by Lexie Bean and Logan Rozos
It is Trans Week of Visibility, a week set aside by our community to celebrate showing up in the world fully as ourselves. Trans Week of Visibility is both a time to take joy in our loud and unapologetic existence in the public eye, and a time to recognize the ways in which we are still overwhelmingly unseen. This invisibility makes trans people – especially those who identify with transmasculinity or trans boyhood – even more vulnerable.
The loss of trans lives to violence is an epidemic that has been acknowledged in queer spaces for years, but is just beginning to be discussed widely. While the community is still reckoning with the loss of a generation of elders to intimate partner violence, hate crimes, HIV/AIDS, and non-lethal violence like conversion therapy and locked closet doors, the frame of this conversation has not yet widened to include the loss of trans lives by suicide and lack of hope. In reality, death is a spectrum. We can experience it at any time, any age, even as both continue to pass. It can take the form of lying to ourselves, depression, and the world turning off our lights.
In the case of trans murders, the epidemic can be enumerated, the loss of life calculated, and the responsibility attributed more or less neatly to a bad actor in a transphobic and femme-phobic world. In the case of trans suicide, responsibility rests on our transphobic and misogynostic institutions and culture, as well as institutions that failed to represent, intervene on the behalf of, and support the healing of trans folks. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, over 50% of teenage trans boys have attempted suicide, the highest proportion of any community under the queer umbrella. WHAT WILL I BECOME? is a documentary in pre-production making visible why this is.
Most often, the conversation ends at the lack of trans masculine visibility in television or how trans men feel safer walking at night after medically transitioning. The conversation usually ends by lumping the experiences, desires, and histories of trans men with cis men – shortening the possibilities of who one is and what one will become. This lack of nuance brings us back to this statistic: over 50% cutting their becomings short while identifying with masculinity. We, as the trans co-directors of WHAT WILL I BECOME?, want to elevate questions and resources through film, and reckon with the unique misogyny trans people identifying with masculinity face.
WHAT WILL I BECOME? also recognizes the ways in which visibility is fraught and sometimes difficult to achieve; disappearance can happen in many forms. Some participants in the film have spoken of their desire to remain unseen, even to those who could offer them support. A lack of community, a fear of stigma or inadequate care, and the taboo around masculine people expressing vulnerability or any ounce of femininity leads people under the transmasculine umbrella to recede from others’ view, even when they want to be expansive. And, in representing young trans ancestors who have passed, the film must confront their physical invisibility as well their presence in the spaces they leave behind. To show this dynamic, the film uses the power of negative space in its visual language, as well as the life of personal objects and personal places, even without a visible human presence. The interviews in WHAT WILL I BECOME? also allow the subjects to decide their level of visibility. In recognition of vocal and physical dysphoria, the sensitivity of the subjects of suicidal ideation and grief, and the locations of some interviewees in communities that can be unsafe for trans folks, contributions take different forms. Some are audio-only, some are purely text-based, and some are based on a resonant object or art piece that the subject wanted to show the creative team. In the absence of footage of a participant’s face, the film will use stop-motion animation, as well as illustration and animation by creators trans and/or directly impacted by suicide.
We have found through early interviews, as well as our lived experiences, that the ability to imagine our becoming or a future is limited by the lack of alternative masculinities offered or made visible. Masculinity in Western cultures is remarkably rigid: it is limited by the gender binary, it must be patriarchal and domineering, and it must be constantly performed or else lost. To be believed as their gender, transmasculine people need to constantly perform masculinity, which means denying the feminine or fluid parts of themselves. Traits that support community and joy, such as nurturing, emotionally intimate friendships, eye contact, creativity in expression and presentation, and accepting support from community, are coded as feminine. Consequently, already-vulnerable trans boys are forced to eschew these parts of themselves to be taken seriously. And because Western binary masculinity is so inextricably tied to patriarchy and dominance over women, trans boys – many of whom have survived sexual, emotional, and/or physical abuse under patriarchy and from cis men – are expected to perpetuate gendered harm and reinforce this construction of manhood. Our society has not imagined a version of manhood without this violence, nor a version of softness without the label of womanhood, which leaves many young trans men without a stable vision of a future they feel is worth living for. This is true even when seeking help. In an early interview with the staff at Trans Lifeline, we were told that most trans masculine hotline callers assume that the person supporting them on the other line could not also be trans masculine.
All the while, many trans men fall into invisibility because of the “lone wolf” mentality that’s prized under patriarchal masculinities. Sisterhood, which offers visibility, intimacy, play, and community, is no longer available to them. Meanwhile, brotherhood often has frat-like, even sinister, connotations. They cannot claim access to mental health support or survivor support, without being labeled simply as “traumatized women who couldn’t make the cut.” There is an immediate danger to being perceived as a “failed woman” for all trans people who do not fit standards of beauty or heteronormativity.
When thinking about visibility, we need to think about what has been made invisible in a society in which masculinity is considered neutral. A world where a blue button down shirt is considered safe, but anyone who has survived assault knows that isn’t necessarily true. Masculinity is precarious, it demands to be proved again and again. It can be taken at the sight of a ponytail or a soft flick of the hands. Yet, it frames itself as safe under the patriarchy. Anyone who falls short of its rules is gendered as a woman, leading to misogyny and homophobia experienced by both trans feminine and trans masculine people. Ultimately, because trans people and anybody ever perceived as women are not believed as authors of our own selfhood or our own stories, we are both misrepresented and misunderstood as we try to imagine and create our own futures.
How do we honor hope in our own becomings? How do we heal a society that tells a boy he’s not trans because he wants to paint his nails like he used to? How do we heal a society that tells a boy he’s a traumatized woman because of what he survived? Sometimes visibility begins by believing what somebody tells you about their own lives, by holding space, by loving. We have to talk about visibility – because the alternative is people shrinking themselves or disappearing altogether in the belief that makes life “better” or “easier” for everyone around them. As filmmakers working with these themes, it is also our responsibility to elevate trans joy and alternatives to what has been previously offered. Through our production, we will be giving gender-expansive and trauma informed packers. We will elevate older members of the trans community in acknowledgment that we can and do get older – live long lives. We are honoring a trans community living amongst the feet of the Rocky Mountains and the ways they construct new masculinities through time shared together in nature. We are honoring visibility in constructing a creative team of predominantly LGBTQIA2S+ people, with Kylar Broadus, Founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, and Carl Siciliano, Founder of the Ali Forney Center, as our Executive Producers, and bearing this film will be a gift to our past selves who didn’t see a way forward.
Today and for the years to come, trans people will continue to have their rights questioned, stripped – in the military, in healthcare, in the workplace, we see it now with nearly a hundred hateful bills around the United States against trans people in this year alone. There is a simultaneous celebration and danger to growing visibility and coming out at younger ages than before. As a community, we abstractly have similar needs and challenges, but the particulars between different trans identities matter and they require attention, respect, and visibility. As co-directors of WHAT WILL I BECOME? we want to share the stories of what’s helping, what’s hurting, and where we can go from here as trans people navigating our masculinity. We call to honor nuanced narratives of trans people who both live and die quietly.
***WHAT WILL I BECOME? is an independent, community-led filmmaking endeavor, we’re currently fundraising for production and we’d deeply appreciate your support. We have registered with Fractured Atlas as our rad, pro-artist Fiscal Sponsor and house additional fundraising from individual donations, which are tax deductible: linked here. You may also continue to learn about us and our process at @whatwillibecome_doc on Instagram.
***Artwork by Daniel Lobb and Sage Clemmons
WHAT WILL I BECOME? is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of WHAT WILL I BECOME? must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Logan Rozos (he/him) is a 20 year-old actor, poet, visual artist, and gay Black trans man. He made his professional acting debut in 2019 on the Peabody-nominated television drama DAVID MAKES MAN, and voiced the audiobook of Stonewall Award-nominated author Kacen Callender’s 2020 book FELIX EVER AFTER, which is being developed into a series for Amazon. He was an honoree in Teen Vogue’s inaugural 20 Under 20 Queer Artists and Activists To Watch and a recipient of the 2019 Parity Award for outstanding work by LGBTQ people of faith. WHAT WILL I BECOME? will be his first project as a director.
Lexie Bean (they/he) is a queer and trans multimedia artist from the Midwest whose work revolves around themes of bodies, homes, cyclical violence, and LGBTQIA+ identity. They are a Jerome Hill Artist Fellow, member of the RAINN National Leadership Council, and a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for WRITTEN ON THE BODY and their work with fellow trans survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Their debut novel THE SHIP WE BUILT is noted as the first middle grade book at a major American publisher centering a trans boy to be written by one. Their work has been featured in Teen Vogue, The New York Times, The Feminist Wire, Ms. Magazine, Them, Logo’s New Now Next, Bust Magazine, and more. WHAT WILL I BECOME? is Lexie’s first feature length documentary project.