Review: 'Trans In Trumpland' Road Trips to Hope Set Against Hate

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 17, 2021

'Trans in Trumpland'
'Trans in Trumpland'  

Transgender filmmaker Tony Zosherafatain completed the process of his gender transition just before the 2016 election brought Donald Trump to the White House and saw the start of four years of unremitting attacks on the LGBTQ community, with trans Americans taking the brunt of the Trump administration's legal assaults.

Zosherafatain, a New Yorker, headed to a handful of red states to see how transgender Americans were being affected by the Trump years. The four episodes of his docuseries "Trans in Trumpland" are a chronicle of that journey.

The series takes Zosherafatain to North Carolina, home of the infamous - and, for the state, economically disastrous - "bathroom bill," HB2. There, he has a chance to speak with Ash, a trans male high schooler, and his mother, Daisy, a herbalist.

From there, Zosherafatain heads to Texas - "a dangerous state for trans people and immigrants" - to meet Rebecca, who is part of both of those communities. Rebecca's mother brought the family to America when she was ten, in part to spare her from the high rate of anti-trans violence in Mexico (though life in Texas isn't necessarily that much better, especially for an undocumented alien - something that becomes clear as Rebecca talks about her experience during six months of detention by ICE after a traffic stop).

The third episode brings Zosherafatain to Mississippi, another state that's a hotbed of anti-LGTBQ legislation, but also the home of trans activist Evonne Kaho, a woman who survived familial rejection, saw the death of her close friend and roommate in an anti-trans killing, and founded her own non-profit.

The journey concludes in Pocatello, Idaho, with a visit to Shane Ortega, a Native American who identifies as Two-Spirit and who has been outspoken about the Trump era's ban on trans military members. (The rationale behind the ban was purportedly to spare the Armed Forces the expense of providing trans soldiers medical transition care, but then we hear the actual sums: The amount spent on medications like Viagra for men in uniform totals up to ten times what the military would spend on caring for all trans servicemembers. Ortega paid for his medical procedures out of his own pocket.)

The series touches on, but doesn't lean too hard into, the political backdrop that informs each episode, but the moments that specifically address political issues are powerful. Ash, the young man in North Carolina, describes a legal requirement to publicly post an affidavit about being trans as "a hate crime instruction manual" because it involved him having to put is name and address out for all to see. Evonne Kaho's struggles in Mississippi take place against a state law that grants permission for anyone claiming "moral" or religious objections to refuse to serve LGTBQ people. Rebecca and Zosherafatain stand at a section of fencing, part of Trumps "border wall," and meditate on what the barrier actually stands for and embodies. Ortega offers the Native American perspective on American politics in general, saying that Trump is one more "hungry ghost" who personifies a cultural sickness in which "the ego has been lit on fire and it burns the fucking Earth down.... but that is colonization. That is America."

The trip is a personal one for Zosherafatain, inasmuch as he reflects all along the way on how he himself was shunned and rejected by his family. That thread is a constant, but is not constantly addressed; in the end, it's Zosherafatain's story that helps tie together the journey as a whole.

With a total run time of less than two hours, these four episodes offer a potent and wide-ranging exploration of an America that may now be presided over by a genuine statesman, but which will for years to come - as Zosherafatain notes - continue to be Trumpland. The challenges are many, but the people we meet in this series are brave, and their cause is both simple - what could be more relatable than a desire for equality? - and just.

Screens at Out On Film Atlanta

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.