Translations provides “360 Degrees” Perspective on Trans Lives

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Tucked away off Broadway and Pike, the Erickson Theatre is a venue that often hosts small local performances. On May 4, the Erickson Theatre hosted the opening celebration of Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival, the largest transgender film festival in the world.

During the festival, films such as “Jesus is Dead” and “They” showcased stories that emphasized the nuances of trans experiences, beyond just the subject’s trans identity.

The opening night of Translations marked the West Coast premiere of director T Cooper’s Film “Man Made,” a documentary that follows four trans men as they prepare for TransFitCon, the only trans bodybuilding competition in the world. Cooper gives the viewer an intimate look into the subjects’ lives and relationships, with their trans identity only occupying some of the story.

Cooper, a trans man himself, saw that most stories about trans people were about trans victims of violence and that those shouldn’t be the only stories that the public hears or cares about.

“These lives are 360 degree trans lives, these are not stories of transition or stories of how transition affects everybody else in the trans people’s lives, this is not a story of how transition messes up your life,” he said, “The fullness of their lives is so much more interesting to me than that identity.”

Non-profit organization Three Dollar Bill Cinema hosts the Translations Film Festival, in addition to putting on TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival in the fall. Translations differs from many other film festivals in that it has plenty of non-film components as well.

Festival director, Sam Berliner, said that events—such as the speed friending event and the trans and ally dance class—give the transgender community the chance to share in empowering and fun experiences while building new relationships. Additionally, at each event and screening throughout the event, the festival staff highlighted local organizations that provide services for members of the LGBTQ community.

One screening event, a series of short films titled Live In Your Power, shared a collection of short films celebrating trans culture and groups. One short entitled “Angela” depicted the story of a trans woman in Canada who competes and coaches on a roller derby team and is also a trans rights activist. Another short titled “Muxes” explored a third gender that the Zapotec recognize and celebrate called muxe, in which a male takes on feminine roles without ever wanting to be a woman.

Kiana Harris, director of the dance film “AJE IJO: 7 Reflections,” is a local dancer whose short film operates outside of the western binary gender ideals. Harris drew inspiration from the Orisha, Yoruba goddesses whose genders are constantly changing, and from her years of generating a dance from from songs.

“Anytime I would listen to a song or a song would come on, there would be images in my mind of how the story would play out based on that song,” she said.

In Cooper’s film “Man Made,” viewers see many aspects of the four subject’s lives, especially their relationships. The film provides a glimpse one subject’s playful relationship with his wife as she supports him in his intense bodybuilding regime, while also showing the strain that this routine can have on the relationship. The viewer is drawn in as another subject and his girlfriend try to make their relationship work through his transition, as he is a trans man and she identifies as a lesbian.

One subject of the film, Dominic Chilko, initially started bodybuilding as a way to feel more masculine but then as a way to feel safer as more trans murders occured. Chilko said he did have some pauses during the filming of the documentary when he was unsure if he was really okay with showing the parts of his body and life he didn’t like.

“It’s emotional every single time but it’s never in a negative way to where I’d be like I regret it. It’s just more of like an eye opening, like I didn’t even know I could be that vulnerable for someone I just met,” he said.

Chilko said that he appreciated how Cooper portrays the men in such a positive light, highlighting that they all just want to grow and lead normal lives as men.

“And that to me is what being man made is, building your body to what is perfect, not maybe for everybody, but in your eyes perfect,” he said.

Though trans aspects such as transitioning do appear in the film, it is never the sole focus. Cooper instead chooses to focus on every other aspect of their lives that is so relatable to viewers, such as their relationships with partners and family.

“Their lives are all so rich and beautiful and varied and amazing outside of being somewhat unique in the sense that they’re trans men,” Cooper said.

Sophia may be reached at
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