In every generation a story must be told, it is often up the storytellers to speak for the countless voices of our world. In our generation those story tellers are often film makers: the writers, producers, directors, and actors that bring a story to life. This post Academy Award interview is of a man that does just that, bringing voices to the countless unseen, unheard, trans men from around the globe. He is a voice for trans men of color, an often more unheard voice in our community.
Tony Zosherafatain is a man like many with a duality of spirit¹, but he is also Greek/Iranian. A duality of race that also gives him a unique perspective on what it means to be a trans man of color. Even in his upcoming documentary series, Tony will be featuring trans men from ten various countries and cultures. Cultures that are usually overshadowed by American and Western European countries. As in his life from working with those with disabilities, and a nurse practitioner student, he is the champion of the unheard voices of our society.
“I am the T: an FTM documentary“, chronicles the lives and transitions of trans men in ten different countries. Production began in November 2014 in Norway, and will continue in the following countries: Malaysia, Canada, Thailand, Lesotho, Germany, the Phillipines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Australia. Individual country segments will be released independently. The full-feature release date is scheduled for 2018.
The first segment was filmed in November 2014 in Norway, and features the story of Isak, a 28 year old trans man who had recently began transitioning. Isak’s story (screened at this workshop) portrays both the challenges he faces as an FTM, and the triumphs over adversity that characterize finding one’s gender and broader self. ” I am the T” plans to grow into a documentary series that chronicles the stories of hundreds of trans* identified people around the world. The mission of “I am the T” is to shift the tide of trans representation in the media to one that is more subjective and culturally-inclusive.
TMP: Tell our TMP readers if you will, what was your motivation behind creating this documentary? Why specifically did you choose to show a variation of cultures in this film?
T.Z.: The motivation behind creating this documentary is rooted in my experience as a first-generation American trans man. Neither of my parents were born in the U.S.-my dad is from Iran and my mom is from Greece. When I began transitioning, it was even more difficult to find trans men from my specific cultural heritage. If we can show a variation of trans men from different cultures, it will send a powerful message: that the trans experience is universal. I think that creating a diversity of representations in the FTM community can only serve to reassure trans men from these backgrounds that they exist and that they are worthy of visibility.
TMP: How many nations are represented in the complete series?
T.Z.: There will be a total of ten countries represented. Because of time constraints, we will most likely create a two part documentary series. Each part will include five countries so that we can give each participant’s story adequate coverage.
T.Z.: I’ve learned more than I ever would have imagined. The first is that many cultures that we deem “discriminatory” against trans people are actually more complex. For example, I dug into my own background, found that the Iranian government is accepting of trans people and covers trans surgeries. On the other hand, someone who lives in a country that is seen as “very liberal” may not actually create an easy transition process for an individual person. For example, Isak (the participant we filmed in Norway)² hasn’t had the simplest time accessing hormones or finding social support. I’ve also realized that there are many shared experiences between trans men in different cultures, many of them relating to bodily experiences, such as binding, taking testosterone, and struggling with internalized dysphoria.
T.Z.: This is another great question. I think that disability rights and trans rights are intersectional.
People who are disabled fight to have their bodies respected and are often the targets of physical violence, discrimination, and often have to prove that they are indeed human. That resonates with many trans stories, and one could even say that dysphoria is a debilitating emotional and physical disability. I think that just like the disability rights movement has changed the way we see the concept of ableism, the experience of dysphoria can be changed if we are given the unequivocal acceptance to become ourselves.
TMP: Do you still feel that trans men are an outside voice and how can we as a society change that?
T.Z.: I definitely think trans men are an outside voice. I think we do have to be aware of male privilege and not try to take up too much representational space; however, if we portray our stories in a way that challenges societal norms about masculinity, gender, and beauty, then I think we can really challenge the reasons behind transphobia. I think we as a society can improve that by changing the ways we see gender by accepting that one’s sex isn’t pre-determined by genitalia. I think we also need to shift away from the idea that gender determines personality, sexuality, social roles, and one’s life destiny.
TMP: I like to ask, if you could tell the world something about Tony Zosherafatain and you knew everyone would listen, what would you like them to know about you?
T.Z.: That I have been through many struggles in my life, as a trans man, as a first-generation America, as a man of color, but, honestly I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m very proud of my backgrounds. My life experiences have made me mentally resilient and I can relate to people on a more human level. Though I’ve been the target of discrimination, I try not to judge humanity. I’m critical of systemic discrimination, but believe that people can change for the better. With “I am the T”, I want to show people life through a trans man’s eyes so that even conservative viewers no longer doubt that we are just as human as anyone else.
It has been a pleasure getting to know this man of many talents, a pioneer in film for trans voices, a nurse, and a champion for the disabled. It is our pleasure to announce that this interview is part one of a series TMP will cover about the director, and the film “I Am The T’. Tony has also teamed up with TMP as a guest blogger, where he will be chronicling his experiences filming in Norway.
- In Reference to the duality of being trans. Two spirited people. Consider throughout history as special connections to the divine, and a direct representation of God’s form.
- The film I Am the T, covers background from several countries; Malaysia, Norway and Canada to name a few.
- Iran actually performs far more SRS surgeries than most countries. It’s a doubled edge sword. While being trans has less stigma than being gay or lesbian, the tragic side is the forced sex reassignment of gay men and lesbian women, so that they will be heterosexual in the eyes of the community and Allah.