Genderation

Released shortly after Trans – I Got Life (although in Times Like These, its harder than ever to know which was made first). Genderation also attempts to ask to what extent Trans people are allowed to fit in with modern society. There is a significant difference between the films – whereas Trans – I Got Life shows the various problems experienced by Trans people, at many times Genderation is more a film about people who just happen to be Trans.

Before Genderation there was Gendernauts – a 1999 film by the same director, Monika Treut, about Trans people in the Bay Area. This is kind of a 7UP follow up, seeing where they are now. I never saw Gendernauts, and this makes me feel slightly compromised in critiquing Genderation, as the participants were not chosen for this film, but for a quite different one, 20 years ago.

Maybe it helps to explain what I mean by saying who stars in Genderation. San Franciscans, of course, but also people taken almost exclusively from the artistic community and academia. There is one lorry driver – a Teamster trade unionist like his father – but even he seems to own his own business, which seems largely concerned with ferrying around expensive works of art.

This begs the question: why are we watching these particular Trans people? The answer to this question lies not with this particular film, but with the one taken 20 years or more ago, And I, for one, am not really sure which criteria Treut used to select her original group of interviewees.

Is it that the only people who felt safe to come out were the well off? Did Treut only really mix in privileged circles? Or is there something specifically middle class about being trans? (although there are certain politicians and political activists who would love this one to be true, the answer to the last question is a big fat No).

Nonetheless, the limited range of subjects makes the possibility of generalising from these experiences much more limited. One protagonist says that she’s sick of hearing about the sad lives of Trans people, and that this is contradicted by her experience. Well, yes, but this statement would have been much more powerful if it hadn’t been directly preceded by a scene of her socially mingling in a huge room containing a massive grand piano.

We get a similar picture with the discussion of the effects of gentrification in San Francisco, and its effect on the LGBT community. Now this is a real thing. Some time around when Gendernauts was made, I met someone whose job was to find houses for AIDS patients. She said that finding the houses was no problem – the trick was to get anything that any of her clients could afford.

And yet the problems experienced by the people in Genderation is not the choice between a rental that costs more than they are earning and life on the streets. They are looking to buy, but are slightly pissed off that all the properties for sale are now so much more expensive. Sure, its a problem, but its not really the same problem.

While I think its safe to say that Genderation shows a very limited range of experiences from the Trans community, this does not mean that these people are uninteresting. Quite the reverse. We hear many eloquent statements by gender theorists, by the first former sex worker to gain a PhD, and by others who are able to clearly articulate the problems that Trans people of all classes continue to experience.

At the same time, you have a regular feeling of intruding into the conversation of people with other priorities to your own. Look, I share your pain that the local supermarket does not provide you with the requisite ingredients to cook different ethnic meals, but this doesn’t move me in the way that the scars of the victims of queer bashers would. I’m sort of sorry that you have to make the extra trip to the farmers’ market, but my heart doesn’t bleed.

In a sense, what is frustrating about Genderation is the fact that life for at least some Trans people has improved immeasurably within a very short period of time. Whereas just 20 years ago, they would have been ostracized, now they are able to build healthy relationships with their middle to upper class neighbours. And this is indubitably a good thing.

And yet, because of its limited cast list, Genderation is unable to show the real problems experienced by the most downtrodden Trans people. And at a time when even part of the political Left is trying to minimise the difficulties experienced by Trans people inside “modern, enlightened society”, this is just not good enough.

Watch, enjoy, but be very aware that this is a film that is only showing a very limited part of the story.

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