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You Watched “Disclosure,” Now Watch These Shorts, Web Series, and Indies Made by Trans People!

You Watched “Disclosure,” Now Watch These Shorts, Web Series, and

I hope you found time this weekend to watch Sam Feder’s remarkable new documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, now available on Netflix. It provides a complicated history of over the last hundred plus of mainstream trans representation and features interviews with a wide array of trans media artists you know and love.

Since that film focuses specifically on mainstream film and television, I also wanted to share some not mainstream works that I also love, specifically by trans artists (many of whom are featured in the documentary!). Conversations around queer and trans representation often focus on the works that traumatized us or that helped us to discover our identities. I watched everything on this list after I already came out. I knew who I was (or at least, was starting to know) and with that knowledge, I desperately wanted to see myself and our history on screen.

One thing that Disclosure makes clear is that representation is personal, and so is this list. It’s intentionally not comprehensive, so please share other work you love! Especially other work made by trans people. Nobody tells our stories better than we do.


Valencia by Clement Hil Goldberg, Joey Soloway, and others

Cinephilia is like The Chart. One discovery leads to another that leads to another. I first watched this omnibus adaptation of Michelle Tea’s book because I knew there were sections directed by Joey Soloway and Cheryl Dunye. What a nice surprise that another section is cast with trans women, and another with trans men, and that the whole project was produced by trans filmmaker Clement Hil Goldberg! The movie is an explosion of queer creativity. It was a gift to watch so early in my transition. I saw a portrait of the kind of community I would eventually build — one where trans people are not merely accepted, but given the same freedom of messy queer chaos as anyone else.

Watch Valencia!

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Transparent also led me to the work of producer Zackary Drucker. I found FISH (full title: FISH: A Matrilineage of Cunty White Women Realness) and Southern for Pussy on Vimeo, and they blew my mind. I don’t think I’d even knowingly met another trans woman at that point — and watching Zackary on camera, creating her own art, being funny and weird and crass, and doing this with her mother! It was incredible.

Watch Southern for Pussy! Watch Mother Comes to Venus!

It’s no secret that I loved last year’s big trans controversy of a movie Adam. But one thing that annoyed me throughout the whole discussion was how few people knew director Rhys Ernst. Rhys was also a producer on Transparent and during my first year post-transition I eagerly went through all his shorts that I could find. I’ve been making super low budget movies since I was in high school and watching Rhys’ work — including a movie he made before transitioning — felt like watching my own. I could see him develop as an artist through these films, as I’d done with so many film artists as far back as watching Martin Scorsese’s early shorts in middle school. Rhys’ work reassured me that coming out didn’t mean I’d have to change my goals — it would just give me new stories to tell.

Watch The Drive North! Watch Secret Men’s Club: Moment #133! Watch The Thing! Watch This is Me! Watch We’ve Been Around! Watch Adam!

She Gone Rogue by Zackary Drucker, Rhys Ernst

My favorite work by Zackary and Rhys — and one of my very favorite movies of all time — is the short they made together. My appreciation for trans media that actively engages with our history is weaved throughout this list and She Gone Rogue, which costars Holly Woodlawn, Vaginal Davis, and Flawless Sabrina, certainly does that. With overt references to Maya Deren, it was such a beautiful combination of the film history I knew so well and the trans history I was finally learning.

Watch She Gone Rogue!

Women in Revolt by Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis

This one is cheating a bit. Technically it was written and directed by cis man Paul Morrissey and produced by cis man Andy Warhol. However, I’m going to go ahead and give writing credit — and honestly directing credit — to its trio of trans stars. Casting “female impersonators” as members of the women’s liberation movement was supposed to be the ultimate satire, but Morrissey and Warhol underestimated their actors. Largely improvising their dialogue, Woodlawn, Darling, and Curtis take over this movie and make it into a satire of both the cis women they’re portraying and their cis male collaborators. It’s remarkable to witness — especially given that it was made in 1971 — and started me on a mission to watch every on-screen appearance of the three of them. I still haven’t succeeded and if anyone knows where I can find the Holly Woodlawn-starring Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers I will literally marry you.

Women in Revolt got pulled from YouTube?? Ugh. Well, I’ll update this whenever I find a copy.

Glen or Glenda by Shirley Wood

Part of the appeal of Women in Revolt was getting to see transfeminine people on screen as far back as the 70s. But in the 50s one trans woman put herself and other “crossdressers” into her own movie. Like many suburban kids, I went through a Tim Burton phase and at that time watched his Johnny Depp-starring biopic of Shirley Wood. Film culture made her into a joke and, look, a lot of her movies are not very good, but Glen or Glenda is a miracle. I couldn’t believe that this movie I’d seen recreated by Tim Burton was actually a portrait of a queer trans woman made by a queer trans woman. It’s filled with self-hatred and misinformation, but it’s also a rather beautiful plea for understanding — from others and self. It brought me comfort to know we were managing to make movies about our experiences as far back as the 50s. It brings me comfort now.

Shirley’s work deserves reexamination — especially this film — and she at least deserves to be called by the name she preferred.

Watch Glen or Glenda!

Her Story by Jen Richards, Sydney Freeland

Speaking of queer trans women, there’s really nothing like Her Story. Jen Richards and Laura Zak’s Emmy-nominated web series is literally the only time I’ve seen a trans woman casually have a queer love story on screen. Sense8 is amazing, but it’s an ensemble action show in a heightened reality. Boy Meets Girl is sweet, but the actual love story is… in the title. We just have Her Story. Tell me I’m wrong in the comments and I’ll be thrilled, but I don’t think I am. Well! How lucky are we that this one web series also happens to be so fucking amazing?? My attachment is to its central love story but it also stars the always incredible Angelica Ross and is just so well-written by Jen and Laura and so well-directed by Sydney Freeland! But I really can’t say enough about that love story. Watching Jen and Laura walk down a city street flirting and eating ice cream altered my brain. I sometimes wonder what it might be like to live in the world if those 3.5 minutes were as commonplace on screen as they should be.

Watch Her Story!

Drunktown’s Finest by Sydney Freeland

I try not to concern myself with reviews, but the way critics (white, cis) treated Her Story director Sydney Freeland’s debut feature fills me with so much anger. I’ve been tapped into film culture for a long time and so many of the best films made each year — even the best films that premiere at renowned festivals — will never be on your radar if you don’t know to search for them. Freeland’s film about the intersecting lives of three young Navajo people — including a trans woman played by Carmen Moore — is an incredible movie. Despite its low budget and contained setting, something about it feels epic. The characters are so full and lived in and the way they intersect feels natural in a way similar, more well-known films do not. Freeland’s second film, Deidra and Laney Rob a Train, has an all-cis cast, but it’s also great. I’m glad she’s been getting so many TV directing jobs, but I really hope she gets the chance to make more films soon. I just love her work so much.

Watch Drunktown’s Finest!

The Personal Things, Atlantic is a Sea of Bones, Happy Birthday, Marsha! by Tourmaline

During a post-screening Q&A at BAM a couple years ago, Tourmaline said, “We have huge surpluses that other people think are lacks. And that makes the best art and that makes the best film.” Through her archival work, activism, and filmmaking, Tourmaline’s commitment to trans — specifically Black transfeminine — past, present, and future has shifted the way even the mainstream discusses queer and trans history.

To say she is also an incredible artist is to miss the point. Her films are incredible because of who she is, because of her knowledge, because of her commitment to those who are no longer with us, those who are, and those who will be. I don’t remember how I first stumbled upon her film about Egyptt LaBeija, Atlantic is a Sea of Bones, but I think about it often and it remains one of my very favorite films.

Watch The Personal Things! Watch Atlantic is a Sea of Bones! Watch Happy Birthday, Marsha!

Danger & Eggs by Shadi Petosky

This is an Emmy-winning Amazon series, but “indie” doesn’t really exist with children’s media so let me make this exception. There are only 13 episodes of Shadi Petosky’s animated series about aspiring stunt person D.D. Danger and her anxious egg friend, Phillip, but each one is filled with so much weird imagination, chaotic fun, and casual queer and transness. For a few months, I’d pick one day each week to get high and eat ice cream and watch an episode and it was so incredibly soothing. I think Danger & Eggs made me feel the way She-Ra makes a lot of the cis queer women I know feel. Just, “wow what if I had this when I was a kid.”

Watch Danger & Eggs!

I want to kill myself by Vivek Shraya

I’ve already written about how much I love Vivek Shraya’s writing and music, but she’s also a filmmaker! This photo essay about Vivek’s lifelong experience with suicidal ideation resonated deeply. Suicide is a large part of queer and trans narratives, but there’s a difference between the way mainstream media exploits our pain and the way Vivek tells a personal story of learning to vocalize her own.

Coming out did not cure my depression, nor is my depression always prompted by experiences of transphobia. It’s just something I live with and manage. It’s rare to witness anyone be this vulnerable about suicidal ideation, but it’s especially rare from a trans person, and I’m grateful for this film. Also it was just announced that Vivek’s one woman show How to Fail as a Popstar is being developed into a pilot?? So expect more things to watch from her soon!

Watch I want to kill myself!

The T by Bea Cordelia

Before I get into any sort of personal narrative it’s worth noting that Bea Cordelia and Daniel Kyri’s web series about best friends and exes — a white trans woman and a Black queer man — is just really fucking good. I’ve watched a lot of web series over the years, but few with this level of craft. Even if it didn’t mean a lot to me, I’d still recommend it just as a person with good taste in film and television. But it does mean a lot to me!

When I first watched The T I’d been out for a while and most people in my life had accepted I was trans. But now they wouldn’t shut up about the kind of trans person I should be! Cis people who were barely getting my pronouns right suddenly had opinions about what I could do to “look more female.” I knew what felt best to me was to look female and trans, but I started to wonder if that was even possible in anyone else’s eyes. Then I watched The T and saw Bea — gorgeous, trans. Seeing someone my age put herself on screen and own her transness in the way I wanted to own mine gave me a renewed confidence. There are so many ways to be trans and look trans, and none is better than the other. But seeing Bea on screen in work that she’d made — and work this good — was special to me.

Watch The T!

Phineas Slipped by Cary Cronenwett

I saw this at a short lived weekly trans movie night. I spent the whole evening thinking the woman who screened it was trans, because, ya know, trans movie night, but turned out she was just cis and horny. Bless. This short is about a room full of transmasculine schoolboys having dirty daydreams. It’s basically 15 minutes of transmascs artfully fucking each other and it’s fantastic. As trans people we’re often sexualized by cis people, so it’s a treat to watch us sexualize ourselves whether in the context of porn or an avant garde short film. No matter who’s watching this short the gaze remains specifically trans — and look if that cis woman wants to enjoy it that’s fine too.

I can’t find this online! You’ll have to track down that horny cis woman!

Intimidade by Liniker de Barros Ferreira Campos

I could make a whole separate list of music videos from trans artists, but I did want to include this one here, because I just love it so much. It’s sexy and sensual and Liniker costars with Linn da Quebrada who is also a trans woman. When I talk about wanting to see queer trans women on screen, I think the assumption is I mean trans women with cis women. But that is not what I mean! The only time I get to see trans women together on screen is in porn and sure that’s great, but it’d be nice if there was more! This music video is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen and I watch it all the time and you should watch it too.

Watch Intimidade!

Ryans, Razor Tongue by Rain Valdez

As I wrote in my review of Razor Tongue, Rain Valdez has a sharp understanding of the romcom genre and she’s using that understand to tell stories of trans women falling in love on screen. I love trans art that has a total disregard for the cis media that came before, but I also think there’s something really powerful about taking a genre like the romcom and inserting oneself into it. Everything Rain does has a feeling of authenticity and depth and it makes for work that’s as meaningful as it is fun.

Watch Ryans! Watch Razor Tongue!

Framing Agnes by Chase Joynt

I’m ending with this short experimental documentary for a few reasons. It’s a film engaged in trans history. It features other prominent trans creators such as Zackary Drucker, Silas Howard, and Angelica Ross. And it’s currently being turned into a feature film co-written by multihyphenate trans artist Morgan M Page. While I was going on this journey of trans media consumption I was also devouring her phenomenal trans history podcast, One from the Vaults. For me, our history and our film and television are the same. It’s about what stories are told about us and what stories we tell about ourselves. Centering trans artists in our viewing, listening, and reading is making a commitment to the authenticity of our narratives. It’s what we deserve. It’s what we should demand.

I’m sure Disclosure would’ve been a very different film if it had been made by cis people. May that never be possible again.

Watch Framing Agnes! Listen to One From the Vaults!

Sasha Geffen’s “Glitter Up the Dark” Weaves a Shimmering Web of Queer Music History

Sasha Geffen’s “Glitter Up the Dark” Weaves a Shimmering Web

To begin Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, author Sasha Geffen offers a slight corrective: “The gender binary cannot really be broken because the gender binary has never been whole.”

Twelve chapters trace 20th century U.S. and European music history from the queer Black blueswomen of the 1920s like Ma Rainey through the internet-driven, gender-fucking pop phenomenons of the 2010s like Janelle Monàe and Perfume Genius. Geffen drags a shimmering thread that connects transgressive music histories that have defined not just queer culture but all of pop culture for decades.

Glitter Up the Dark, which came out in April on University of Texas Press, is Geffen’s first book. They’ve made their mark as a music critic, with work appearing in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and elsewhere. The book is extensively researched but not overly academic, with accessible language and a driving passion that swept me away along with from beloved touchstones like Prince and punk into other genres, like industrial and disco, that I’ve never spent meaningful time with. The chapters are organized by genre and chronologically, and Geffen does most of the work for you to make it abundantly clear how these disparate characters, movements, and sounds relate to each other. They seamlessly mix history, music critique, and narrative essay styles to help connect artists, technological developments, and moments of impact to illustrate their thesis: the collision between gender, rebellion, and technology has made pop and rock music a vehicle for gender disruption for their entire existence.

Geffen’s book is not a history of trans musicians, though plenty of them are represented — for example, the wide-reaching influence of Wendy Carlos, who revolutionized electronic music, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! is clear in the text. Primarily, it’s an exploration of music as a mechanism for expressing and expanding complex ideas of gender that find their way into society as a whole and threaten patriarchal, capitalist norms. Throughout, Geffen pushes back against the whitewashing of narratives around genres like disco and electronic music to reveal the layers of queer Black influence on 20th century music. Queer Black artists had a much more significant and authoritative role in US music history across genres than mainstream music histories tend to acknowledge. Take the Beatles, whose “few extra inches of hair appeared [to mid-1960s America] not just as a social lapse but as a biological anomaly.” The overt influences of Black girl groups like the Marvelettes and queer male artists like Little Richard on the musical and vocal stylings of the Beatles made these non-normative expressions palatable to mainstream audiences, but they still carried some hint of the counter-cultural resonance onto the Ed Sullivan Show.

The book reveals the extent to which critics, fans, and time have flattened our readings of some artists. From the overtly queer origins of hip hop to the trans-inclusive beginnings of Riot Grrrl and Women’s Music, Geffen flips over moss-covered rocks to fill in oft-ignored details. The chapter “God is Gay: The Grunge Eruption” is a must-read for its analysis of how Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love flipped gendered scripts in their relationship and their respective bands, Nirvana and Hole. Though Cobain was known for wearing dresses and told Rolling Stone that he experienced attraction to people regardless of gender, he’s remembered as an ally rather than as a queer icon (note to self: make Kurt Cobain a queer icon).

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Geffen deftly brings in first-person accounts and the writings of other critics and historians to fill in the details, then jumps in to convey why it matters. This pattern makes the book feel conversational and dynamic, especially when it digs into the stories of individual artists and moments. A rumination on Patti Smith mixes factual nuggets (Allen Ginsberg once tried to cruise her), highlights her inspirations (Jackie Curtis, Iggy Pop, Robert Mapplethorpe) and includes notes from her own diaries and writings where she reflects on gender and relationships (“I never wanted to be Wendy—I was more like Peter Pan. This was confusing stuff”) before tying it all together and pointing the way toward Smith’s indelible influence on punk.

Smith’s androgynous otherness manifested in her voice, which swung from deep, guttural grunts to piercing staccato shrieks…It’s a voice between genders, high enough in pitch to register as a woman’s voice but irreverent, arrogant, and blunt like a man’s. The burgeoning genre that would come to be known as punk dispersed this voice. (The word “punk” meant “bottom” at the time, lending the genre’s name an air of queer deviance from the start). Both Iggy and Patti echoed in acts that would typify punk, such as the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, and the Clash, whose singers found a grunt to work as well as a wail.

Tech is one of the book’s most salient themes, both in terms of music and gender. Technological innovations, from the creation of vinyl records to the popularization of the Moog synthesizer, the advent of music videos to the internet as a means of distribution, have each given musicians more ways to articulate and obfuscate gendered expressions. These developments created more possibilities for music and for trans people, and that has never felt more clear than in this book. Queer temporality, capitalism, the family, and racism and appropriation in the music industry all thread through the text. Of house music’s endless parties, Geffen writes, “In the now of the dance floor, gender and sexuality have no eventualities…the timekeeping of a normative life—birth, puberty, marriage, childbearing, death—falls away to the glow of the infinite moment.” Numerous such insights elevate Glitter Up The Dark from beautifully researched history to insightful cultural commentary.

If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it’s so short! As each vignette rolled into the next, I found myself wanting more. Early 2000s emo, whose boys in eyeliner that made me extremely confused as a sad suburban teen, gets the slightest of mentions. Clocking in at an approachable 221 pages, Geffen’s book feels like the most fabulous tasting menu that will inspire readers to fall down the rabbit holes of so many of these stories. Fortunately, they made a playlist to go along with the journey.