The 11th Translations, the Seattle Transgender Film Festival, will kick off three days after U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department is suing North Carolina for implementing its notorious bathroom law which implicitly prevents transgender individuals from using bathrooms per their identified gender — or lack thereof.
Transgender discrimination issues have been front in center in national public discourse over the past year, including here in Washington, where Initiative 1515 — a rebirth of a push in the Republican-controlled state legislature to roll back bathroom and locker room preference protections for transgender individuals in Washington — is picking up signatures to be put on the November ballot. So this year’s 11th annual Translations film festival will have particular political and social potent relevance.
Starting May 12th, this Thursday, theaters around Capitol Hill—including the Northwest Film Forum, SIFF’s Egyptian on Pine, and 12th Avenue Arts—screen over thirty films, both shorts and feature-length, concerning all things transgender and genderqueer. The first film of the festival is Major!, a documentary about the life and work of black transgender elder, veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion and activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who advocates for trans women of color and against mass incarceration.
Among the slated films is One Word: Passing, a four minute short of interviews with transgender Seattleites responding to the word “passing,” the act of conforming to the expected appearances and behavioral traits of a cisgender man or woman while transgender or genderqueer. Gerri Desouza, an agender Art Design student at Seattle Central, First Hill resident, and volunteer at the Translations film festival, is one of the interviewees in the film.
The act of passing is directly impacted by discriminatory bathroom laws and initiatives like in North Carolina and here in Washington, and the inherent struggles and isolation that accompany it for transgender individuals trying to navigate a society that sees gender in binary terms (you are male, or you are female), are exacerbated. In Washington, I-1515 would enable public and private organizations to keep transgender persons out of bathrooms that match their gender identity and allow students to sue their schools if they feel uncomfortable with the presence of transgender individuals in their restroom. In short, transgender persons passing as their identified gender, conforming to society’s definitions of said gender, and using bathrooms accordingly can be discriminated against.
“A lot of it has to do with society’s views of what makes a woman, what makes a man, and can you look enough like a man or a woman that society wants you to be to go to the bathroom that you want or to go to the changing room that you want,” said Desouza.
Desouza, who is agender and doesn’t identify as either male or female but is gendered female, prefers to be seen as male but regularly passes as female for personal safety in public environments. Fixation on the biological aspect of gender, combined with the traditional traits of binary genders, is a driving force behind ignorance and bigotry in regards to the trans community, Desouza says.
“With bathrooms, you kind of have to discern safety constantly, ‘what are people going to see when they look at me, what are they going to assume about my body,” Desouza said. “Passing is not something that I’m looking for and many of us wish we didn’t have to do.”
Desouza says events like the Translation film festival are crucial to achieving broader understanding of transgender identity and issues.
“A lot of it comes from misunderstanding what it means to be transgender. There is blind hatred and there is this refusal to learn and understand. But also there are people who are just scared and people who are falling for the fear mongering and they don’t know that. And things like Translations are able to give people a glimpse into something they are not taking the time to understand,” said Desouza.
Translations began in 2006 and the annual event produced by Three Dollar Bill Cinema remains one of the few transgender film festivals in the world.
“We’re able to dismiss these misconceptions and speak to people and help them understand that trans lives are equal to others and aren’t put on for show and aren’t put on to disturb and be a horror story for these families, for these parents who are so worried for their children.”
“This is about people who aren’t being given basic rights and basic needs in public,” said Desouza.
Translations runs May 12th to May 15th at various locations including SIFF Egyptian, 12th Ave Arts, and the Northwest Film Forum. You can find the Translations film festival schedule and buy tickets here.