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The Boston Phoenix
March 1999

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From she to he

PBS to air the groundbreaking documentary You Don't Know Dick

by Jackie Krockar

Determining gender is easy, right? Well, not always. In You Don't Know Dick: Courageous Hearts of Transexual Men conventional notions of gender are deconstructed through the complicated but always tender stories of men who were born as women.

There's Kyle, who's concluded that she's no longer interested in women. But then she meets and falls in love with Max, a transgender male who used to be be Anita -- an old girlfriend of Kyle's. Judy's friends are disturbed to find that gender doesn't make you who you are -- a fact proven to them when Judy transitions into Ted -- a man who still retains Judy's personality. Loren's girlfriend feels that by confronting Loren's female to male transition with him allowed her to realize being male isn't that far away for her either. Michael, who gave birth to three children feels that gender is a big cosmic joke: women and men are supposed to get along and yet they seem so different. Only transsexuals seem to know both worlds.

Bestor Cram, co-director and producer with Candace Schermerhorn of You Don't Know Dick remembers switching the gender pronouns in popular songs as a child to see how, or even if, it would change the meaning of the song. In this moving documentary, six female-to-male transsexuals are profiled. They speak candidly of their lives before, after, and during their transition to a new gender identity. You Don't Know Dick will air on Channel 2 April 6 at 10 p.m. It will also screen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre during the Transgender FilmFest May 18, 19, and 20.

One in Ten recently spoke with Cram.

Q: Why did you and Candace Schermerhorn decide to focus on female to male transsexualism?

A: Candace came to me working on a story about an 18th-century female ship captain who masqueraded as a man. Although it was a true story it would be difficult to reenact it or it would be better told as a Hollywood feature. But we thought, this has got to be a story that goes on today. Through an organization in Waltham called International Foundation for Gender Education, which is a fascinating clearinghouse of information for transsexuals and cross dressers, we began to learn about second hand stories and then first hand stories. Through researching Boston, New York and Los Angelos we met a number of people going through the process of realizing a new gender identity.

Q: How much did you know about transsexualism?

A: I don't think I really knew anything about this other than what a person knows about their own search for comfort in their gender identity. If you're at all self-aware you recognize that society advertises these gender identities that don't fit most people.

Q: Were there challenges specific to this project that you hadn't experienced with other projects?

A: The universal challenge of documentary films is gaining the trust of those that you're exploring their story with. This required an even greater degree of trust. Candace and I needed to be trusted with interpreting someone's story which was quite different than our own. It's one thing to recount facts in one's life versus a level of emotional willingness on the part of the subjects to be emotionally vulnerable. For example Ted's letter to his mother was a great act of courage, as was his act of sharing this with the public. This was an absolutely necessary journey that they needed to make, but it wasn't a journey that they couldn't make without pain or sacrifice. Before we called the film You Don't Know Dick we called it Courageous Hearts.

Q: What did you hope to accomplish?

A: The process of making films is the process of exploration. We didn't set out to educate a public, the goals were a little smaller than that; in the sense that as filmmakers we're exploring the boundaries of telling stories because its something we enjoy doing.

Q: Were there certain misconceptions or stereotypes of transsexuals that you were hoping to unravel with this film?

A: I had to learn what the misconceptions were. . . . I made the assumption that there were misconceptions, but I make that assumption about everything. I certainly don't know dick about it.

Q: By the end of the film I felt more comfortable with transsexualism and understood it better. I thought the way the film is structured helps.

A: Collaborative editor Mike Majoris had a lot of ideas and brought his own sensitivities and humanism to the project. The chapters, structure of the chapters, camera angles -- all of it was to try to be clean in what we're presenting. This is not a trick and it was not made up. The movement of the camera or the music in a sense was to be as up front and honest as we could be. In the end it's a talking head documentary, in the classic sense, in the best sense. You begin to feel something for each of the six people and you want to stay close to them.

The music is done by Roger Miller, a local Boston musician, he composed it. It's all original but it's designed to imitate the music of adolescence in a matter in which the music of our youth is filled with double entendre, double meaning, and meanings of love and unrequited love, issues of yearning and searching.

Q: Did you understand/ foresee the universality this film would take?

A: It was an evolutionary awareness as the story was taking on a universality. Part of that happened in the editing. We understood from the beginning the limitations we would have to live with, we couldn't follow some one's coming out. Those were the best decisions we made, to organize the film around themes instead of scenarios. The thematic organization helped us realize its universality, the issues we can all identify with, grief, loss.

Q: How long did it take to complete the film?

A: About three years.

Q: Criticisms?

A: Its been pretty well received. I don't remember any. During a Q and A after the New England Film Festival someone asked are you concerned how this may put your career at risk... I was totally caught off guard by that question. It had never crossed my mind at any point to be concerned. It did remind me that not everyone will welcome this film, or be interested in it. Its always a good reminder, that I might have become quite comfortable with something whereas others who have not spent months or years researching the same subject are not. The audience has to go through a large shift in a fairly short time which is why I think the title is so appropriate.


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