MTPC Video Project Seeks to Humanize Trans Bay Staters

by Jason Prokowiew

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday May 14, 2011

When Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last summer, what he saw inspired him.

Scott was struck by a display on African American male transportation workers during the Civil Rights Movement who were paid far less than their white counterparts. Each worker held a sign that read, "I am a man."

"It was powerful to see these men holding those signs," said Scott.

Scott next came across We Are America's Web site, which includes personal stories of immigrants from across the country that put real people back into the national debate around immigration policy.

With the museum images and the We Are America Web site in mind, Scott and his MTPC colleagues began work on "I AM: Trans People Speak." This project is a multi-media campaign designed to raise awareness of trans people and their families and allies.

"Trans People Speak" provides access to narratives of dozens of trans people; each video is an immediately intimate profile that connects the viewer to the individual. "I love the idea of personal stories as a way to create change," said MTPC intern Jesse Begenyi, who directed the videos. "Many representations of transgender people are not the best. Using the videos as a tool, we wanted others to meet these people, so people feel more passionate about transgender issues."

"Trans People Speak"'s mission statement states that "recorded stories aim to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions of transgender individuals by highlighting the realities of their lived experience. There is no one trans narrative."

Breaking away from what MTPC opined was the transgender narrative most often presented in the media, that of the medical transition, "Trans People Speak" centers around the roles each individual plays in their respective communities as parents, siblings and professionals.

MTPC often releases the videos around a specific theme, such as artists. On Mother's Day, for example, each clip featured the story of a female parent-some of whom use the term "mother" to describe their role in their children's lives.

"We want to expand that narrative and really shows what it is to be trans; it's not about what you do to your body, but what you do with your life," said Scott.

Since the project's launch in November, MTPC has completed 37 video shoots and received inquiries from 63 people in Massachusetts who are interested in participating. Another 68 people across the country and from around the world have also reached out; a far cry from the 10 inquiries Scott and his MTPC colleagues had originally hoped to receive.

MTPC hopes these stories will give voice to trans people, act as part of their oral history and also influence legislators. And to further prove this point, MTPC has delivered story cards based on those profiled in their videos to Beacon Hill.

"Many legislators don't understand who transgender people are and their experiences," said Scott. "It's hard to connect with the numbers if don't really have person in mind."

MTPC also plans to give DVDs with the narratives to every legislator.

"The stereotype is that we're alone and no one cares about us," added Scott. "The fact is that we're all connected to communities, and when something happens to one of us, it affects a lot more than one person."

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