Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bayside Film Festival

T is for Teacher (Rohan Spong, Australia/USA, 2009)

T is for Teacher documents the experiences of four transgender males as they make the transition to females in their roles as high school teachers in the United States. It was directed by Rohan Spong, a Melbournian who lived in the US for some time. Apparently the film is doing the festival circuit and screened at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival last March, though I think it's a good film to be screened in schools to raise awareness of gender issues.

Gender is a subject I have a keen interest in, a subject that is very complex and is difficult to do justice to in a few words on a blog like this. I'll do my best within the confines I find myself in, one of which is time.

Human society likes to label its members. It likes to keep things simple and well-defined. It makes things easier to deal with. But it doesn't cater for the natural diversity we find in society. I'm not even talking about so-called alternative gender here. When I went to school, if you wore anything other than black, grey or navy socks, you were considered a poof. If you wore colourful clothes, were into poetry, dancing or were different from the macho norm in any way, your sexuality - indeed your whole identity - was considered suspect. I mentioned some of this in a post last year about my experience of being a 'heterosexual pooftah', that is, a heterosexual person who was bastardised for being 'different'.

People often think of sexuality in terms of heterosexual and homosexual, but that's just way too simplistic. I have a friend I've known for nearly thirty years. About fifteen years ago he became openly transvestite. We sometimes went to gay nightclubs and danced together, he as a woman (and a very convincing one at that) and me a man. But neither of us is gay, nor interested in sex with a man. He has since married (a woman) and has lost interest in cross-dressing. My point is that sexuality is not black and white, and hence the use of the rainbow ribbon by the gay movement - life is full of diversity.

What could be more difficult than having an established identity as a male teacher in a school, and turning up for work one day in a dress and make-up? Same person - different gender. Not only do you have your family's reactions to deal with, but you've got your employer, your colleagues, students, parents, church community and probably others.

Spong interviews these various stakeholders, gathering their views and responses and the differences between the different teachers is quite striking. For some, it was very positive and enriching, for others it was soul-destroying. It seemed quite clear to me that the outcomes were largely proportional to the support from above. The most important factor for success seemed to be a teacher having the support of the principal, followed by appropriate processes being put in place for transition that involved all the stakeholders so that any concerns could be addressed and allayed.

T is for Teacher screens at Palace Brighton Bay at 7pm on Thursday 16 July, along with Beyond Our Shores by Rhys Graham, and will be followed by a Q&A session with Rohan Spong.

The Bayside Film Festival screens at Palace Brighton Bay from 15-18 July.

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