Ferguson and Halbedl: Film looks to add visibility for trans kids

Special to Western News

Limina, the latest film by Florian Halbedl, BA’09 (Film Studies, Medical Sciences), left, and Joshua M. Ferguson, BA’09 (Film Studies), centres on an intuitive gender-fluid child named Alessandra.

There has been an undeniable proliferation of transgender discourse over the last year, initiated by high-profile people, particularly Caitlyn Jenner and Miley Cyrus.

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Trans-human rights, in the form of legislative changes to recognize transgender identities and inclusion in human rights codes to prevent hate crimes, are swiftly taking political centre stage. Trans kids are, arguably, a more precarious and vulnerable portion of the trans community, as they often face rampant discrimination and abuse in the school systems.

Carrie Kilman, an author of Teaching Tolerance, notes that “a plethora of binary gender expectations in school” can result in serious, and sometimes violent, ramifications. Compared to children whose sex and gender line up according to societal norms, gender-fluid and trans kids face increased rates of bullying, assault, depression, school drop-out, drug abuse, self-harm and suicide.

As filmmakers, we set out to make films that act as cultural interventions. We create cinematic spaces of recognition that counter forms of marginalization and discrimination. Visibility is key in educating, creating awareness and moving societal discussions forward towards action.

Our latest film, Limina, centres on an intuitive gender-fluid child named Alessandra who embarks on a path of kindness, empathy and understanding related to the pressing and complex issue of gender diversity.

Limina could be considered a high-profile, short film project because of its subject matter and the fact that we raised a significant portion of the budget via crowd-funding site Indiegogo with the help of more than 300 contributors, including champions like Once Upon a Time’s Lana Parrilla and Emilie de Ravin and Warcraft’s Ben Schnetzer.

However, this high-profile status also caught the attention of a right-wing extremist religious collective in Italy and Switzerland.

We were in Switzerland investigating the possibility of filming there, when news of our film in Swiss press inspired a transphobic and heterosexist attack. Italian Roman Catholic historian and author Roberto de Mattei, who claims the “contagion of homosexuality” caused the fall of the Roman Empire, wrote attacks on Limina fulminating against what they call the “gender lobby” and “LGBT lobby.”

An online anonymous petition was created in early September in Switzerland to intimidate the cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden not to fund the film because it is a “destructive film project.” The petition appeals to Franz Enderli, a member of the Christian Social Party (a party that prides itself on solidarity with the socially disadvantaged) and Head of Obwalden and Nidwalden’s Department of Education and Culture. We submitted formal funding applications to both cantons because Florian was born and raised in the Obwalden and Nidwalden cantons. These protestors contend transgender people are mentally ill, a retrogressive and dangerous claim considering the violence and erasure members of this population face.

Yet, our film’s subject matter was welcomed by many organizations in Canada and Switzerland, including, Gender Mosaic, Canada’s oldest transgender organization; Gender Creative Kids Canada; and the Transgender Network Switzerland.

This group’s collective intent to influence government funding bodies in order to silence our film only works to validate the importance of a film like Limina.

Any form of artistic censorship is wrong and deserves attention, particularly when it is buttressed by narrow religious and moralizing ideologies that exclude and stigmatize groups who already face widespread social marginalization and violence on account of their identities.

Our film highlights the role of parental support, acceptance and appreciation for trans youth, and is grounded on the importance of enabling gender-freedom in children. Recent research suggests there are broader negative impacts of rigid gender roles for both CIS-gender and trans kids, and we are making this film to carve out and create a cinematic space for gender-fluid children.

Joshua M. Ferguson, BA’09 (Film Studies), and Florian Halbedl, BA’09 (Film Studies, Medical Sciences).