Kimberly Reed: Golden Boy Makes Good

Once a star high school quarterback, transgender lesbian filmmaker Kimberly Reed wants to march in your pride parade and wield her newfound power like Oprah.

BY Brandon Voss

February 26 2010 1:00 PM ET

Remember the hot captain of your high school football team — the class president and valedictorian voted most likely to succeed? If you grew up in Helena, Mont., he might be Kimberly Reed, a lesbian filmmaker now living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Born Paul McKerrow but no longer hiding behind the drag of helmets and cleats, Reed displays her true identity at her 20-year high school reunion in Prodigal Sons, which reconciles her male past with her female present. Reed’s documentary and directorial debut also explores her relationship with her younger gay brother, Todd, and a longtime rivalry with her adopted older brother, Marc, a brain injury survivor who — no joke — discovers he’s the grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. An international film festival favorite opening February 26 in New York City, Prodigal Sons will air this summer on the Sundance Channel. Reed explains the politics of “passing” and why she’s no Chaz Bono. Before we discuss your film, can we please talk about the fact that you recently appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where you inspired Oprah to sing Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” to your face?
Kimberly Reed: [Laughs] That was really weird. That was the only time I was afraid up there, because I was afraid she was going to ask me to sing. That whole experience was pretty intense — it was my first trip to Chicago — and it all happened very fast. I really think my mom stole the show; what she said was awesome. But this whole thing’s like a roller-coaster ride, so I’m just trying to hang on.

Like many people, I first learned about you and Prodigal Sons from reading your six-page profile in the January issue of Details. Since it’s a men’s magazine, the article focuses heavily on your previous life as a golden-boy jock. How did you feel about that piece as an introduction to much of the world?
Rick Moody is a great writer, so it was an honor to have him tell my story. I was a big fan of his writing even before I met him at the Yaddo artists’ colony. I love his elevated style of writing — he gets enamored with his subjects and runs wild with them — so it was cool to see him do that with our story. A lot of the article was about my days in high school — the glory days and stuff like that — but that is a big part of my story and a big part of the film.

The Details piece points out that you can “pass,” which is a term you use yourself in the film. Talk to me about your idea of passing, because that notion is often considered counterproductive or offensive within the gay community.
In the trans community, it may be issue number 1 — a big, big issue. It’s exhilarating when you do pass, and it feels so right, so it’s something that you really love. I don’t really think about it anymore, but I certainly did at first. That idea operates differently in the trans community. If you’re gay and trying to pass as straight, it might seem like you’re trying to fit in and pretending to be something you’re not. But in the trans community, passing isn’t about being something you’re not; it has more to do with being seen for who you really are.

Tags: Film