The Importance of Trans Visibility

By Félix Endara – Félix, a creative advisor in the 2023 Sundance Institute Trans Possibilities Intensive (which took place 3/27–3/29), is a transgender New York–based independent filmmaker, programmer, and arts administrator.

This Friday, March 31 is Trans Day of Visibility, a day to honor the contributions and existence of our trans community — from artists to colleagues to friends and family. At a time when transness is being vilified, visibility alone is clearly not enough — and indeed not always possible. As champions of preserving artistic expression, we believe that supporting authentic voices yields the ability to broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.

At Sundance Institute, trans storytellers will always have a place to cultivate their artistic craft, their sense of community, and most importantly, their joy. Supporting trans storytelling is critical work we do as a nonprofit all year round at Sundance. Join us in uplifting underrepresented artists by making a donation today here.

Growing up in Ecuador, the pop culture I consumed was mainly imported from the U.S. and other Latin American countries. The films and TV shows were often sexist, racist, and homophobic. The limited portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters in my culture made it challenging for me to find relatable representation. For survival, I became skilled at finding and interpreting subtext. Eventually, the closest I came to seeing someone like myself was Hilary Swank’s portrayal of Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, but I had to detach from his fate to truly relate.

My ability to be openly trans cannot be separated from the ways in which I occupy locations of privileges — I’m a middle-class, mixed-race, light-skinned immigrant who traveled to the U.S. to pursue a college education. Higher education showed me the different ways I could be an “artist,” and art school is where I came out as queer, so my creative practice and my queerness have always been inextricably linked.

For many people, being visible as a trans person can be dangerous. Anti-trans sentiment (and actions) make it challenging for trans people to find support, and it can even lead to violence and discrimination.

It is crucially important to encourage trans storytellers to be visible and tell our stories precisely because of the pervasive anti-trans propaganda that is corroding U.S. politics right now. Our creative work challenges harmful narratives perpetuated about trans people and helps to educate the wider public about the reality of our lives. Just as important, however, is showing up on the screen beyond positive or benevolent representations — because that doesn’t showcase the multiplicity of our being. Trans people are messy! We are human, after all. And that might be the most subversive message of them all.

Producing documentary films isn’t a neutral act for me — my purpose as a creative producer is to champion queer and trans stories envisioned by queer and trans filmmakers. I also advocate for expanding what constitutes a trans story beyond coming out. In my films, you won’t see any scenes featuring an intramuscular testosterone injection plunging into a thigh or brooding characters named Aiden/Caden/Jaden. I was drawn to producing North by Current to support a trans filmmaker whose feature documentary debut centers love and radical honesty as core elements of family healing.

As a trans documentary producer, I see my work as a political act because it creates opportunities for people like me to hold positions of power in the field. Being someone who exists in between different identities — as an immigrant, mixed-race, and a trans person — has made me adaptable and equipped me to handle various tasks. I approach my work with a “farm-to-table” mentality, valuing emotional intelligence and empathetic listening as much as budgeting and reporting.

My ultimate hope is not just for audiences to react to my films, but to engage with them on a deep, emotional level. I want viewers to experience the full gamut of human emotions. Strong or mixed reactions to a film can serve as a diagnostic tool — a way to get at the underlying reasons for a viewer’s discomfort. I lack the capacity to work on more than one project at a time (like many producers, I do not make a living from making films). Sundance support for filmmakers like me is heartening because it encourages me to continue to be introspective and move at my own pace.

To my cisgender filmmaker peers who have made films about trans people: I appreciate your best intentions and varying degrees of success, but now is the time to show up for trans people. Stop creating trans characters and storylines without meaningful trans input (and compensation!). Mentor emerging trans filmmakers, and donate to trans organizations fighting against anti-trans legislation. There are so many ways for you to show that trans themes aren’t just a flavor of the month.

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