March 20, 2019 at 10:23 am PDT | by John Paul King
Trans lives of color explored in new documentary series

Trans model Dezjorn is streaming in ‘America in Transition’ on Revry. (Photo courtesy of Revry)

In honor of Trans Day of Visibility, which is observed internationally on March 31, the LGBTQ streaming service, Revry, will debut the award-winning, Sundance-backed documentary series “America In Transition,” a four-part exploration of the community, family and social issues of trans people of color across the United States.

Created by Puerto Rican transgender filmmaker, educator and community organizer André Pérez, the show devotes each of its four episodes to exploring one person’s story in depth – tackling intersectional issues such as HIV criminalization, living as trans in the south, family acceptance, trans exclusion from the military and immigrant detention.

Pérez, who founded the Transgender Oral History Project in 2008, was inspired by his own experiences coming of age in North Carolina and starting his transition as a youth in rural Vermont, where he had many questions and nobody – either role models or community support organizations – to turn to for answers. He has spent years traveling around the country, interviewing hundreds of trans people in an effort to help trans stories be told. 

In his show, he profiles four such subjects through character-driven storytelling which highlights issues of importance to trans people in marginalized communities.

One episode features Nina, who fell in love with another trans woman in the United States after growing up misunderstood in her native India; now facing the threat of deportation, Nina and her love continue to fight for space to live and flourish when no place feels safe. In another installment, we meet Dezjorn, a family man, model and advocate who drew national attention for bringing a trans presence into mainstream modeling while still hiding his gender identity from his mom; now they are trying to understand one another before it’s too late. Yet another offers us a look at Tiommi Luckett, whose worst fears came true when she became the victim of a sexual assault within her own home; she struggles to reconnect with the bold, adventurous woman she’s always been against a backdrop of self-imposed isolation. Lastly, there’s Z, who became the marine he always wanted to be after his family and his church rejected him; now an unlikely activist whose life is being upended yet again by the proposed trans military ban, the show follows him in his search for love and belonging amidst rising political tensions.

Each of the four segments is handled with the kind of sensitivity and candor likely only possible when trans material is approached by a trans director. Pérez captures the dignity of his subjects, along with their resilience, humor, and – most of all – humanity, as he documents their efforts to overcome the political, personal and cultural obstacles that each of them face. What comes across strongest, perhaps, is the sense of community that seems to tie together not only the individuals within each story, but the stories themselves. 

Yet each story is as unique as the trans person at its center.

Pérez told Los Angeles Blade, “Part of what I’m interested in doing with ‘America in Transition’ is breaking down the notions of any one ‘typical,’ ‘normal,’ or ‘general’ experience of being trans. We come from every racial, cultural, and socio-economic group, and our experiences are shaped by those intersecting identities.”

“Think of the series,” he said, “as intimate portraits of trans people on journeys to heal, forge family and find love.”

He went on to talk about the show “as a good example of the power of documentary to go more in-depth than the news typically can, by exploring issues over a longer period of time.”

“Also,” he continued, “my experiences as a trans person of color shaped my approach as to which stories to tell, how to tell them, and my goals for the series.”

Though the show is debuting on a platform mostly viewed by LGBTQ+ audiences, Pérez is not interested in only reaching sympathetic viewers.

“I absolutely want to go beyond preaching to the choir,” he told the Blade. “In order to accomplish this, ‘America in Transition’ offered over 50 screenings alongside workshops, lectures and discussions in community groups and colleges in over 13 states. We have gone out of our way to engage partners such as faith institutions in the south because we want to activate allies and support people challenging transphobia in spaces where our stories can make an impact.”

“This work is hard and costly,” he added.  “We’re seeking funding to deepen it, but it’s the only way we can shift the culture.”

In addition to the Transgender Oral History Project, Pérez has created traveling multimedia historical exhibits about transgender activism, presented workshops about storytelling and the transgender community, and helped to launch El Rescate and co-found Project Fierce Chicago, both grassroots transitional housing programs for LGBTQ youth. He has served as director and senior producer for I Live for Trans Education, a grassroots multimedia curriculum where he worked with a team of 20 transgender community members at varying skill levels to create four documentary shorts and accompanying interactive activities. He has sat on the Board of Out at the Chicago History Museum and the Community Advisory Board of the Civil Rights Agenda; his work has been honored by the Trans 100, the Museum of Transgender History and Art, the Association of Independent Radio, and the International Independent Film Awards.

With “America In Transition,” Pérez explores how our environments shape who we are. It’s a show he believes “will complicate notions of social change in underrepresented communities,” but that “this is a crucial moment to help people understand how trans realities differ based on identity, geography and social context.”

“The world is changing for the white, upper-middle class people we see on mainstream television,” he says, “but trans people of color, immigrants, and working-class families face a different world. ‘America In Transition’ focuses on relationships as it explores where, when, and how change happens in a complex individual, a diverse community, and a divided nation.”

Asked if he had any additional message for the trans community, Pérez added this:

“For all of the trans folks out there, we love you and we need you to be everything that you are. For my LGB fam, I hope we can work together to make our community a place that honors and respects us all. Please watch the show on March 29th, share, and think about how you can support trans people in your workplace, organization or institution. If you want to bring a screening, speaker, or workshop, reach out to us at www.americaintransition.org.”

Revry, recently featured on the front page of the LA Times, is the first queer global streaming network, led by an inclusive team of queer, multi-ethnic and allied partners who bring decades of experience in the fields of tech, digital media and LGBTQ+ advocacy. They will premiere “America In Transition” on March 29.  For more information, visit revry.tv on the web.

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