I came out as transgender to my mother when I was only 18-years-old. She responded by panicking and (as to be expected) making everything about her. She kept asking, “What will people think of me?!” and faux concern trickled out in the coming weeks about how I was “going to spend my life undateable and alone because only old perverts would find me attractive,” how I “was never going to be able to find a job,” that people would “smash my car windows and attack me the second they found out,” and how I was bound to “get AIDS and die.” Despite having never talked to a trans person in her life, my mother was convinced this was the only future in store for me. Where did she develop this view?
Film and television.
These broadcasted gross and depressing narratives surrounding the trans experiences permeated into cis, straight culture with little to no opposition, and there are a lot of people out there, like my own mother, who believe these storylines as fact. Since Netflix released their documentary Disclosure I have been struggling to collect my thoughts in order to properly discuss it. Despite knowing exactly what Disclosure was going for and applauding what it actually did, my thoughts are still a mess and that is solely because of the responses surrounding this film from the trans community.
Rather than focusing on what Disclosure is, there has been so much discourse about what it isn’t, and I am so fucking exhausted by it.
The biggest criticism I am seeing is that this documentary is filled with a lot of “Trans Representation 101” information and that it feels like this film is obviously made with cisgender people in mind.
I am frustrated that this is presented as a legitimate complaint, when I have absolutely seen plenty of trans people lash out at cis people for asking questions about trans topics. I have witnessed firsthand, perfectly respectful questions asked by cis people who want to understand and be better allies immediately being scolded by the person they were asking, for not already knowing.
“It’s not trans people’s jobs to educate you, you should just Google it.”
This statement, while frustrating, is correct. Sure, It’s not the job of trans people to educate others on their lives, but responding by immediately biting someone’s head off then sets a precedent that leads to my cis wife being asked all of the questions people are scared to ask me, because they have been previously burned by other trans people. That helps no one.
If there is one thing that interactions like that have taught me, it’s that I absolutely DO NOT want people to learning about trans experiences from fuck knows where. It could be a trans woman my mother’s age who came out last year and is operating off now antiquated information about the community, or some toxic “tenderqueer” on Tumblr with the same level of experience but both claiming to be experts because this is their life. Who knows where curious minds would land if left to their own searching? Probably the same hot garbage nonsense that has emboldened TERFs like JK Rowling.
The trans community is not a monolith, so it’s impossible to get us all on the same page. However, the opinion that Disclosure is inherently terrible is such a flat out bad take. Sure, we can criticize the fact this probably should have been a mini-series as there’s still so much ground that isn’t covered and sure, we can yell loudly that this documentary is not the definitive dissection of trans representation, but Disclosure is doing all of the leg work for cis people to reevaluate how they view trans people, where they got these ideas from, understand some basic etiquette of how to treat us, and hearing all of these ideas from actual trans voices.
I can only speak from what I see and what I have experienced, but I love that Disclosure exists. I have seen queer kids and teens posting about how much they loved learning from Disclosure, because despite the internet giving us as much information at our fingertips as we could ever want, if you don’t know what to look for, you’re not going to find it. What’s depressing, however, is that those same excited and enlightened teens are also seeing very vocal negative opinions from older trans people and are now second guessing whether or not they are supposed to “see themselves” in this film or feel euphoria from that representation. There are ways to be critical of Disclosure without outright erasing the benefits this film provides.
I know for me, I wish I could have sat down with my mother and watched this with her when I came out. At the time, the only resource my 18-year-old self had at my disposal was Julie Anne Peters’ Luna, a book my mother never read because trying to convince a woman in her 40s to spend hours of their life reading a young adult novel I related to at the time is like pulling teeth apparently.
I can’t help but think this film could have helped save a decade of tension.
Having such a very visible tool like Disclosure in the community’s back pocket is something I refuse to dismiss. Yes, there is plenty more I would have loved to see added or expounded further on but we have to start somewhere. Thinking all of trans representation could be dissected in 100 minutes is preposterous, but it does not deserve to be treated as unimportant because of it. If anything this hopefully motivates people to make documentaries, series, and films about the topics within the community they would like to cover.
I cannot recommend Disclosure enough and I honestly do not feel bad for people upset that this documentary by and about trans people is not directly aimed at trans people. We’re not the ones who need to learn how to treat us like basic human beings.