Call Me Troy, transparent (Frameline, NR)

dvd_call-me-troy.jpgBoth challenge the easy compartmentalization of people into sexual or gender categories.

 

 

 

 

 

Call Me Troy and transparent, two films recently released on DVD and available from Frameline (www.frameline.org, 415-703-8650), cast light on different aspects of the American experience. Both challenge the easy compartmentalization of people into sexual or gender categories. Troy Perry is a bear and leatherman who was married and fathered two children before embracing his gay identity, while the 19 subjects interviewed in transparent are all female-to-male (FTM) transgendered individuals who gave birth as women but are now living, and in most cases raising children, as men.

The Reverend Troy Perry, subject of Scott Bloom’s 2007 documentary Call Me Troy, is well-known as the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the first church formed specifically to minister to the needs of the gay and lesbian community. Perry has been fighting for gay rights since before Stonewall. The first MCC service was held in 1968, and among other things, Perry was also the first person to perform a same sex-wedding in the United States and filed the first lawsuit seeking recognition of same-sex marriage. He’s pushing 70 today but, as is evident in Bloom’s film, is still brimming with infectious energy and enthusiasm, and practices the dynamic preaching style he developed as a child (Perry found his vocation at age 13 and became a licensed Baptist minister at the age of 15). His attitude toward life, in and outside of church, is encapsulated in his oft-repeated phrase: "God wants you to go First Class." 

You may wonder where he finds the energy. The question was never posed directly in the film, but I think he’d respond that it comes in equal parts from God and from the gay community. And that he has the energy to do what needs to be done because he doesn’t waste it in self-hatred or futile attempts to conform to the dictates of people who refuse to accept his whole being, including both his call to religion and his identity as a gay man.

Perry acknowledges that he’s seen his share of difficulties in life, and doesn’t deny that he possesses the usual quotient of personal flaws and contradictions as well: he accepts both as part of the reality of being human. Still, I was brought up short by his justification of marriage as a career move (he wanted to be a Church of God minister, and they were required to be married). The deception practiced on his wife and children, since he continued to engage in sex with men, apparently didn’t enter into his calculations. But even that episode has a somewhat happy ending: Perry has since reconciled with one of his sons, although the other remains estranged.

Call Me Troy presents a history of the MCC as well as a biography of Troy Perry, and places both in the context of gay life in America in the second half of the twentieth century. It’s a big enthusiastic film, as befits its subject, and adds yet another element to the ever-growing picture of diversity within America’s gay community.

dvd_transparent.jpgThere can be no better demonstration of the fluidity of gender identity than transparent, a 2005 documentary by Jules Rosskam. All the film’s 19 subjects are transmen who gave birth to children but now live as men, in most cases raising those children with or without the aid of a partner. If you think it’s difficult explaining how Heather can have two mommies, imagine trying to tell someone that the bearded individual who appears to be your father is also your mother.

The metaphysical implications of it all are not the primary concern of the parents interviewed in transparent: they’re more focused on being good parents and raising their children (which is quite a job in itself: just ask anyone with kids). They come from different social and economic backgrounds and ethnic groups, but have in common the need to negotiate their identities and roles in a world which largely assumes that male and female are fixed and discrete categories. Asked whether he wants to be called the Mom or the Dad, one of the interviewees suggested that he just be called the parent.

The parents interviewed in transparent are articulate about describing their own lives and their hopes for their children, and are also sharp social observers. Who better to notice society’s absurdities (passersby who ignore the apparent father pushing the baby carriage and direct questions about the children to the apparent mother walking alongside, who is in fact unrelated to them) than people who don’t fit into the standard categories? They offer the best possible argument that gender is a continuum rather than a dichotomy and that every individual possesses their own unique blend of male and female characteristics. | Sarah Boslaugh

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