Last week the Carillon, a newspaper I work for as a columnist, featured this photo that graphically illustrated different local attitudes towards changing understandings of gender identity and sexual orientation.
In the photo, one school trustee listens attentively to a young woman asking the Hanover School Division for a more supportive environment in local schools for young people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. The trustee looks right at the high school student speaking and appears to be near tears. Her empathy for the speaker is reflected in every line of her face.
Another trustee is expressionless and has her eyes down not even looking at the young woman speaking. The photo caption tells us she has been a spokesperson for constituents concerned about allowing Gay-Straight Alliance groups to meet in division high schools.
Behind the two trustees sits a high school graduate who has advocated for a voice for LGBTQ teens in division schools in the past. He has become something of a national hero and has received a generous university scholarship for his courage.
As I read The Carillon online last Thursday the photo jumped out at me. I was in Toronto and had just seen two documentaries at the city’s Hot Docs film festival. The first was called Handsome and Majestic. It was about a teen from Prince George British Columbia who decided to be honest about his transgender identity in his school. This led to so much bullying, including death threats, that his parents had to pull him out of school and his mother quit her job to educate her child at home. The documentary traced the family’s journey through this difficult time.
When the film was over we were introduced to the transgender youth whose story is featured in the movie. He had traveled to Toronto with his mother for the film’s premiere. The Toronto audience gave him a standing ovation. The part of the Handsome and Majestic documentary that had me in tears was when the father of the transgender teen talked about the transformation of his own attitude from anger and intolerance to acceptance, understanding and love for his child.
Suited was the second documentary I saw. It was about two New York tailors, who specialize in providing well- fitted suits for people in the transgender community. As various clients come into the tailor shop the audience is introduced to them and then the camera takes us into the clients’ private worlds as they prepare for special moments in their lives.
One is getting married, another interviewing for their first job, a Jewish teen is celebrating a Bar Mitzvah, a lawyer is presenting a case to the Supreme Court and a popular cab driver is throwing a grand fortieth birthday party. They all need a suit for these events and the ones they find on racks in stores just don’t fit their transgender bodies so they have turned to the specialty tailors for a custom made suit.
What brought me to tears in this documentary was the way the families of these people supported them. The grandmother adamant her transgender grand child will look great in a suit at their Bar Mitzvah. The parents of the groom who say their transgender child will receive their unconditional love and support to their dying day.
We’re on a sharp learning curve when it comes to understanding the biological, social and psychological factors that cause human beings to identify with various gender roles and sexual orientations. How can we best support each one? Films like Handsome and Majestic and Suited offer an informed and compassionate perspective. Could they be shown at a future Hanover School Division board meeting?