A new film, now streaming, on the life of the 75-year-old transgender activist Mama Gloria (Gloria Allen) is “the story of a mother’s love—the love that Gloria’s mother had for her and the love that Gloria has for her chosen children. And it is fueled by the love that filmmaker Luchina Fisher has for her teenage transgender daughter, Gia.”

Mama Gloria film

Mama Gloria (Gloria Allen)

“When I came out of my mother’s womb, I was out,” Mama Gloria tells us in the documentary. Born in 1945, Gloria became part of Chicago’s South Side drag ball culture and transitioned four years before Stonewall, with the support of her mother, a former showgirl and Jet magazine centerfold, and her grandmother, who sewed clothes for crossdressers and male strippers. She also experienced traumatic violence, lost friends to AIDS, and was harassed by police, but survived to become a nurse and a community leader. In 2011, she pioneered a charm school for young, homeless transgender people, where she passed on the lessons of fashion, makeup, etiquette, and love that she had learned from her mother and grandmother. Her work inspired Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins’ hit play Charm.

Now Gloria is retired and “continues to grow old with joy, dignity and grace,” says the film synopsis. That’s a blessing that far too many transgender people never get to have. Filmmaker Fisher, who describes herself in press materials as “a black woman filmmaker raising a biracial transgender daughter” tells this story of her daughter, now 16, and why Gloria’s example is so important:

One day while I was filming Gloria in Chicago, my daughter sent me a text saying that her life was “half way done.” Gia had read online that the average life expectancy for a Black trans woman in Washington D.C., was 32. It was at that moment that I truly understood why I am making this film…. For Gloria, who never imagined she would live past 40, aging is a gift.

It’s a gift that I want to show my daughter and other young trans people—so they can imagine themselves growing old and having a long, meaningful life. Gloria is their connection to aging and to their future. She is their connection to the past and living proof that transgender people have always been part of our lives and our communities. She is a shining example of how family support—from birth families and chosen families—can impact life outcomes for transgender people.

Mama Gloria film

Mama Gloria with young people at the About Face Theatre

Watch Mama Gloria online at the Chicago International Film Festival for $12, October 14 to 25 (I make nothing from this referral) and see a trailer below:

Want more about trans elders? Check out this other film now streaming about comedian and parent Julia Scotti.