More Than T (and an interview with the director, Silas Howard)

Ali Naro 18 July, 2017 Comments Off on More Than T (and an interview with the director, Silas Howard)
More Than T (and an interview with the director, Silas Howard)

Directed by Silas Howard

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” – A really smart guy called Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said this very smart and insightful thing a long time ago.

In my 44 years of living, I have discovered that this old adage is very much true. Damn! Because when things change for the better, I want it to all be better. Not just for some things to be better, while the rest remains a pain in the ass. Like now, it’s much easier to be gay. Many things about being gay have changed for the better. We can get legally married in all 50 states now. We can be in the military now. People don’t openly freak out when I tell them I have a wife now. So those things are much better.


Then there are the things that have remained in the worse category of that adage that they stay the same despite the change. Like closets have become more stealthy, and in my opinion, more dangerous. The homophobia I receive now isn’t so open and loud, it is more quiet and subtle, and so in many ways much worse because it takes me awhile to figure out what the hell is going on with that person. People try to act so cool with you about being gay and so you think, “Isn’t this great?!” But then that cool factor gets heavy on them and when they can’t carry the weight of their pseudo-acceptance anymore, you find out they weren’t so accepting after all, and so the pain that comes from that more stealthy and subtle homophobia seems to hurt even more than the former blatantly open kind. And I may be able to hold my wife’s hand in public in most places now without the fear of getting killed or maimed, but that also means that we get the creepiest, grossest looks from men now; men who have been spending all of their time watching lesbian internet porn and so now they have lesbians in their real life instead of on their computer, and so you can see in the creepy looks on their faces that they are imagining all that porn they’ve been watching while they have a real life lesbian couple right in front of them on the subway, because let’s face it, there still aren’t a lot of lesbian couples that advertise they are couples in public.

So, I guess Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr and that theme song from The Facts of Life were right, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”

I’m not trans, but I have always felt like a kind of sister to the community because growing up, I did not conform to how girls in the 1970s and 1980s were supposed to dress and be. I just dressed in clothes that I liked and a lot of times those were boys’ clothes. And I did things that I just wanted to do, like joining sports teams where I was the only girl, not just on the team, but in the entire league. And even though I didn’t have the best parents in the world, one thing they did do right was allow me to dress, for the most part, how I wanted, and they let me play on all-boys sports teams, because there were no girls’ sports teams in the time and place I did my growing up in, which was rural Florida. And my parents doing the right thing when it came to this had a lot to do with my dad, who has a gay brother and told me recently that he knew I was gay by the time I was 7 years old. And so wearing boys’ clothes and playing on boys’ sports teams, I often would hear people, both kids and adults, say to someone near them, but always rudely loud enough so I could hear too, “Is that a boy or a girl?” And I could feel the disgust and hate in their voices and I would then feel like a giant piece of garbage because I was not being what they needed me to be and they hated me for that. Quite a lot to take on as an 8-year-old, especially considering the nightmare that was going on in my home at the time. I didn’t even have the outside world to escape to. I imagine many trans people have experienced the exact same thing.

Me in the fourth grade, circa 1981, on my little league baseball team where I was not just the only girl on the team, but the only girl in the whole league for the two years I was brave enough to play. I got a lot of shit for this, but I didn’t understand why back then. All I wanted to do was play baseball with my best friend, Chris. We were inseparable at the time and played baseball for fun every day, so it made sense to me and him to be on the baseball team together. I remember his dad was none too thrilled though, especially since he was one of the coaches. But my dad was an umpire, so it all evened out. 🙂
Well, except for that time I was pitching and my dad was the home plate umpire. He requested from the crowd for a spare bed or couch to sleep on that night, and I just messed up that whole pitching thing because I was way too nervous with everyone looking at me and was never asked to pitch again. Oh well.

I still, at 44, don’t conform to how many still think women should dress and act, because I guess I’ve always been able, despite the hate and protests, to just be myself, because I just can’t seem to be anything other than who I am. Well, that is when I am aware of who I am. So, for years now, I have kept an eye on the progresses and digresses of the trans community because I figure if things for them are getting better or worse, then things for me will be better or worse too. And this keeping an eye on this progresses and digresses thing basically involves me watching movies and TV series about the trans community, and most especially, documentaries. And so I have watched many documentaries in the last several years to get the real stories of how the community is fairing now and then, and also just so I can feel at home somewhere because many times their stories mirror and are parallel to mine, or at least way more than lesbian stories ever have or probably ever will.

My fifth grade class picture, circa 1982. All I see when I look at this picture now is – poor little deeply confused budding and repressed lesbian me. But back then a lot of people just kept asking the person next to them, “Is that a boy or a girl?” All I could think was, “I got pierced ears! Boys don’t have pierced ears, so why do they think I’m a boy?!” Well, boys have pierced ears now, but until about 1984, boys did NOT have pierced ears.
That’s a boys’ shirt from JC Penney, by the way, that my crazy and highly abusive mother bought me. It was one of the only nice things she ever did for me, and she even suggested we get me a shirt for the class picture in the boys’ department. Too bad her sanity and kindness was only fleeting.

So, recently I was asked to review a re-issue of a film that came out way back in the dark, dangerous ages for us LGBT folks of 1985 called, What Sex Am I?. And with this amazing and quite historical movie, I got to see a first-hand account of what it was like to be trans in the exact same time that I was doing my growing up in, where I kept hearing those awfully homophobic and transphobic people ask whether I was a boy or a girl, because that was important information that they needed to know?

And then just a couple of months later, I was asked to review a documentary about the trans community in present day now and as I watched this film, I couldn’t help thinking about the people in What Sex Am I? and how similar their 1985 stories were for these trans people of 2017. So much has changed for the community, but so much has also stayed the same.

In More Than T, we meet 7 individuals who are not just surviving as being out as trans, but thriving as well. Many of them have struggled. Many of them have been homeless. Some have even been raped because of being trans, just like some of the people in What Sex Am I?. And like the people in that film, this new generation of trans pioneers in More Than T kept breathing, they kept surviving, and now they are here in this amazing, wonderful, heartbreaking, triumphant film to tell their stories so others like them or even like me can survive and thrive as well. 

These are the people of More Than T

Mia Yamamoto is the attorney. A Vietnam veteran (just like my dad) and a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, Mia was born in America in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Yep, we had those here in America. She is now a lawyer who fights for the lives of people on death row. She says of her struggle and 60 year wait to transition, “I will lose everything and everybody in order to be myself and that’s just the way it’s going to be and I’m not going to compromise on that and if I gotta starve on the streets and do whatever I got to do, that’s fine.” I don’t blame her. I feel the exact same way. There is a peace and a power to just being yourself and once you find that, you will do anything to not go back. Or at least me and Mia feel that way. 🙂

Mia, you kick ass! I wanna hang out with you while you play the guitar and tell me even more about your life, because what an amazing life you have led. 🙂

Gizelle Messina is the artist. She is a make-up artist and works for MAC. I haven’t worn makeup since the civil union ceremony my wife and I had in Vermont back in 2000. I wore a dress then too, it’s a long story. But after seeing Gizelle, I wished I loved me some makeup so I could go to the MAC store just so I could hang out with her. Tall, stunningly beautiful and tattooed, I don’t know why (maybe it was the tattooed part), but she felt like a kindred spirit and I don’t find those often. I just laughed and laughed (which is something I don’t do often nowadays) at her humor and found myself tearing up at her big and open heart because Gizelle was once homeless and now she goes out on the street to help the homeless out. She treats them as humans and there are few people left in the world that remember homeless are people too. Maybe that is the main reason why I loved Gizelle so much, she reminded me of my wife, who has a big heart too. 🙂 She says at the end of the film, “I know when I look in the mirror that I can call myself beautiful now because it’s not so much a look. I can be beautiful with my wig sitting next to me or I can be beautiful in full glam. And while I’ve had so many hurdles to jump, I’m Flo Jo-ing this bitch.” See, kindred spirits because I love me some Flo Jo too. Boy, I sure do miss Flo Jo. 🙁

You definitely are a rock star, Gizelle. Only for you would I wear makeup again, but no way am I wearing a dress.
Okay, maybe, but only for you.

Charles Whitewolf, who has a movie star name and why don’t movie stars have movie star names anymore? Well, since Charles is the actor, maybe we will have a movie star soon with an actual movie star name. 🙂 Charles was homeless and had to finish up high school while trying to find a place to live. While staying in a shelter, Charles had to decide whether to house with the boys or the girls; and figuring still having breasts, the boys might see Charles as a target for rape, so Charles decided it was better to house with the girls. No one should have to make that kind of choice, especially while still trying to finish high school. Charles is a brave, amazing and an endlessly positive person. Charles is an example to his generation that there is more to life than your cell phone. Plus, Charles is wearing a ThunderCats t-shirt in the film and I’m always a fan of anyone who likes the ThunderCats. Hello, its cats as superheroes! 🙂

Come on Hollywood, Charles Whitewolf is a great movie star name, so let’s see Charles Whitewolf starring in some movies. 🙂

Joanna Cifredo is the advocate. She had to find a place where it was somewhat safe to be herself, so she moved to Washington, D.C. where she works at the National Center for Transgender Equality. I understood that part of her story so well because my wife and I left Florida for Massachusetts over ten years ago now, so we could live in a safer place and in a place that allowed us to be legally married. Before Joanna moved to D.C., she had become homeless and lost her job and so then became a sex worker to survive just because she was trying to be herself. This shouldn’t be happening anymore since so much is changing for us, but it still happens and Joanna is out there fighting to make sure that her success story is more common than not. Amazing. Simply amazing.

Beautiful on the inside and out. One day, Joanna, because of your hard work, your success story will be more common than not. 🙂

Ti’aira Chanel and Octavia Lewis are the counselor and mentor of the film. They are friends who both moved to New York City looking for a better life. Octavia ended up in a homeless shelter, but she was determined to make a real life for herself. She says of the move, “I’m not going to lie, it was scary as hell. The shelter was the most deplorable place I had ever seen. There were people that were still actively using. There was rats that were running around in my room. And I was like, ‘This cannot be what I moved here for.’ I got up every morning at 6 o’clock, going out looking for apartments. Going to make sure that I had everything done, because I was like, ‘I cannot live here.'” And Ti’aira says one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard someone say of a friend, “I was comfortable talking with Octavia because Octavia had this little humble spirit about her and you don’t get that throughout the community like that. Not a genuine caring, genuine love. You don’t get that too much.”

Ti’aira and Ocatvia, you have a beautiful, amazing and rare friendship. Quite inspiring. 

Reverend Lewis Mitchell is the minister of the film. I knew that I wanted to be best friends with him after he said this at the beginning of the film, “Everybody that I meet that I’ve known for like more than 20 years says, ‘Oh, you’re a guy now. That’s interesting. You’re in ministry? How the hell did that happen?!’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I didn’t see it coming.’ At every turn I keep trying to get out of it. I just, I won’t behave right, you know? I’m going to still cuss and I’m going to do what I’m going to do and I’m not going to pretend to be all holier than thou. They’re lucky that I don’t show up in some gym shorts and a t-shirt ’cause I don’t think God gives a shit one way or the other. I don’t think God cares what you’re wearing, I think God cares how you’re loving.” I always thought that about God too. Why would he care what you wear to church?! Isn’t loving him and yourself and others what’s important, not what you wear? Can we elect Lewis to be the head of the common sense patrol? Lord knows this world needs all the common sense it can get.

I wish more reverends were like you, Lewis. I might actually go back to church. And since I live in Massachusetts too, you never know, maybe one day I will show up in your church in a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt. 🙂

Everything and everyone is so negative lately. We are all quick to fight these days at the slightest difference in opinion, and bitch and moan about things that at the end of the day, don’t really matter (oh social media, you are the bane of my existence). So, it was quite refreshing to see a movie that showed people being positive about life, appreciating life, and loving life, instead of filling their life with hate and anger. And it reminded me that there are still good people in this world that refuse to give in to all of this negativity that we all find so addicting lately. And it reminded me that even though the more things change, the more they do indeed stay the same, but hell, at least they change. And every day they keep changing for the better, and with the brave and amazing people from More Than T, they are one of the reasons why the better keeps happening for all of us. And they reminded me why I have always just been myself, despite the abuse I have suffered from it. And I will always just be me, because any sacrifice is worth just simply being who you are. 🙂

And after watching More Than T, it reminded me of who I really am, a lifelong lover of films, because for the last two years, I keep getting asked to interview actors and directors and producers of many of the amazing films that I’ve written about here. But over the years, I have become too shy and too introverted and filled with too much self-loathing, and so I would turn down these interviews because I would always think, “Who am I to be interviewing anybody, much less actors and directors and producers?” And that is no way to live, but having suffered from debilitating depression since I was 11 years old, it makes you think this way about yourself after 33 years of living in such darkness and sadness and despair. So, after watching More Than T and being so inspired by the film, I got brave and decided to say yes to an interview with the director of More Than T, Silas Howard…

Well, first of all, Silas is a great guy, because I am a real amateur when it comes to interviewing people, this being my third interview in my life. When I asked Silas if he was in the movie, what he would have said about his life, he replied, “Filmmaker, bad guitar player, dog lover, storyteller, trans. And so, you know, the top of the list would be all of my passions, but my identity is key, you know. I need to be out. It is important for me to be out, but you always worry about people reducing you to that. So I think I would just flip the order, which is that my passions drive me to the world and my working class background is as much my point of view as my trans/queer identity. You know, this is the lens in which I experience the world on a daily level, which is different from someone else’s lens, which is different than another person’s lens.” See, now this is a natural filmmaker, because he sees things through lenses. 🙂 And talking about making More Than T, Silas said of the experience, “…it is this incredible thing where we can tell stories through that lens that I think would actually really connect to other people…I think somebody might watch Lewis Mitchell who is not a trans person or maybe not even a person of faith, but be touched by his honesty and his sort of care. And I just love all those paradoxes of Mia, who was born in an internment camp and then fought in the Vietnam War and then protested the war. And Joanna Cifredo, who was a teen on the streets and who needed policy, who looked to other states in the country who has policy that can help and became a policy analyst…so, I would say that I am all of the things that I care about and it’s all through the lens of being a trans and queer identified person and that it not be reduced to that…we deserve the attention that straight, white, heterosexual people have had ownership over for decades and decades and decades. We deserve to be centered, our stories are just stories. They’re not queer stories. They’re just stories…I think I am a culmination of my life experiences and probably identify as a storyteller first and a trans person second.” And how true is that? We are many things, and being LGBT is just one small aspect of what makes us, well, us. 🙂

And here is Silas, the director of More Than T. A great guy, who took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me and since I survived the interview with little embarrassment, I think I might try that interview thing again one day. So thanks Silas for talking to a way too shy, way too introverted person like me about your film. I wish I had about 3 days to pick your brain about films instead of 20 minutes, but maybe one day we can talk about films until we can’t talk anymore. 🙂

As of July 18, 2017, More Than T is airing on Showtime.

And if you want to know more about Silas Howard and get a chance to see even more of his amazing work as a filmmaker, check out his website. 🙂