Google’s documentary “Umbrella” spotlights trans trailblazers

In the afterglow of Trans Day of Visibility 2018, we want to take time to celebrate the full length release of Google’s “Umbrella” documentary. The video features four trans trailblazers with varied identities and backgrounds--helping to break the dangerous mold around the idea of a mainstream, monolithic trans experience.

This diversity of experiences is important when considering a trans narrative, and while no single documentary could hope to capture the entire diverse array of trans experiences, this one successfully portrays a positive, nuanced message about transgender people living in the United States. “Umbrella” avoids the pitfalls that stories about trans people often fall victim to, namely pigeonholing trans people into something that can only be defined in the terms of normative gender.

By focusing on two trans veterans (Monica Helms and Evan Young), “Umbrella” is able to place transgender people within a national canon of history, tradition and service.

At the same time, it showcases the positive, radical potential of trans people in both legal and cultural institutions (Mara Keisling and Jasmine Morrell, respectively).

The narratives presented are complicated and personal -- everything from Young’s uplifting and relatable “It’s okay to be trans. I’m just like any other person, any other family,” to Morrell’s powerful and evocative, “It’s 20 times easier to go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum [of gender], because the world caters to black and white way more than it does to the grey areas.”

The contrast between these experiences is important to recognize -- and both are equally valid and remain under the trans umbrella. In this way, the documentary shows how what we tend to think of as trans is purely relational -- that our ideas about transgender identities are reliant on a dominant cisgender norm. But “Umbrella”, through its diverse representation, shows us that there is no single trans experience, just as there is no single cis experience. Mara Keisling and Monica Helms both advocate for transgender rights in direct ways, and Keisling’s statement that “Trans rights have advanced faster than any social justice movement in history,” is a testament to the invisibility that has previously muted trans people and trans issues.

Helms creation of the Trans Flag not only brings important recognition to transgender people, but it also highlights the struggle and resilience of the transgender community in the face of decades of erasure. The individuality with which trans people experience and express gender does not have to be limited to trans people--it holds the potential for freedom for everyone.The fight for trans liberation continues with the telling of an honest, personal trans story. And “Umbrella” does just that.

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