• Felicity Silverthorne

A Review of 'Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen'

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, Sam Feder, 2020

“There is a one-word solution to almost all the problems in trans media. We just need more.” - Jen Richards

Sam Feder’s critically acclaimed documentary Disclosure first hit our screens on Netflix back in June 2020, but the discussions that the film has forced about trans representations have been expanding rapidly. In what is a powerful and direct consideration of a large selection of film clips that present trans figures or trans relationships, Disclosure prioritises space for the voices of the trans people that share their perspectives on these representations. Filmmakers, historians and creative workers, some of whom have been pioneers within their community, impart upon the film a poignancy that could not be achieved without their personal stories and the bravery that comes with telling them.

Cisgender, white heterosexual viewers (but not only) are patiently guided by the interviewees through our deep-set prejudice, biases and in some cases I’m sure, aversion without hatred on their part. I wonder if we would be as graceful and as well-humoured if our places were switched? For a community that has been met with discrimination since both the dawn of filmmaking and the start of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, trans people are finally beginning to see the tide forced back and progression begin.

Disclosure succinctly raises how the media’s portrayal of trans characters has impacted upon viewer understanding of their experiences and of their lives. Particularly, the interviewees stress the discomfort and objectification they feel when questions are directed at them regarding the process of transition; something that is incredibly private and that would not be seen as acceptable to ask if those of us that are asking did not believe the trans person to be an ‘other’ and therefore not a ‘person’. This is absurd. It is absurd that trans people have to explain basic etiquette and manners to us. It is absurd that trans people have had to ask, repeatedly, NOT to be ‘othered’, NOT to be objectified. Feder’s film forces a self-reflection of the viewer’s behaviour and past assumptions, and what most of us will surely find is a history of disrespect and of discrimination.

That said, Disclosure can only be an introduction for the less informed. It only scratches the surface of damage done through a history of bigotry, which still permeates the film and media industry today. We can begin, for example, with questioning why queer and trans film roles continue to be handed out to white cis hetero men, but to pretend that in questioning we go far enough is misguided and false. Opportunities in the arts for LGBTQ+ people need to be demanded by the audiences that go to watch these films. More voices need to shout in the face of the grotesque monolith that is Hollywood, that we want queer filmmakers and actors telling queer stories. We’re rooting for them and not the perpetual flow of white straight people that turn real identities into performances. There is an ABUNDANCE of roles available to white cis actors where they can demonstrate their skills, but are we seriously okay, here in 2021, with handing over what are already marginalised stories, to the same collective dominating group that are responsible for the oppression and marginalisation of those stories and of the lives and identities living them? Hell no! Disclosure shows us (with embarrassing ease) that the shortcomings have never been on the side of trans people, that adjustment and acceptance never needed to come from them to accommodate us, but that once again, the white hetero narrative humiliates and obliterates all that is sparkling and wonderfully different from itself. And so, in summary, how truly boring, hateful and shallow would the world be if we disallowed variety.

“I cannot be in the world, until I see that I am in the world” – Yance Ford