5 books and films to better understand the lives of trans people

The trans experience is different for each individual, but these books and fils are a great place to start in informing yourself about life in the trans community.
5 books and films to better understand the lives of trans people
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Fiction, film and documentary offer some of the best, most accessible ways to learn about minority groups, including the trans community.

On screen, trans characters historically have tended to have been played by cisgender actors, however, change is building in Hollywood, with greater calls for trans people to be cast in these roles.

While remembering the trans experience is multi-faceted and specific to each individual, these books and films are a great place to start if you’re keen to educate yourself and learn more about life in the trans community…

The House Of Impossible Beauties is set in 1980s New York and shines a light on the Harlem ball scene. It centres around the first all-Latinx house – a safe space for LGBTQ+ members of the ballroom community with no place else to go. Eighties ballroom culture was arguably defined by the queer community, and Cassara explores that, with trans women finding their way alongside gay men and drag queens. The book also grapples with issues addiction, sex work, AIDS and abuse. It’s a fascinating slice of history that looks at a world driven and created by trans women, when those voices have  so often been written out of the story.

This moving and uplifting children’s picture book (winner of the Stonewall Book Award in 2019) follows Julián, who is travelling the subway in New York with his abuela (grandmother) when he sees a group of mermaids. After his grandmother finds Julián trying to copy their outfits at home, she takes him to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Love told Pink News she created the book to send a message to trans kids that, “You’re beautiful. You are loved.”

Tangerine features a cast of trans women in key roles. Shot entirely on iPhone, it follows a transgender sex worker in LA who has just got out of prison and wants to find out if her pimp boyfriend has cheated on her. At times it’s a hard watch, with scenes of transphobic abuse, but it’s also a story of female friendship and has been praised for a very real portrayal of what it’s like to be a trans sex worker in LA.

Documentary Paris Is Burning also focuses on the 1980s New York ballroom scene – which was a place to build new families, dress up, assume a character and put on a show for its queer, African-American, trans, gay and Latinx communities. It’s become a seminal film exploring trans and queer experiences, however, the makers were criticised for not properly paying the people of colour featured.

The Vanishing Half isn’t a book with the trans experience at its core; it’s about African American twin sisters who take different paths in life, with one passing for white and the other living as a black woman. However, it’s well worth reading for a depiction of a trans character, named Reese, that is completely normalised and not fetishised. Bennett addresses issue like the need to come up with the money for breast tissue removal surgery in America, but at no point is Reese othered. It’s beautifully written and incredibly positive to see a trans character loved for who he is.

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