Editor's Note: This guest post from Dante Alencastre, is part of a week-long series to celebrate the visibility and heroism of transgender Americans as part of Transgender Awareness Week. The final day of Transgender Awareness Week is theTransgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual observance on November 20 that honors the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.
The Privilege of Being a Trans Ally
Six years ago, I sat across from Gaby Marino in a cramped office in Lima, Peru. I was there to interview her for a documentary film I was planning to make. I was nervous because it was my first interview ever. The first thing I said to her was, ‘If there is anything that I ask you that makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to respond.’ She tossed her curly hair back and laughed nervously.
After a few basic questions, we totally broke the ice when we discovered a shared childhood passion for paper dolls and our mother’s jewelry, as well as a shared hatred for the Peruvian national sport of soccer. I felt a kind of kinship as we spoke. We laughed over some of our shared experiences and then we cried over Gaby’s memory of a particularly brutal and terrifying arrest she endured. We spoke for about two hours. There was an affinity present that I did not think that I would have with someone I knew for such a short period of time. I think what particularly bonded us was the love that we have for our families and how much we need to be accepted and loved by them in return.The fact that she was so candid about her life felt like a gift that she was giving me. It was a present that I had to take care of and that led to the creation of my first film, “En el Fuego,” about transgender women in Peru.
As a result of the film, I was invited to document a performance at my first Transgender Day of Remembrance in West Hollywood. I was transfixed and elevated by the speakers that day. And at the same time I was intimidated by my new surroundings. I felt, from some members of the trans community, a wariness about my presence as an outsider. The nature of my interest in the community was initially greeted with suspicion by some. An influential trans leader helped explain my interest to others but I came to understand that I, myself, needed to be confident in explaining my role in order to be accepted in the trans community.
A few months later, I went to the transgender leadership summit in Berkeley with the idea of making a film about transgender role models. I initially approached well-known leaders, but was directed to unsung heroes in the community like Regina Wells in Phoenix. Regina had just founded a transitional home for trans youth at risk, after overcoming a challenging past herself. She was so excited and proud to share her work with me and quickly introduced me to the residents of the home. I saw girls in all stages of transitioning, some new arrivals just starting to wear lipstick to others who were further along in their journeys. Regina was savvy and firm, but kind. I saw that her task ahead was an arduous one. She had to help others deal with so many traumas and challenges. I was so inspired by her. After three days, I decided to support her any way that I could and become an advocate for her work and her mission.
Currently I am on a board creating a transitional home in LA based on Regina's Phoenix model. I have learned so much from my transgender friends and am constantly amazed by their courage, their fire, their immense sense of irony and humor in dealing with the circumstances of their lives. I have shown my love and respect for them by showing up for their events, speaking up and supporting their causes, getting to know their families and being invited to their homes. They have equally been a comfort to me recently while dealing with my mom’s illness and eventual passing.
Last year I went back to Peru for my mom's memorial and met up with some of the trans activists from my first film. I was excited to see how their activism had changed their lives for the better. They had gotten back together with their families. They had better jobs and the future seemed brighter. The bond was still there, and it was stronger. They came to my mom’s memorial as part of my family. This led me to continue documenting their stories, and lead to my second film “El Fuego Dentro.”
The day I met up with Gaby in her salon in the outskirts of town, she introduced me to her Mom, who was in delicate health. While interviewing her, her mother told me, with tears in her eyes, about how proud she was of her son. I also noticed, in Gaby's eyes, how the love she felt for her mother transcended her mother's deliberate misuse of the pronouns. My interactions with all my “new” friends have grown into deep and lasting friendships, which continue to propel me to be an activist, a supporter and a storyteller for our transgender family members. It is what has made me an ally!
Dante Alencastre is a Peruvian-born documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles. He is currently raising funds to complete his third documentary, “Transvisible,” about Los Angeles transgender Latina activist and leader Bamby Salcedo.