Kimberly Reed: Golden Boy Makes Good

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




Oprah, of course, went there with those personal questions. Was it difficult to discuss details of your physical transition on national television?
This film is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it involves me being really open about my story. We’ve been showing this film all over the world for the past year and a half, so I’m used to putting my story out there. I’ve made peace with my past, even if part of it was male. So I wasn’t really breaking new ground on Oprah, but it did feel like I was reaching new people, which was incredible.

When it comes to your particular story, people seem most fascinated with the fact that you identify as a lesbian. Why can’t people wrap their brain around that?
Because people conflate your identity with your sexual preference. A lot of gay people have to sort those two things out — just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you can’t fall in love with a man or sleep with a man, and just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t fall in love with a woman or sleep with a woman. So if you can accept homosexuality, you should be able to accept that someone would change their gender but still be attracted to the same people.

Whether you like it or not, your film makes you a poster child for the trans community. Are you comfortable being a role model and becoming more involved with trans activism? You’ll no doubt be asked to march in pride parades all over the land.
Yeah, and I will. Call me! I’m ready. I remember when I was first trying to figure all this out. I was in, like, sixth grade, sneaking into the local public library to look at all the horrible ’50s books on “transvestism” — such a horribly outdated clinical term — hiding them behind a magazine so no one would see me reading every single word. There was no Internet, so I felt like I was the only one going through this, and it was so alienating and difficult. I wish I had had role models when I was growing up. So if the film gets exposure and some of that exposure falls on me, I’ve got to do something with that, right? The coolest thing about Oprah is that she uses her influence to empower people and make the world a better place, which I applaud. So whether or not the attention is inordinate, and even if I don’t consider myself the best role model, I do think it’s incumbent on me to step into that position if other people think it’s appropriate.

How do you feel about the current representation of trans people in television and film?
In general, trans issues are lagging behind the portrayal of lesbian and gay characters, but my response to that in our film is to let that issue recede. Just because a person is trans doesn’t mean that’s what the whole film has to be about and the only thing anybody talks about. It’s important to let that become just an aspect of who someone is instead of the entirety of who someone is. That’s not to say that you don’t talk about these issues directly, but there have to be other issues as well.

I’d argue that Chaz Bono has given transgenderism more mainstream visibility than it’s gotten in years.
Absolutely, except for whatever Michael Jackson was doing. I’m really impressed with Chaz. That’s a lot of pressure no matter who you are or how you go through it, so for Chaz to do it in the public eye is incredible, and I really respect that courage. When I transitioned, I couldn’t even do it at the same job — I was an editor of digital films and became an editor of a magazine about digital films — so I basically jumped careers because I wanted to start over with a new group of people. I wish I had been courageous enough to do what Chaz is doing.

Are you already feeling the pressure to follow up Prodigal Sons with a second film?
Absolutely. I’m working on a couple other character-based documentaries, but who knows what will come to fruition first, so stay tuned. You know the Caster Semenya story — the South African runner who had the gender testing? About five years ago, I wrote a fictional screenplay that was precisely about that: It’s about this Olympic athlete who takes a drug test, finds out about her chromosomes, which makes her wonder about her gender as a result. She’s not sure what sex she is, so it deals with the implications that has on her relationship and her ability to get married on a state-by-state basis. So it’s kind of this road trip romp through different Midwestern states where her gender switches with each state line she crosses. It’s interesting in terms of biography because that was my first step to talk openly and publicly about the issue.

Because you were born a biological man, could you legally marry Claire, your biologically female partner of more than 10 years?
It’s confusing and complicated, and it depends on the state. For a second I thought it would be kind of funny for us to do what I was talking about in that screenplay — go to Texas to try to get married, then go to Arizona and try to get married ... There’s a lot more gray area in gender than many of us recognize, and when you try to polarize gender, it becomes really unhealthy. Any time we can blur those lines, there are valuable lessons to be learned.

Are cameras still rolling on any new milestones like film festival premieres, your TV appearances, or your family’s reaction to seeing the finished film? That could make for an interesting Prodigal Sons sequel.
Our cameras aren’t, but everybody else’s cameras seem to be. I’m tired of being in front of the camera. You can see in the old Super 8 films used in our film — the ones that I shot, directed, and wrote when we were kids — that I’ve always been more comfortable behind the lens.

Tags: film