By Charlotte Roi
Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) – 03-22-2019 – “Every trans person deserves a life of dignity, justice and joy,” says Nina’s friend in Episode 1 of America in Transition.
After growing up misunderstood in India, Nina fell in love with another trans woman in the United States. Facing the threat of deportation, Nina and her love continue to fight for space to live and flourish when no place feels safe.
Along with the premier on Revry for Trans Day of Visibility, America in Transition will be partnering with more than 20 institutions around the country to build community, amplify trans people of color’s voices, and activate accomplices America in Transition (AIT) is the award-winning, Sundance-backed documentary series that explores the community, family, and social issues of trans people of color across the United States – capturing real life for a veteran turned activist, an immigrant seeking home, a woman living with HIV healing from trauma, and a model navigating family life.
Transgender Filmmaker, educator and community Organizer, André Pérez, founded the Trans Oral History Project in 2008 motivated by the isolation he felt growing up in a military family in Virginia. Perez journeyed across the country to document the subjects of the series. Each of the four episodes explores one person’s story in depth, tackling intersectional issues such as HIV criminalization, living as trans in the South, family acceptance, trans exclusion from the military, and immigrant detention.
America In Transition (AIT) was initially inspired by its director’s André Perez’s own experience coming of age in North Carolina and starting his transition as a youth in rural Vermont. He had questions about everything from health care access to navigating relationships, but there was no one to ask. He went on to found the Trans Oral History Project. Over the past seven years, he’s interviewed trans folks across the country who express parallel stories of being told trans didn’t fit with other aspects of our personhood. How can you be trans and Muslim or black or Mexican or Southern? We found ways to reconcile the seemingly disparate parts of who we are.
2015 was heralded as the “transgender tipping point,” but 2016 has brought some of the most regressive civil rights legislation in modern US history. Trans people have become the targets of radical social conservatives who are leveraging fear and ignorance to create a social climate of increasing and unrelenting hostility. We are caught in a culture war, as Southern lawmakers fight the federal government in order to protect the supposed “right” for businesses (MS and NC), schools (TX), and even health professionals (TN and TX) to discriminate against transgender people. AIT uses character-driven storytelling in order to highlight issues of importance to trans people in marginalized communities.
André Pérez is a Puerto Rican transgender filmmaker, educator, and community organizer. He founded the Transgender Oral History Project in 2008, and created traveling multimedia historical exhibit about transgender activism in 2009. Since then, he has presented workshops about storytelling and the transgender community numerous universities and conferences including Creating Change, Allied Media Conference, and MIT. After experiencing housing instability as a youth, Andre went on to help launch El Rescate and co-found Project Fierce Chicago, both grassroots transitional housing programs for LGBTQ youth.
In 2012, André served as Director and Senior Producer for I Live for Trans Education, a grassroots multimedia curriculum. He worked with a team of 20 transgender community members at varying skill levels to create four documentary shorts and accompanying interactive activities. I Live has reached over 15,000 people through online views, installations, live community events, and train-the-trainer sessions at conferences.
Between 2012-2015, André recorded over 500 interviews as part of StoryCorps, broadcasting 50 segments on NPR and WBEZ. He sat on the Board of Out at the Chicago History Museum and the Community Advisory Board of the Civil Rights Agenda. His work has been honored by the Trans 100, the Museum of Transgender History and Art, the Association of Independent Radio, and the International Independent Film Awards.
André continues to pursue his passion for sharing stories from communities whose voices have been shut out of traditional media. Summer of 2016, Pérez premiered Been T/Here on the inaugural cycle of OTV. After helping its founders launch Trans Lifeline into the national spotlight, André set out to make America in Transition, a Sundance-backed documentary series explores community, family, and social issues with trans people of color across the United States. André is a sought-after public speaker and Social Impact Consultant who recently relocated to the Bay Area so that he can spend more of his off-time hiking and snuggling.
You’re also founder of Trans Oral History project, tell me more about it please!
When I started to question my gender in 2007, I was scared and didn’t know who to talk to about what my future might be. So I set out to find other trans people’s stories who I could relate to. Even LGBT archives were missing our stories, so I began recording conversations with trans elders about their lives. In 2009, we became of collective and over the next decade, I would work with chapters all over the country to collect 100 stories, a traveling exhibition, a local exhibit to commemorate the Dewey Lunch Counter Sit-ins in Philadelphia, and I Live for Trans Education, grassroots curriculum for LGBTQ+ youth leaders. My work is still animated by the belief that we cannot know who are or where we are going unless we are grounded in an understanding of how our community became.
What in your opinion are the biggest issues in Trans community right now?
Why do we have to choose? Many trans people struggle to access basic needs such as employment, housing, and medical care. On top of that we’re facing challenges to our ability to even exist in public space such as to use restrooms, access civil rights protection, and participate in public education.
What was the biggest challenge for you personally when you decided to transition?
Coming of age is always a roller coaster of emotions–confusion, excitement, fear, and uncertainty. For me, being trans added another layer of complexity while also stripping away support. I was homeless and terrified that I wouldn’t have a future. My mother told me “Why make life harder on yourself? No one will ever love someone like that.” My work really focuses on love (romantic, familial, and community-wise) because we need powerful images of what that looks like for trans people.
Now having all the experience that you have what would you tell to your younger self?
You grew up in a world that told you that you could only depend on yourself. That belief will get you so far but then you will realize that you were on the wrong road entirely. In reality, the greatest talent you have is your ability to connect with others. Nurture it.
What is the main message you’re trying to send with America in Transition?
For too long, media about trans experience has focused on our challenges with our own bodies, but the real story of this moment is how our society is changing. It’s time for our mothers, our partners, and our co-workers to become accomplices in our liberation.
Where do you see trans community in America in the next ten years?
I’m excited for the future. Funders are starting to catch up and fund work that people in our community have been doing on the ground for many years. We’ll see explosive growth in the number and size of our organizations and institutions that serve the needs of our community. It’s a double-edged sword because money is also corrupting and we will need to hold those institutions accountable for the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that undermine liberation for our people. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the trans community is doubling in size every five years, and over a third of generation Z knows a non-binary person. I’m confident that youth leaders are going to create powerful new realities that I cannot even imagine today.
What would you say to those people who feel like their voices have been ignored?
Our people have a tremendous history of fighting to exist–from Silvia Rivera helping homeless youth on the streets of New York to Louis Sullivan getting homosexuality removed from the big book of mental illnesses to Miss Major participating in prison riots. We are all part of that legacy, and we need to work across the differences in our community to amplify one another’s voices.
At its heart, AIT is about how environments shape who we are. It will complicate notions of social change in underrepresented communities. This is a crucial moment to help people understand how trans realities differ based on identity, geography, and social context. The world is changing for the white, upper-middle class people we see on mainstream television, but trans people of color, immigrants, and working class families face a different world. AIT focuses on relationships as it explores where, when, and how change happens in a complex individual, a diverse community, and a divided nation.