Trans in Trumpland, debuting Thursday, is a new four-part docuseries directed by Tony Zosherafatain about trans people living in red states during Donald Trump's presidency, told through a road trip across parts of America, specifically Idaho, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas.
“The series’ subjects run the intersectional gamut, from 13-year-old Ash in North Carolina, home to the infamously discriminatory ‘bathroom ban,’ disallowing trans people from using the bathroom of their true gender, to Shane from Idaho; a Native American Army veteran who speaks out against the Trump administration’s trans military ban,” the film’s website states.
Zosherafatain started developing the idea for the docuseries as soon as Trump took office in 2017. “It started the very first day that Trump took office. I remember I felt like I had nightmares constantly. I couldn’t sleep,” he says. “I’m trans and I’m Iranian-American, so double minority. And so that very first week he removed any mention of LGBTQ rights on the White House website.” And the name Trans in Trumpland popped into his head. After a Kickstarter campaign in 2018, Zosherafatain and colleagues started production in 2019. That’s around when actor and activist Trace Lysette came on board.
Lysette had been looking to get into the producing game for a while. “I was deeply inspired by my sister Laverne [Cox] who kind of wears so many different hats,” she says, “whether she’s acting or producing The T Word on MTV or [the documentary] Free CeCe!, I was always inspired by the work she did outside of acting.”
When she heard about Trans in Trumpland, she knew it was the perfect project for her. “I was really impressed with the stories and the subjects, the cast that they had assembled, and the footage was beautiful,” she says.
Even someone like Lysette still learned new things about the trans experience while working on the film. “Rebecca's experience in [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], for example," she says of one story the film tells. "I've heard the horror stories, but when you hear it from the actual person's mouth, it carries different weight.”
Zosherafatain agrees that Rebecca’s story was especially jarring. “I was up in Texas and hearing Rebecca describe her detention in the ICE facilities — in Trans In Trumpland, we focused on one detention, but she was detained four times — really horrible. I think at one point she was almost there for nine months or more,” he says.
“Just to hear how the officers there didn't even respect her gender identity,” he continue. “I mean, we broke down crying, the crew and I, and just thinking about that and just to see how resilient and positive she is these days, despite going through that repeatedly, that really broke my heart.”
Both of them hope that when trans people, especially those living in red states, see the series, they won’t feel so alone. “Trump really targeted our basic right to exist and gaslit the trans community,” Zosherafatain says. And so he hopes Trans in Trumpland will tell them, “you exist, you're valid, you're human. To be trans is, it's beautiful.”
He continues, “Like I said to Ash in episode 1, don't ever let what the president says about you affect your self-image. And you do exist and you've existed through history. … We made it through a frickin' hard four years, and if we can make it through that, then we can get our freedom and our rights.”
Lysette hopes that’s not only trans people who see it, though. “My hope really is that people from outside of the trans and LGBT community will maybe happen upon this and watch it,” she says. “And if they were resistant to trans rights before this, maybe they can see how deeply human and important it is for our quality of life.”
Trans in Trumpland is available Thursday, February 25 to U.S. and Canadian audiences on Topic through Topic.com and Topic channels through AppleTV & iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android, and Amazon Prime Video Channels.