Directed by Henrique Cirne-Lima and Josue Pellot
Transgender people are slowly making their way onto TV and movie screens as fully-formed characters that have their own storylines and plots and aren’t just there to exist as fodder to laugh at or to be the victim of a horribly violent and always deadly crime. This entertainment revolution of transgender characters began just a couple of years ago, but maybe what is needed more than fictional transgender characters in our entertainment or even transgender characters based on people long since deceased, are actual transgender people who are living, breathing and trying to exist in the still hostile world of today. And I imagine the ones that need these real people the most are transgender people in their teens and early 20s, and with the documentary I Am The Queen, we have a film that gives us an insider’s look into the world of today’s transgender youth, how they are surviving and even thriving despite the fact that so many people today still don’t understand them or even want them to exist.
Shot in 2010, I Am The Queen follows three transgender girls who are in their teens or early 20s as they set to compete in a transgender beauty pageant in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, which is a predominantly Puerto Rican community. Bianca, Julissa and Jolizza along with Alan, who is gay, are competing in the contest. The film follows the three transgender women as we find out about their lives currently and before they came out, how their family reacted to their coming out and how their family members are dealing with their transgender relatives today. We get into the heart of these girls lives and it is through their words and their daily existence that we find out how they live, how they are surviving and who has or doesn’t have a support system to help them handle a world that is mostly against them. Sadly, only Julissa seems to have the family support. Her mother admits to shunning her daughter for two weeks after Julissa came out, but now Julissa’s mother and her entire family are Team Julissa and come in droves to the contest. It made me teary-eyed to see the tremendous support Julissa had at the contest and how proud her family was of her. Bianca and Jolizza are still struggling with their family’s acceptance and it quickly became painfully obvious the difference between Bianca and Jolizza’s lives compared to their peer Julissa.
There to help them with the pageant is Ginger Valdez, a transgender woman from Puerto Rico who came to America and spent some time in New York City performing in drag shows during the Stonewall era. Still performing, she also now tries to use her wisdom and experience to help the girls maneuver their way into the world as an out transgender and has the patience and humor to be the perfect mentor. It made me wonder if these girls understood how lucky and amazing it was for them to have such a mentor who was also once in their very shoes and in many ways still is. Not many LGBT youth have such role models to help guide them and support them. I certainly never did. It made me almost envious that I never had a Ginger Valdez in my youth or even today.
The knowledge I took away from this movie about what it is like being a transgender youth today was heartbreaking, unforgettable and hopeful. My understanding for these kids and the world they live in opened my eyes in a way no fictional story ever could. The pain is real. The loss is real. The tears are real. They cut right to the heart and the soul and I wanted to reach out to each of these girls and let them know how having the courage to be who they are is the greatest gift they will ever get in this life and even though the world is still so cruel to them, being out and being proud of who they are no matter what anybody else says or does to them is far better than living in a world where they are hiding and suppressing their true self.
So if you are a transgender youth or you are a parent of a transgender youth, there is no better movie currently that takes you into a world that you are living in right now. I Am The Queen comes to DVD on October 6, 2015.