by Joanna Rutter
All the recent films or shows about trans folks I can think of have largely starred (and been directed, and produced by) cisgendered men. Think, Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent, or Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. And in recent political news, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law to discriminate against trans North Carolinians who just need to pee (see Citizen Green on page 14 for the backstory).
It’s in this noisy space that writers Laura Zak and Jen Richards decided to tell a different version of a trans story: one by, for, and about trans and queer people themselves. Their web series, Her Story, which released its first season on herstoryshow.com earlier this year, centers on two transgender women and the lesbian journalist writing a cover story about them.
The script hones in on the inherent clumsiness of the binary surrounding language, gender and sexual orientation, and doesn’t let viewers get comfortable, which works well. It’s painful to squirm as a character introduces herself to Violet, a trans woman, and blurts out, “Are you transgender?” only to see Violet’s face fall, responding, “I wish it wasn’t so obvious.”
Each eloquent moment punctuates larger story arcs of several women as they navigate their careers, their love lives and their identities. In the insecurity of Allie and Vi’s developing relationship, Allie fears she’s somehow “less” gay for dating a trans woman, and Vi fears she’s somehow “less” of a woman for dating a lesbian.
The story is carried by seamless editing, consistent sound design and lighting, a beautiful soundtrack with music from trans artists like Rie Daisies, and powerful dialogue that’s of-the-moment without sounding forced or kitschy.
Perhaps the most riveting narrative thread is following Paige, a civil rights attorney played to perfection by Angelica Ross of TransTech Social Enterprises, as she hesitantly dates a man who doesn’t yet know she’s transgender. Watching that story unfold is still thrilling on my sixth or seventh watch-through.
Her Story’s writers and production team are just as incredible as its characters. Jen Richards, who plays Violet, is an internet force to be reckoned with. Richards tweeted this week about the March 23 law requiring local boards of education and public agencies designate single-sex bathrooms only for people of that biological sex, saying, “Trans people now have to spend as much time fighting the fiction of violence imagined [of] us as we do the actual violence against us.”
Hopefully, in the social and political justice marathon ahead for trans communities and their allies in North Carolina and beyond, Richards and co-writer Laura Zak’s work in Her Story will serve as an example of how to use art to replace that fiction with the truth.