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Must see – TransGeneration on Sundance

On the last night of the NC Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, we caught a couple of great films, one will be airing on The Sundance Channel.

TransGeneration is a groundbreaking 8-part verite- documentary series that captures a year in the life of four transgender college students. The series follows four unique individuals, two male-to-females and two female-to-males as they struggle to transition from one gender to the other in the midst of a grueling school year.


From working-class campuses to private colleges steeped in tradition, we follow these four students as they juggle the pressures of college life, academia and family expectations with their own life-changing transitions. Idealistic and empassioned, these four young adults embark on a journey of self-discovery and in the process re-define gender for their generation.

Lucas and Raci.

We were fortunate to have one of the young people, T.J., there at the festival to do a Q&A; after the screening.

T.J., born Tamar in Beirut Lebanon in 1981 and raised in Cyprus, has embraced college as a place for intellectual, political and personal self-discovery. After graduating at the top of his high school class in Cyprus, T.J. received a Fulbright scholarship to study in the U.S. At Michigan State University in East Lansing, T.J. is part of the campus’ tight-knit transgender community, and openly expresses the male identity he sensed as a very young child. Bright and politically engaged, he has chosen to continue towards a graduate degree in Student Affairs Administration at Michigan State University. But T.J.’s gender expression is irrevocably at odds with his family and community in Cyprus, where he is expected to return after completing graduate work. His mother refuses to talk to him about the subject, and it is no secret that he is expected to sublimate his personal desires to the will of his community. As T.J. plans to a visit home in May, he realizes that he will have to confront his mother and sister about his desire to transition. And T.J. knows that if he is to become the man he deeply feels himself to be, he may never be able to go home.

As of today, his mom still will not call him T.J., and his sister, at this time knows only that T.J. is an out lesbian, not yet as a transgendered individual. There is little or no out support networks for GLBT folks on Cyprus.

One of the questions I asked of T.J. was whether this documentary, which was shown in a special cut for the festival, will air in Cyprus. Thankfully, no. But Sundance plans to eventually release this on DVD, and it’s quite likely that a copy will make its way to his homeland, if he isn’t outed before that time. T.J. said his ethnic community there (he’s of Armenian descent) is only about 2,000 people, so everyone knows everyone else’s business. This will not be a pleasant homecoming.

What is particularly cruel is that once T.J.’s student visa expires, he will have to go back to gay-hostile Cyprus for a minimum of two years because of our tightened laws.

TransGeneration Series Premiere is Tuesday, September 20 @ 9pm on The Sundance Channel


The Transgendered and asylum

Given T.J.’s dilemma, you might ask what the U.S. policies regarding asylum are. Info from Immigration Equality:

U.S. immigration law has recognized persecution on account of sexual orientation as a ground for asylum. Transgender individuals and HIV-positive individuals have also won asylum cases.

What is persecution?

Persecution is harm that is inflicted either directly by the government, or by other individuals who the government cannot or will not control.

What are some examples of persecution by the government?

* The police contact gay men on the internet and then arrest them when they come to meet for a date
* A military officer “helps” a lesbian with a flat tire by picking her up in his jeep, bringing her to a deserted field, and raping her “to show her what a real man feels like”
* The police raid a gay club, bring several gay men to the local jail, throw them in with the general population, and tell the criminals to “teach these faggots a lesson”

What are some examples of persecution which the government cannot or will not control?

* A transgender woman is beaten up on the street by a gang, telling her to “act like a man,” when she tries to report the incident to the police, the police tell her if she didn’t dress in women’s clothes this would not have happened, and they refuse to take a report
* The partner of a gay man is killed by a mob of angry neighbors when the two are discovered to be a couple; the surviving gay man is afraid to report the incident to the police because homosexuality is illegal in his country

Bush administration policy changes that affect asylum and immigration

Foreign nationals who win asylum, including a growing number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (“LGBT”), and HIV-positive individuals, are permitted to apply for legal permanent residence one year after their asylum grant.

In May, Bush signed the REAL ID Act into law. The one bright spot in the act, which affects those seeking asylum, is the fact that the act abolishes the asylee cap, which means that the wait for asylees to obtain residence in the U.S. will decrease.

What is REAL ID?

It was tucked into the 2005 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Defense, the Global War on Terror and Tsunami Relief bill. There were no debates or public hearings on it. As CNN reports, the headaches that Real ID will create for citizens, lawful permanent residents and state governments, are going to be sizable.

It would have been a serious political liability for a congressperson to vote against funding for the war on terror and tsunami relief. So it is not surprising that there were no debates, hearings or public vettings of the act.

Hearings might have revealed that Real ID is going to create many headaches and nightmares for U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and state governments, which already labor under an unfunded mandate.

…The Real ID Act’s identity cards will be required if one wants to drive, visit a federal government building, collect Social Security, access a federal government service or use the services of a private entity (such as a bank or an airline) that is required under federal law to verify customer identity.

It will be nearly impossible to live without such an ID. That creates a huge incentive for citizens and residents to get IDs
and for states to comply with this unfunded mandate: If they didn’t, their citizens and residents wouldn’t be able to get access to any of the services or benefits listed above. Estimates of the cost of compliance range from $80 to $100 million — and states will have to pay.

To get a new approved license, or conform an old one to Real ID, people will have to produce several types of documentation. Those records must prove their name, date of birth, Social Security number, principal residence and that they are lawfully in the United States.

Immigration Equality, Inc.
350 West 31st Street, Suite 505
New York, NY 10001
Tel: +212.714.2904
Fax: +212.714.2973

The National Center for Transgender Equality
1325 Massachusetts Ave., Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005
202-639-6332 phone
202-393-2241 fax

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding