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Transcending Gender 

Tranny Fest celebrates the less-charted realms of human sexuality

Wednesday, Nov 14 2001
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While many niche festivals feature, and cater to, people of all shapes and sizes, Tranny Fest ups the ante by including people of all sexes. The selection is heady, leapfrogging past the passé "male" and "female" to less charted realms: drag queens and kings, pre- and post-op transsexuals, "normal guys" who once were women, artists who use their bodies as sexual laboratories, and those stubborn souls who repudiate, visually and in their daily lives, any gender affiliation. A weeklong celebration of this gender tilt-a-whirl, Tranny Fest encompasses parties, performances, panel discussions, concerts, and more than 40 films of varying lengths from around the world. Apparently, gender-bending is the wave of the future, according to this year's theme of "2001: A Gender Odyssey." A sci-fi vibe rules the festival, with events ranging from "Science-vs.-Fiction of the Transgender Voyage," a panel discussion on scientific and legal breakthroughs in the transgender community, to a multigalaxy costume contest hosted by the Imperial Court System of San Francisco's empress, Alexis Miranda.

Cinemawise, two outstanding documentaries head the list of attractions. The filmmakers of Bombay Eunuch paid surrogate "mother" Meena to gain unprecedented access to India's hijra, the secretive subculture of eunuchs who, once respected and feared spiritual figures, now subsist as beggars and whores in the country's slums. This superb ethnography is also a warning of the perils awaiting outsiders who try to enter such closed societies. Benjamin Smoke movingly profiles the legendary singer/songwriter and sometime drag queen consumed by speed and AIDS.

Not all tranny scenarios are so grim. The short mockumentary Transanimals sends up the community by solemnly portraying "dog-to-cat transformations," a group called People Who Support Animals in Transition, and revelations that Benji and Morris the Cat were trannies. In the sweetly amusing Life's a Butch!, a femme dyke poses as a "butch daddy" to pursue the femme of her dreams. A true "butch daddy" appears in the provocative doc Sir: Just Another Normal Guy. Jay Snider's journey from woman to "normal guy" raises questions about social conditioning and gender expectations as Jay, made increasingly masculine through hormones, becomes almost a cliché of the privileged white male.

No tranny fest would be complete without porn. Shot in grungy black-and-white, Breeder Feeders features hard-core trysts in cars, stairwells, bathrooms, and cars, and includes a tranny chase. Madame Laurane's Transsexual Touch is a series of pornographic public service announcements, with various trannies pausing from the cause to demonstrate condom use or remind viewers to engage in safe sex.

About The Author

Gary Morris

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