The joys and struggles of tansgender parents are gaining increased visibility on television, both in scripted and reality TV formats. But a new documentary film strives to add more voices to the stories that are, for the moment, dominated by white trans women whose families are coming to terms with their parent's authentic self.
Earlier this week, The Advocate celebrated Jeffrey Tambor’s Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, a Jewish parent and retired college professor who comes out to her children and ex-wife as a trans woman on Amazon's hit dramadey series Transparent. Meanwhile, Caitlyn Jenner negotiates new terrain in her relationship with her children and ex-wife as a newly transitioned trans woman on E!’s reality docu-series I Am Cait, as The Advocate has chronicled.
But Rémy Huberdeau's new documentary, Transgender Parents, shares multiple stories of real-life trans parents in Canada, revealing their cultural diversity and socio-economic challenges with a nuance that has yet to enter the mainstream cultural conversation about transgender people who are parents. The film premiered last December on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Documentary Channel, and will screen on tour across Europe in October.
“We are fortunate to have trans parents in the media,” Huberdeau told The Advocate in a phone interview earlier this month. “But there is also a phenomenon of older trans women losing regular contact with their kids, and that sends shock waves through their lives. Parenting brings families closer together or it takes them apart. When people start worrying about who the parent has become, then that can be a recipe for things to fall apart.”
Stefonknee is one of six trans parents profiled in Huberdeau’s film. (Only first names are used in the film.) She is is a white, low-income Toronto trans woman, public speaker, and activist who lost regular contact with her seven children after she transitioned. Along with becoming estranged from her children, Stefonknee lost her job and must rely on public assistance to survive.
The film follows Stefonknee as she returns to her rural Ontario hometown in an attempt to heal. Stefonknee’s scenes reveal a woman of enormous courage who faces real-life domestic and economic challenges that are not depicted within I Am Cait or Transparent, despite the indisputable contributions towards affirmative trans visibility such programs provide.
Syrus and Nik are two black gay trans men in their 30s who are raising a blonde, blue-eyed daughter named Amélie who was birthed by Syrus. The film chronicles Syrus’s movement away from his masculine gender expression in order to carry Amélie to term and his poignant, gradual reembrace of masculine expression after his daughter is born. Syrus and Nik must negotiate challenging terrain as darker-skinned parents with a towheaded, light-skinned daughter, especially because they are often mistaken in public for Amélie’s nannies rather than her parents. Luckily, the two dads live in a neighborhood in downtown Toronto with other gender-variant and queer-friendly families who provide love and support.
“One out of three trans people are parents in the USA, and in Canada it’s one out of four. That’s a signifiant number dealing with what it means to take care of families while being themselves,” Huberdeau explained over the phone. He is a Franco-Manitoban Canadian trans man whose previous short films include Loveletter to St-Boniface (2002) and Transforming Family (2011), which has been translated into seven languages. Transgender Parents is an extended, 45-minute follow-up to Transforming Family.
Transgender Parents also includes the stories of Aiyyana, an indigenous Canadian trans grandmother of Haudenosaunee ancestry, who won the prestigious John Hirsch Prize in Performance Art from the Canada Council for the Arts; Jenna, a 30-year-old trans mother-to-be who runs an organic farm with her partner, Eby, near Montreal; and Hershel, a Jewish psychotherapist trans dad in his late 60s who bonds with his college-age son.
Find a full listing of the October European screenings of Transgender Parents in Denmark, Germany, and Austria at the film's website, and watch the trailer below: