a TV show like Transparent. And Eddie Redmayne's Oscar-nominated performance in The Danish Girl.
But sixteen years ago, I never could have imagined transgender themes becoming so mainstream. Thanks to a friend's compulsive last-minute scrambling, however, I had my first glimpse.
Ernie had heard that Evergreen, the hippie state college in Olympia, was hosting a transgender film festival. This was a year before 9/11. And a year after Boys Don't Cry came out. And even though trans wasn't quite yet the new black, the festival organizer was riding high on his Brandon Teena chic. And Ernie quickly learned that a woman who wanted to bend the laws of nature had no qualms about slipping us in past the deadline.
"They're going to show Please Don't Hate Me."
"But that's drag," I said. "And not political enough."
"Well they're going to screen it next Saturday morning."
"Nobody comes to morning screenings."
"And I got you a spot on the Directors' Panel."
"I made a movie with funny drag queens. I'm hardly qualified to speak for the transgender filmmaking community."
"And if we turn in the information today," said Ernie, using my weakness for press clippings of any kind, "I think we can still get listed in the program."
"You prick. Alright. I'm in."

The Saturday morning traffic was light. And we made the drive from Seattle to Olympia in less than an hour. The Evergreen campus was hidden in a forest. Like a big bland eco-friendly militia. Parking was plentiful. And the banner outside the auditorium demanded attention, if not social change, and probably some consolidation:
The Northwest International
Transgender & Intersex Film Festival
"What does Intersex mean?"
"I don't know," said Ernie, sipping a Frappuccino.
"I want to get my terms right."
"You can say anything except tranny."
"I have a feeling that anything I say today will be the wrong thing."
"Don't worry," he said as we took our seats, "there's hardly anyone here."

It was exciting to watch Please Don't Hate me on the big screen. And to hear the polite applause afterward. But when the houselights went up we soon realized this was not a drag queen crowd. Or even a Christine Jorgensen crowd. Maybe a James Dean convention? All these biological women with tough-guy chips on their shoulders and 1950s biker haircuts. A refreshing vibe, actually. But with a smoldering undercurrent of menstrual rage. And it wasn't even noon yet.
We took a break and went to downtown Olympia to find a gift for the festival organizer, a female-born college student who now identified as Adam.
"Maybe he'd like one of these," I said, rifling through a stack of auto mechanic name patches at a vintage clothing store.
Back on the streets, I persuaded Ernie to go into a tattoo parlor. "Why don't you get one."
"Kelly, you're not going to make me do this."
"I know. But if you did get a tattoo, which one would it be?"
"Well..." he said, scanning the artwork on the walls. "This one." He was pointing at an alien head with a crown of thorns."
"Perfect. Just do it. Right now."
"Come on. You know you want to."
"You won't talk me into it. Stop."
"I know. But if you did, where would you put it? Upper arm? Maybe on your neck?"
"Oh, I don't know. Upper ass cheek? But it ain't gonna happen."
"Hmm. We'll see."
When we returned to the festival, the audience had increased substantially. And we were just in time to watch a documentary about a self-professed man-hating lesbian, who, through surgeries, hormones, and tattoos, became the misogynistic biker bastard she had always loathed.
After that, I sat with four people onstage for the panel discussion. Our chairs were in a row, spread out far from each other. It's every man for himself, I thought, feeling guilty that even my thoughts might be politically incorrect.
Then I noticed a butch dame in the fifth row, arms crossed, staring at me, defying me to say something wrong. And I thought, is this what a women's prison feels like? Is this what female-to-male transsexuals feel like? Genders trapped in bodies surrounded by concrete walls and psychological barb wire, menstrual cycles both despised and synchronized.
And what about me? The token white male with no quirk or kink to hide behind. Could I overcome my need to make everyone in the room like me, and actually say something relevant? Or would this become an exercise in empathy as I myself sat ignored, marginalized.
It turned out that the audience just stared at us, and didn't ask any questions. So I jumped in and did some moderating of my own.
"So," I said, addressing the panel, "how do you want to use the experiences at this festival when you go out into the world as film and video professionals? Do you want to help introduce transgender themes into more mainstream projects?"
Nobody answered.
"How about all of you," I said, turning to the audience, and even looking directly at the butch dame who had it in for me. "What are you going to take away from this festival? How would you all like to see yourselves portrayed in film and on TV?"
More blank stares. Some shifting in seats.
And I was beginning to think, maybe assimilation wasn't the point. Sure, people didn't want to be the focus of violence or discrimination based on their gender identity. But maybe they didn't want to strip away all of the taboo or mystique either. And maybe they didn't have an agenda. And maybe the butch dame didn't hate me. But until the surgery, she had to hold me--a bio male--in contempt. But post-op, she could male bond with me at a baseball game, and even buy me a beer since, statistically, she'd be earning a higher wage as a man.
During another break, Ernie and I talked to a surprisingly mainstream male-born male. And I asked him why he was at a transgender film festival. And he said that he was into infantilism and wore a diaper.
"I've been interviewed on local TV," he said, linking his relevancy to Northwest sex media culture. And since I'd just seen graphic video footage of a penis surgically created out of inner thigh skin, the idea of infantilism actually helped cleanse the palate.
Back inside, they showed the Please Don't Hate Me video again. (Why? Because we asked!)
Then they showed this documentary about a butch younger lesbian who was becoming a butch gay man. And with facial hair, he actually looked like a cute guy. But it turned into some sort of S&M film. And the FTM tied some guy up and dripped candle wax on his naked body, then pissed on him. But the FTM didn't have a surgically-created penis, so he put his vagina up to a metal tube, and used it to simulate the flow of man urine.
So after our very long day, I turned to Ernie and said, "I can deal with skin flap dicks and men in diapers. But a chick pissing through a funnel is a little too Tin Man for me. Let's go to Denny's."
And we left in such a rush that I forgot to give Adam his name patch.

TRANSGENDER © Meriel Jane Waissman via Getty Images TRANSGENDER

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