RiverRun 2016: Deep Run

Cole Ray Davis is poor and transgendered in rural North Carolina.
Cole Ray Davis is poor and transgendered in rural North Carolina.

by Brian Clarey

Just about any teen from poor, rural North Carolina could provide fodder for a feature-length documentary: undereducated and underemployed, with a dearth of opportunity and rigid social structure based largely on the mores of evangelical Christianity.

But Cole Ray Davis, the centerpiece of Hillevi Lovin’s Deep Run has one other thing going against him.

Davis is transgender, born Jasmine Davis in Canada, who came out shortly after his mother fell in online love with a pig farmer and moved them to this small town.

Deep Run, NC sits in the heart of Lenoir County, between Fayetteville and Greenville, with a population of about 3,000 and reactionary attitudes towards alternate lifestyles.

When he was still known as Jasmine, Davis started a gay/straight alliance at the high school, which was promptly shut down by the administration.

Davis took a job wearing the mascot suit for Deep Run’s minor-league baseball team, the Indians, and when he came out he was jumped by fans after a game.

As Davis’ pastor put it, “This area is not really popular with the gays.”

This same pastor would tell Davis’ girlfriend Leslie that “homosexuality is a sin,” leading promptly to their breakup.

That Davis doesn’t consider himself gay but a transgendered male is lost on the town’s clergy.

A subsequent girlfriend was told the same thing by another pastor, who later admitted on camera to engaging in gay-bashing while he was in the Marine Corps.

“I’m not of the opinion that people are born that way,” he said.

Against the constant oppression of churches  that view Davis’ entire existence as a sin, a backdrop of poverty captured in anxious conversations about finances on the porch and late-night trips to the Piggly Wiggly to pay bills casts a pervasive fog of despair.

The story becomes more pertinent against the passage of HB 2, which centralizes the issues facing trans Americans. Davis fights for work, for romance, for his very existence. And as he explains, his financial situation places him in the pre-op, pre-hormone, pre-transitioning category. About all he can do to visually express his gender is wear short hair and masculine clothing.

Deep Run broadens the discussion of what it means to be transgender in North Carolina, and lengthens the spectrum of gender identity at the heart of the HB 2 debate. And it comes to RiverRun at an important time.

Almost from the first scene of the film, we get the sense Deep Run is the kind of place to which this law was designed to appeal.

Deep Run screens April 12 at 5 p.m. at SECCA and April 13 at 1 p.m. at A/perture 1