‘Becoming More Visible’ documents transgender lives

November 29, 2018

On Nov. 12-19, the Gender and Sexuality Center held numerous events for Trans Awareness Week, a week-long celebration leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance, which commemorates victims of anti-transgender violence. The purpose of this annual celebration is to increase visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming communities and bring awareness to the issues often faced by these individuals. On the second day of the week, Nov. 13, the Gender and Sexuality Center presented a screening of “Becoming More Visible,” a documentary about the lives of young transgender people.

“Becoming More Visible” gives viewers an intimate look into the challenges faced by four transgender people coming from diverse backgrounds. The documentary showcases the enormous effect family and community acceptance, or lack thereof, has on the lives and wellbeing of transgender youth. For instance, Sean, a transgender teenager from upstate New York, appears on the show with his mother, who seems to welcome her son’s identity. She says that although in the beginning she did not understand Sean’s transgender identity, she decided to educate herself and respond with love and acceptance. “I didn’t want to lose him totally as a child,” she explains, “so I just decided that I’m gonna go with it, embrace it and love him no matter what.”

While Sean’s story is a positive example of how family can support transgender youth, many transgender individuals are not so fortunate; family rejection is extremely common for transgender youth and can lead to many negative outcomes, including increased risk for substance abuse and suicide attempts, according to liebertpub.com. “Becoming More Visible” is effective in highlighting the wide range of family reactions that transgender youth face and how this can affect their life outcomes in the long-run. Katherine, a Bangladeshi teenager living in New York, lives with her parents who do not accept her transgender identity. The documentary showcases conversations between Katherine and her mother, who seems to lack understanding of Katherine’s identity and what it means to be transgender. Since she has begun her transition, Katherine explains that she is struggling with depression because she is “not able to completely be me, not able to safely be me and not able to be loved as me.”

Alexandria, who is introduced in the movie as Olivia but later changed her name, has endured other challenges related to her identity. She explains that although she keeps in touch electronically with her family, she has not revealed to them that she is transgender. However, she explains that “when I get some permanent housing, I may start dropping hints to my family about who Olivia is.” She discloses that she struggles with depression, psychosis and panic attacks, and that although transitioning has been overall helpful for her mental health, she believes her depression is caused in part due to side effects from her medical transition.

“Becoming More Visible” expresses that family and community acceptance is pivotal for transgender youth and that rejection can be detrimental. The documentary also tells the story of Morgin, whose family rejected her transgender identity and eventually led her to be homeless as a teenager. In the documentary, Morgin explains the struggles she endured during this stage of her life: “I’ve been to eight different high schools, just because I started not focusing in school, I was doing drugs… and I was fighting.” Unfortunately, Morgin is just one of many transgender youth who have experienced such difficulty— about one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Eventually, after being placed into a group home, Morgin was finally able to embrace her identity and transition in the ways she wanted. At the time of the documentary, Morgin explains that she still struggles from low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

After the screening, event attendees discussed the importance of watching “Becoming More Visible.” Ryan Mishler, program administrator of the Gender and Sexuality Center, said they chose this particular film “because there are so many myths and distortions out there about transgender people,” which this film works to defeat. Particularly, the film’s primary focus on transgender people of color is essential, as these individuals often do not get proportionate attention in the media. “Becoming More Visible” is a powerful, moving must-watch for anyone hoping to more deeply understand the diverse experiences faced by transgender people.

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