We’re nearing the end of Pride Month, and although the cancellation of Pride parades and festivities due to the pandemic has been disappointing, it’s also been a great opportunity to read and reflect about queer history. About Black history. Pride month commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a key event in the gay liberation movement that was started by trans people of colour and inspired by the Black civil rights movement.
In 2020, Pride looks a little different. Sure, there’s been all the usual rainbow-filled goodness, but there’s also been a spotlight on how modern pride often neglects trans folk and people of colour in the community. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen horrific examples of this marginalization, pointing to an urgent need for everyone, especially those in the LGBTQ community, to question why the oppression of these integral and vulnerable parts of our community continue to be ignored.
Last Friday, Netflix released Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. It’s a documentary by Sam Feder that originally premiered at Sundance in January before Netflix purchased it. Disclosure is about Hollywood’s portrayal of trans people throughout its history. It follows a format reminiscent of 1995’s The Celluloid Closet, a film about gay and lesbian onscreen depictions, and it cuts between media clips and interviews with current trans actors, producers, writers, and activists.
It is so so so so so so so so so so so good. That’s not even enough so’s. Emily, our site manager, was the one who recommended it to me, and she basically told me to drop everything I was doing and watch it.
Disclosure is mandatory viewing for anyone who is looking to educate themselves on trans issues and trans representation in the media. It should really be mandatory viewing for everyone (especially J.K. Rowling). Miraculously, in under two hours, the film manages to cover issues such as intersectionality, society’s obsession with trans bodies and surgeries, sex work, the victim narrative, ballroom culture appropriation, living in stealth, and like 400 other things.
One of the best parts of the documentary is that its tone is educational. Rather than making people feel guilty or bad for liking the movies that are critiqued in the film, the interviewees explain what exactly is wrong with the portrayals of trans people throughout the history of cinema, and how what happens on screen can have a lasting and damaging effect on the real lives of trans people. Normally, trans people shouldn’t have to bear the burden of educating everyone else, nor do they have to do it in a way that comforts the guilt of others, but it works in Disclosure. Rather than a burden, it seems more like a welcome opportunity to speak about the history of trans representation and use it as a vehicle to spotlight issues that people continue to face today.
For me, the most powerful part is being able to see actual clips from movies. I’ve known that trans representation hasn’t been great, but seeing these harmful tropes placed back to back is eye-opening to how sh-ttily Hollywood has portrayed the trans community. What’s even worse is that many of the clips are from the last ten years. The last three even. Only recently have trans people become more visible in mainstream media, and as the film notes, it’s largely because trans people have started to occupy more positions behind the camera.
Disclosure is a phenomenal documentary, and I urge you to watch the film and share it with as many people as you know. The more we can educate people about what it means to be transgender, the more accepted it becomes, the more trans children don’t have to grow up relearning how to love themselves. The film ends on an important note: trans representation is important, but it is a means to an end. What truly matters is material, actionable change that affects the lives of every trans person, not just those on screen. If that’s the goal, then step one is education.