This past week was Transgender Awareness Week and it was both a time for the trans community to come together, and a time to educate the cisgender public about issues facing the trans community.
On Tuesday night, I attended an event as a photographer and ended up with some nice photographs. It’s funny how when I am photographing an event, I’m not sure if I’ll come out with anything I like. Once I am at home and sorting through the photographs I realize that I actually did quite a good job of documenting the event. I have also realized that I have my own style, even with documentary photography. I know my personal style with more formal work, but it’s exciting to see my own artistic style developing.
Thursday night was the big night for me. I am producing a documentary about a church’s involvement in Transgender Awareness Week, and we had our big shoot on Thursday!
When I first agreed to the project, I was a bit skeptical. I am not a religious person. I also have had some negative experiences with religion in the past, and have never been made to feel that God (whoever/whatever that is) loves me. The project was born out of a conversation I had with a good friend at the Trans Pride Parade in Northampton at the beginning of October. She attended the parade with members of her church, and was really excited to bridge the gap that so often exists between the LGBT (especially “T”) world, and the church world. Quite possibly on the same day, this friend of mine also had a conversation with the director of the transgender rights organization I am interning for. They decided that the church should hold an event during Transgender Awareness Week to continue to bridge the gap. Once that was decided, my friend asked if I would be interested in shooting the event and putting together a short documentary piece that the church could use for their website to show how inclusive of a community they are.
Although hesitant about being involved with a church, I liked the idea of connecting these two communities. I couldn’t think of any real reason not to get involved. I figured I could bring my little HD video camera and then put together a short piece with final cut pro. The more we talked about the event over the next few weeks, the more I realized how much bigger this project could be. I’m taking a video production class this semester at school, and decided that I would make this a much larger documentary shoot and use it for my final project for class. I then reached out to students in my class, and also found some students in a documentary production class who were also interested in getting involved.
The final crew that I ended up with was amazing. There was only one student who was a bit of a weak link, but in the end even he pulled through. I planned the shoot, and worked with my friend from the church to make sure we were on the same page. I am extremely proud of my communication skills and my ability to plan ahead and follow through. I am also extremely proud of all the hard work my friend put in to organizing the event at the church.
The evening was broken down into two separate parts. There was a worship service that focused on understanding transgender identity and then a queer open mic night. One of the incredible things about this church service is the inclusiveness to all identities, and religious ideologies. There is no one set belief that everyone who attends this service believes in. People come from all different backgrounds, and all come together to for this special community. This community is very LGBT friendly, and takes you exactly as you are when you enter the door.
The shoot itself went pretty smoothly. We had a few problems with audio during the first part of the worship service, but we found a way to make it work. The open mic was fantastic, and quite a joy to shoot. The people who performed did a range of different things. Some read poems, some told personal stories, some acted out skits, and some sang and played guitar. After a short intermission, Leslie-Ann Rios sang and played guitar while my friend from the church who organized the event got to drum alongside with her. It was exciting having Leslie-Ann at the open mic night. She was the first runner up at the Miss Trans Northampton Pageant, and has become quite the “transelebrity”. Her performance was by far the most fun to shoot with the camera, and the entire crew was really excited and passionate about the whole event. Our shoot just kept getting better and better, and by the end we really bonded as a film crew. There is something really exciting about shooting a documentary. The energy you are capturing is raw and in real time and can’t be re-created.
So everything was very successful from a documentarian’s point of view. On top of making sure my shoot went smoothly, I was trying to deal with my separate worlds colliding.
About half way through shooting the worship service, this man that I have a history with entered the church. I’m not sure if this man is homeless, but I know he bums around near Park Street. I hate to say this but, he smells terrible and creeps me the fuck out. I’m sure he means well, but He is someone I really don’t like to see around the city. This man comes into the strip club every now and again. If I am working, he will not pay attention to any of the other dancers. A few weeks ago, he was in and be bought three lap dances from me and tipped me about $30. Where did he get this money? I don’t know, and I really don’t want to know. Anyway, so I was on camera shooting the worship service and simultaneously trying to monitor the audio levels when this man walks in. I panic because I know he saw me. He came up to me, while I was holding this giant camera mind you, and tries to hug and kiss me. He is saying things like “you are so beautiful, I love you, kiss me, I love you” etc. and I was trying so hard not to loose it and completely freak out. It would be one thing to see a normal customer at church, but this guy? Absolutely not OK. The idea that I was stuck and couldn’t leave was terrifying. I had to stay and deal with the situation, no matter how difficult it was.
I hate the idea that this man, this dirty nasty man, has seen my naked body. I hate that this man has had be dance naked on top of his crotch, and that this man has probably jerked off thinking about me. And then there he is, in front of me, in church of all places. Great. As soon as the worship service was over I tried to avoid him as he stood around but he came up to me again. After another hug and his repeated attempts to kiss me, he finally left.
The open mic portion of the evening was up next, and we only had about 20 minutes to tear everything down and move it from the chapel and into the other room. Once we got into the room that the open mic was held in, it was already packed. There was standing room only, and I was aquatinted with more than half of the people in the room. Some of my friends were there, which added another pressure for they were watching me at work on my documentary shoot. This part of the evening was the part I was originally most nervous for. This was the part where my queer community and my emerson community would be coming together. One of my close friends who I met through my internship sang a couple of songs with her guitar. When she got up there, she thanked our friend who organized the event and thanked the Emerson film crew for being there. She said something along the lines of :
“Just want to say thank you to Emerson College for being here doing an amazing job, and specifically to Jesse, he is organizing this shoot and he is doing such a good job, and I am really proud of him”.
Bam. Just like that. Outed to the entire room. And my film crew. I was wearing a name tag with male pronouns on it earlier, but ripped it off when I saw that man come in during the worship service. There was something absolutely terrifying about being outed, but also something wonderful. It felt good to have it said out in the open. It felt good for someone else to say it. Hearing her say that over a microphone made it feel very real. I know my crew members heard it, but none of them said anything about it. I also realize that this moment was captured on two separate tapes, which again, makes it all the more real.
The whole night was a giant endorphin rush. I was just going, going, going with no time to stop. I’m excited to see how this changes things with those people in the future, but I’m also a bit scared because this may be the event that triggers everyone at school finding out how I identify.
I do apologize for the novel, but this was one of those really important days in my life. I have a feeling I am going to remember it forever.
– Goddess Lacey