Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a rewatch.
The Men in Tights: And Then We Danced
Any lovers of men in leotards, dance or boys from Eastern Europe, take heed: we caught this beautiful drama—the first Georgian film to deal with LGBTQ themes—at Sundance 2020. And Then We Danced follows Merab, a Georgian dancer in his early 20s. One day he finds his passions awakened for the very first time by Irakli, another handsome young dancer. As their attraction swells, Merab’s puts his career on the line to embrace his sexuality, even as his newfound eros fuels him to a new level of dancing prowess.
And Then We Danced is less a romance than a story of a man pushing the boundaries of masculinity. It should come as no surprise then that the movie sparked protests in Georgia and death threats for director Levan Akin. The controversy alone would warrant the film a look. Viewers will also find a sensitive and penetrating story of queer resilience anchored by a charismatic performance by newcomer Levan Gelbakhiani. Given the ongoing cultural discourse on masculinity and gender–not to mention the resilience of Akin, his cast and his crew in the face of violent protests–giving the film a watch feels all too appropriate to these times.
Chidester said having the “extra time” to train was a “blessing in disguise” after the Olympics was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We definitely have our hopes high right now because it’s still on thank goodness,” Chidester said of the Olympics.
“That’s just how we’re staying positive and continuing to train and working together definitely helps because we’re definitely accountability partners,” she added.
However, once they’re on the field at next year’s Olympics, they will be fierce competitors, they said.
Speaking about the Tokyo Olympics, set to go ahead in 2021, Chidester said: “We’ve had a bunch of conversations about it. Whoever medals, we’re going to be happy for each other no matter what. No matter what.”
Uretz added: “We don’t know each other when we’re on the field. It’s game on.”
Elsewhere in the interview, the couple opened up about how they met while playing softball – and how they got engaged earlier this year.
Chidester proposed to Uretz earlier this year when they went on a trip with some mutual friends. Uretz said she had “no idea” that the proposal was going to happen.
Lesbian softball couple’s engagement was ‘perfect’.
“I knew it was going happen eventually,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen in the fall, maybe in the spring of 2021 or something.”
She added: “The ring was beautiful, it was perfect, the location was beautiful too. So I’m definitely happy with out it turned out.”
Uretz also opened up about her coming-out experience, saying she was “fortunate” to not face any “terrible backlash” due to her sexuality.
“I have had some issues with family and it was definitely tough with my mom at first,” she said.
“Being able to have those conversations with my mom was so hard because she felt like she did something wrong, and so with that, I guess it made me feel like I was a bad person in a way, like I was doing something wrong.”
Uretz said her mother is “more on board now” as she can see that being open about her sexuality has made her a happier person.
She also revealed that she came out to some of her extended family on her father’s side only after Chidester proposed this year.
“It was definitely a relief, and I think it’s made my family closer to be able to just be open with them about my personal life, because I never was before,” she said.
There’s no place like it. A shelter from storms. Not a place, but a feeling. We’ve all heard those inspirational quotes about home — what it should feel like. For trans people, finding home can feel like leaping through hoops of systemic transphobia, sexism and racism to access and maintain safe and affordable accommodation.
Whilst governments fail, Black trans organizers excel. In the South, initiatives like the House of Tulip address the housing crisis for trans people. Based in New Orleans, Mariah Moore and Milan Nicole Sherry founded House of Tulip after launching an online fundraiser to build a long-term, more sustainable solution to housing for trans and gender non-conforming people.
The fundraiser went beyond the initial goal of raising $400,000, allowing House of Tulip, also referred to as Trans United Leading Intersectional Progress, to close on a property they will restore into four different units and offer to trans and gender nonconforming people in the city of New Orleans. Mariah and Milan have partnered with a general contractor and architects, and are looking into organizational management. They have also begun searching for more land to purchase as further additions to their land trust model.
The founders circle of House of Tulip. Via their Instagram.
Over 7,000 people donated to the community land trust that supports Black trans leadership and Black trans futures. “It takes organizations a lot longer to build this momentum. Being able to do it so quickly speaks volumes about the fact that people really understand and know that housing for trans people is really needed,” Mariah said.
The majority Black and women-led collective could achieve not just land justice but also autonomy within their physical spaces — especially in this era of lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing. Owning land gives people the right to grow their own crops or simply be outside. House of Tulip’s long-term housing solutions include citywide benefits such as creating safeguards around exclusionary development and gentrification, as well as paths to homeownership. “I envision smaller land purchases with decently sized homes on them that our community members actually own so that their pathway to homeownership is a reality,” said Mariah.
Mariah’s work at the House of Tulip remains grounded in the women and kin that got her this far: “I was shown so many examples of strength and resilience modeled by fierce, brilliant, brave women around me who were sex workers. They taught me that my life was still valuable, I still deserved respect and humanity. I think about all of the times they showed up for me and helped guide me – they’re part of the movement.”
Anti-trans rules and policies introduced by the U.S. administration is accompanied by a hostile culture against trans people. The current epidemic of murders — with many recent cases in the South, including Shaki Peters and Queasha D. Hardy in Louisiana and Jazzaline Ware in Tennessee — paints a bleak picture of the violence trans people continue to face and the adversity that needs to be challenged.
Mariah is not alone in creating optimism and hope for the trans community. Award-winning activist Kayla Gore founded My Sistah’s House with Ellyahnna C. Wattshall in 2016, intending to bridge the gap in services for trans and queer people of color in Memphis, Tennessee. That year, there were only 71 beds available in emergency shelters across the Memphis metro area and none of them were designated as trans-specific. Federal guidelines for these shelters don’t protect trans people. In response to the city’s lack of emergency housing and a steady decline in Black homeownership rates, My Sistah’s House provides both emergency shelter and now stable mortgage-free housing to trans people of color.
Members of My Sistah’s House visits a supplier of tiny homes. Via the GoFundMe page of My Sistah’s House.
Kayla originally converted her six-bedroom house into an emergency housing facility with eight beds available for queer and trans people in need of shelter. “Housing equals safety [and the] violence that we face happens in the street more often than at home,” she wrote on the My Sistah’s House website.
Now, Kayla and Ellyahnna are raising money to build tiny homes to house trans women of color who are at higher risk of violence and discrimination when attempting to access housing in Memphis. With each home costing $13,000, they’ve been able to fundraise to build 20 micro-houses and create a neighbourhood on almost 30 acres of land they’ve purchased. They’ve received support from volunteers who have helped to build the homes. The pair plan to create community gardens in addition to housing and recreation spaces spread throughout underserved communities with any additional funds.
In a moment like this, there is so much work going into mutual aid for more vulnerable communities. As we shield ourselves in our respective homes, many of us are able to donate with a click of the mouse or share with a few taps on a smartphone. Will these fundraisers appear on our timelines when the pandemic wanes? Kayla writes on the Tiny Homes fundraiser, “Share not only our fundraisers after violence or death; share the tiring work of Black and browns [sic] trans men, women, and my Fam that said fuck all that shit!”
Black trans people have yet to fully benefit from their involvement in liberation and activism, even in movements committed to leaving no one behind. The leadership of Black trans folks like Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is finally being recognized as transformative. “It’s because of Black TGNC people that LGBTQ people remain closer to freedom,” Mariah reminds us.
In our wildest dreams, what would it feel like for trans people to have full freedom within housing? Things feel more vivid — brighter, lighter and promising. Vivid because there are possibilities of homes for generations to come. Thriving neighborhoods full of joyful trans folks, free from policing, violence and risk of homelessness, the heavy burdens and fears no longer weighing us down. Neighbourhoods abundant in interdependence and mutual care — the feeling of being at home in this world.