International Transgender Day of Visibility was on March 31.
With it arrived a celebration, featuring pink, white and blue flags that rallied awareness to the struggles and accomplishments of the trans community. qFLIX, the annual queer film festival that ran from March 25-31 at Plays & Players Theater in Philadelphia, screened several groundbreaking films that represented LGBTQ actors, characters and filmmakers.
Of all the films screened at the festival, there were two that particularly stood out: “The Queens” and “Jack & Yaya,” both of which illustrated the real lives of trans people.
“The Queens” is a documentary about transgender people who compete in the Miss Continental female impersonation pageant. The film was screened on March 28 to an intimate crowd at Plays & Players Theatre near Rittenhouse Square.
In the film’s opening third, Jim Flint, the pageant owner, shares that he started Miss Continental because the other pageants discriminated unfairly. Flint would soon go back on his word by not allowing transgender people in his competition.
“…You’re not an impersonator, you’re a woman,” Flint said to defend his reasoning.
Some other competitors featured in the film agreed with him, claiming that it’s unfair when someone who lives their life as a woman is competing against a man who is trying to appear more feminine.
The pageant doesn’t vet people to find out if they’re transgender. In fact, most of the competitors interviewed in the “The Queens” are transgender, and nearly all of them have won a Miss Continental crown. In the past, notable trans queens of Miss Continental have included Alexis Gabrielle Sherrington in 2011 and Tiffany Hunter in 2015.
Flint created a pageant that isn’t supposed to discriminate, but it does. The transgender competitors in the film have won their way through Miss Continental by performing the best, with no advantage given due to the hormones they take or the plastic surgery they’ve received.
“Identity doesn’t matter, just give us the most feminine woman you can,” Skip Mackall, the Miss Continental head judge, said in the film.
Overall, “The Queens” may not be technically perfect – frankly, the introduction is too damn long and there are too many people that it tries to focus on. But it does portray a solid story in terms of trans hardships and acceptance in the Miss Continental competition.
“Jack and Yaya” was an incredibly candid film about two friends who have known each other since early childhood, and both of whom are transgender. This movie had its world premiere Saturday night at Plays & Players, packed to the brim with supportive friends and family of the stars.
Shot entirely with one camera, the film follows Jack and Yaya as they meet up in their South Jersey hometown to celebrate 30 years of friendship. Jack, born a girl, and Yaya, born a boy, both share that they have always acted as if they were the opposite gender.
Eventually, they both decided to transition.
Throughout the film, Jack and Yaya share their experiences with coming out as gay and then coming out as transgender, and the legal and physical aspects of transitioning. It should be noted that both are surrounded by a loving and accepting family that would bring you to tears.
Jack lives in Boston, where it is generally easier for him to transition. He is able to change his name with little struggle and have a hysterectomy through his medical insurance.
On the other hand, in New Jersey, Yaya hasn’t had the same luck. She faces roadblocks in trying to change her name – there are apparently 18 steps that need to be taken to do so – and in receiving the proper hormones for transitioning. She even buys her medicine online.
Near the end of the film, Jack shows a painting he created, titled “What’s between your legs?” He explains that he was inspired by encounters that both he and Yaya have often had to deal with – specifically, when people approach them and blatantly ask if they are trans or about their gender.
The powerful stories shared in “Jack and Yaya” are extremely important in properly representing the trans community. Although they are generally accepted by their families, their identity has disadvantaged them in areas that shouldn’t discriminate, like health care.
One of the simplest ways to show appreciation to the trans members of our community is by representing their stories. qFLIX did so beautifully through the screenings of “The Queens” and “Jack and Yaya,” among other films screened throughout the week. Transgender identities are valid and their struggles in being accepted in society don’t go unnoticed.
An all-too-often underrepresented narrative in film, qFLIX beautifully showcased trans stories in cinema with “The Queens,” Jack and Yaya” and others throughout the week.