Becoming Johanna. Directed by Jonathan Skurnik. Blooming Grove, NY: New Day Films, 2016. 27 minutes.

Coming Full Circle. Directed by Larry Tung. New York: Third World Newsreel, 2015. 24 minutes.

Deep Run. Directed by Hillevi Loven. New York: Women Make Movies, 2015. 75 minutes.

Against the Grain. Directed by Seyi Adebanjo and Betty Yu. New York: Third World Newsreel, 2011. 6 minutes.

Reviewed by C. Riley Snorton

Trans Migrations

These four films highlight the variety of migratory patterns suggested by the prefix, “trans-.” In every instance, trans not only maps the coordinates of gender identification but also of transitional time (i.e., a high school graduation, a break-up, or beginning hormones) and space (e.g., a heritage pilgrimage, immigration difficulties). Teaching with these films allows students to think through the complexities of experience in relation to a host of questions that Trystan Cotten elaborates in his introduction to Transgender Migrations about “the geopolitical, spatial, and archival, centering specifically on transgender bodies, movements and politics in explorations of trans diaspora, subjectification, movement, travel, and migration, conceptions of home, placedness and belonging, and others.”1

Becoming Johanna is a valuable companion to recent scholarship that explores trans childhood, including Tey Meadow’s Trans Kids and Julian Gill-Peterson’s Histories of the Transgender Child.2 Audiences meet the protagonist, Johanna at 17, as she navigates her medical transition, the foster care system, and completing her high school education. Tracking approximately one year of her life, students will find opportunities to think about and discuss the multiple ways transition frames Johanna’s narrative. Other themes include queer and trans kinship, religion, gender norms, and popular culture. Although this film could be taught in courses about gender and sexuality, it would also be useful for a childhood studies class.

Coming Full Circle centers on trans activist Pauline Park, as she returns to Korea fifty years after having been adopted from an orphanage. A transracial adoptee, Park reflects on racial and cultural determinants that have shaped her quality of life. This is an excellent film for discussing how the trans- in transgender also relates to the trans- in transnational. Accompanying readings might include David Eng’s “Transnational Adoption and Queer Diasporas” and The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy or Mark Jerng’s “Recognizing the Transracial Adoptee: Adoption Life Stories and Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life.3

The feature-length documentary Deep Run, which also aired on PBS as part of the Reel South series, focuses on Cole, a white trans Canadian who does not have citizenship status in the United States. Deep Run explores the texture of rural queer and trans life, including finding and building community, religious experience, kinship, and romantic relationships. Readings and research projects that facilitate conversation about this film include Country Queers: a multimedia oral history project, David Bell’s Queer Country, Mary Gray’s Out in the Country, Scott Herring’s Another Country, Colin Johnson’s Just Queer Folks, and the anthology Queering the Countryside.4 This film might find a place on a syllabus in religion and sexuality courses, human geography courses, or critical Southern studies.

The short film, Against the Grain, as it tracks Seyi’s experiences of testosterone, returns us to one of trans studies’ origin essays, namely the work Sandy Stone and her post-transsexual manifesto.5 Resisting a chronological (or teleological) representation of testosterone’s effect on the body, this film allows students to think through the disjunctures between medical and spiritual/affective approaches to transition. With a run time of only six minutes, this film sets up (but does not answer) a number of questions related to the medicalization of trans experience, the relationships between women and transmen in political organizing, and the differing perspectives on trans embodiment across different cultures/epistemes/cosmologies. Assigning David Valentine’s Imagining Transgender or Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s Ezili Mirrors could facilitate lively discussion in relation to the numerous themes present in Against the Grain.6

1 Trystan T. Cotten, “Introduction: Migration and Morphing,” in Transgender Migrations: The Bodies, Borders, and Politics of Transition, ed. Trystan T. Cotten (New York: Routledge, 2012), 1.

2 Tey Meadow, Trans Kids: Being Gendered in the Twenty-First Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018); Julian Gill-Peterson, Histories of the Transgender Child (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018).

3 David L. Eng, “Transnational Adoption and Queer Diasporas,” Social Text 21, no. 3 (2003): 1-37; David L. Eng, The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010); Mark C. Jerng, “Recognizing the Transracial Adoptee: Adoption Life Stories and Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life,MELUS 31, no. 2 (2006): 41-67.

4 Rachel Garinger, Country Queers: a multimedia oral history project; David Bell and Gill Valentine, “Queer Country: Rural Lesbian and Gay Lives,” Journal of Rural Studies 11, no. 2 (1995): 113-22; Mary L. Gray, Colin R. Johnson, and Brian J. Gilley, eds. Queering the Countryside: New Frontiers in Rural Queer Studies (New York: NYU Press, 2016); Mary L. Gray, Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America (New York: NYU Press, 2009); Scott Herring, Another Country: Queer Anti-urbanism (New York: NYU Press, 2010); Colin R. Johnson, Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013).

5 Sandy Stone, “The ‘Empire’ Strikes Back: A Posttransexual Manifesto,” in Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity, ed. Julia Epstein and Kristina Straub (New York: Routledge, 1991), 280-304.

6 David Valentine, Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007); Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Ezili’s Mirrors: Imagining Black Queer Genders (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

C. Riley Snorton is professor of English language and literature and gender and sexuality studies at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and Nobody Is Supposed to Know: Black Sexuality on the Down Low (University of Minnesota Press, 2014).