Still Black: A Portrait of Black Trans Men

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Still Black: A Portrait of Black Trans Men is an American documentary produced in 2008 by filmmaker, artist, activist, producer, writer, entrepreneur, and trans man Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler. Much of Ziegler’s works focus on race, sexuality, and transgenderism. Ziegler was born December 15, 1980 in Compton, California, and currently resides in Oakland, California. He was the not only the first graduate, but the first African-American to receive a PhD from Northwestern University in African-American Studies. He also has received a master’s in African-American studies, and ethnic studies, as well as a B.A in film and digital media. Ziegler has received numerous recognitions and awards. He was nominated in 2012 for a transguy community award for best blog, was nominated in 2013 for a GLAAD Media Award for outstanding blog, and was honored in 2013 for the Authentic Life award by the Transgender Law Center. He is a strong advocate of social justice, and empowerment of the transgender community, specifically with black trans men.

His movie Still Black: A Portrait of Black Trans Men is one of his most cherished and credited  works. The documentary features the stories of six black transmen from diverse backgrounds in different parts of the United States at different stages in their lives. Ziegler interviews activists, teachers, students, and more to tell their story of transition, the relationships they have with family as well as the outside world, and how being a black trans man has negative stereotypes and stigmas not only from being trans, but also from being a black man. It aims to empower black trans men while also making their struggle known to heteronormative society as well as the LGBTQ community. It shows how the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality all come into play in the LGBTQ community as a whole.

Queer culture is evident throughout the entire documentary. It shows the lives of men living outside of the rules of a very heteronormative society. It shows them bending and pushing the boundaries of a rigid gender binary simply by having each man tell their story. Each man, though in different stages of life carried a sense of pride about being a trans man and openly own that identity. Kylar Broadus, an interviewee in the film, mentions this about being transsexual when asked if he ever regretted transitioning:

I never look back a day. Never regretted one day my decision because it was life or death for me at that point, and it wouldn’t be worth living if I wasn’t living who I am.

This blatant acclimation of self-pride and recognition that to conform to societies norms would be his downfall, automatically puts him and every other trans man outside the box. I believe making this an interesting addition to the archive.

A common theme within the documentary was the issue of what being a man is and learning how to become the man you want to be, as well as the discrepancy they felt pre transition. Leslie Feinberg states “Our lives prove that sex and gender are much more complex than a delivery room doctor’s glance at genitals can determine, more variegated than pink or blue birth caps.” The documentary and the stories of these men prove Feinberg’s point that gender is complex and cannot always be simply divided into male and female based off of a person’s biological genitalia. How a person self identifies and feels is just as important as biological sex enforcing the theme of how discrepancy and dissonance pretransition can arise within transmen. Louis Mitchell simply put it “Being an man and having a period sucks”.  Most men mention feeling the need to conform to societies views of gender by initially portraying themselves as lesbians, all the while feeling like that wasn’t who they truly were until they’ve had enough

I’m beginning a relationship with my body after so many years of pretending it wasn’t there

– Louis Mitchell

 Judith Butler states “Gender performativity is not a matter of choosing which gender one will be today. Performativity is a matter of reiterating or repeating the norms by which one is constituted”. Performativity has been a part of everyday life since birth, which was evident in these trans men’s stories. Each one in some way stated how figuring out what type of man to be or how to change their mannerism’s was a struggle and learning process.  This performativity had lasting effects on these individuals, as one man mentioned that as a female he was taught to not look people in the eyes, but as a man it is the opposite, but he still has trouble looking both men and woman in the eyes. Then as the documentary began to intersect race it became more complex. Ethan Young mentions that the only depictions people see of black men are either criminals or gangsters but he was neither of those, leading him to question where that leaves him. Each man had to learn to shake off the performativity aspect and learn to be a man of their own.

I’m already the man I want to be I just have to live it. I’m not doing this to make my life easy or hard. It’s not a choice that I have it something I have to do to be comfortable and live.

– Ethan Young

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For all of us in this crowd who fuck with ideas of masculinity, femininity, maleness, femaleness, boy, girl, man, woman, sir, madam, Mr., Mrs., and Ms.–and look incredibly sexy while doing it.

  • Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Trans March 2013

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