Outfest Fusion Gives A Multilayered Voice to Trans Creators

Throughout history, trans people have been both under and misrepresented, but Outfest Fusion offered a glimmer of hope that the future can and will be different.

By Shar Jossell

April 12, 2023

A Black non-binary person with short brown hair and red glasses looks off screen. An annimated Black person with long brown hair looks the other way into a handmirror. A still from Kitoko Mai’s Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie.

This year’s Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival kicked off without a hitch. Participants and spectators alike gathered at a theater in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles during opening night for the gala and a screening of a series of short films from indie LGBTQ+ filmmakers who bore their creative souls on the screen by weaving dramatic and comical themes together in the name of self-actualization.

There were a number of notable submissions like Amina by Shanrica Evans, which detailed aspects of loneliness, tragedy, and completion, and Mooncake directed by Rraine Hanson which explored formative themes through romantic love and self. But perhaps one of the most riveting depictions of grappling with owning oneself in adolescence came in the form of a film titled I Am Poem. The screenwriter and director, Maite Bonilla, masterfully crafted a story of a child exploring their gender and the ways in which they feel comfortable showing up in the world. It is based on true events and centers a Latinx family in New York City led by a single mother, as Poem (and the audience) discovers an unlikely ally in one of their family members.

Carlito, a young Latinx boy with medium length, dark hair, stands next to his mother, a Latinx woman with her hair tied up in the back. A still from Maite Bonilla’s I Am Poem.

The importance of navigating and managing mental health also took center stage with Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie. Kitoko Mai lit up the screen in this story of a former sex worker who’s simply trying to balance adulthood woes, routine, and responsibility while also managing a Dissociative Identity Disorder diagnosis and all that comes with it. Thriving has been described as “the line between heaviness and comic self-awareness with perfect tonal precision,” and there’s no better way to put it. 

Later in the week, once the festival really got underway, the showcase hopped from Little Tokyo to the TCL Theater in Hollywood where the highly anticipated HBO Max documentary The Stroll made its west coast Outfest Fusion debut. Co-directors Zackary Drucker and Kristen Lovell are the forces behind this documentary and it amplifies the voices of women that are trans and of color who engaged in survival sex work in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District long before the gentrification of fancy restaurants and shops. The Stroll is informative, engaging, and entertaining. It offers reenactments and it details an unspoken history of sex work through the ebbs and flows of politics, heavy policing, and economic disenfranchisement.

A black and white, high contrast image of Kristen Lovell, a Black trans woman with long dark hair looking to the right. A still from Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker’s The Stroll.

In the twenty years that Outfest Fusion has been around, it has provided an open environment for trans storytellers to explore and showcase perspectives that are often underrepresented in mainstream media. Outfest Fusion creates an opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community to come together and reflect on experiences through a cultural and nuanced approach. As a direct result of these open forums, workshops, and events, the dialogue oftentimes becomes action. 

The Outfest Fusion Panels didn’t go unnoticed during this week-long experience. These panels were a series of interactive chats that offered voice and perspective to a wide range of ideas and topics. One of the most interesting conversations was titled Celebration of Trans Artivism with Gender Justice, which discussed the power of trans storytelling and art. The panel was moderated by international award-winning queer non-binary migrant poet and social justice activist Sonia Guiñansaca, and the featured speakers included trans non-binary visual artist, writer, and healer féi hernandez, a poet, cultural worker, and educator Jaden J. Fields, queer archivist Camila Cameléon, and actress and advocate Jazzmun Nichala Crayton. 

Perhaps the most authentic and unique component about Outfest Fusion panels is that each panelist offered transparent responses to the prompts. Thanks to the safe and supportive environment, they were able to openly discuss a wide-range of topics including the complexities of visibility and representation, and how activism influences the ways in which trans people navigate the world and take up space. Nuance is so important, and oftentimes it can feel glossed over in an effort to support the status quo. The Celebration of Trans Artivism with Gender Justice panel pushed back against that notion.

Panelists on the Celebration of Trans Artivism with Gender Justice panel sit together in front of an audience at the Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival.

“We’re at a time right now in believability politics. Is it real? Why should we care? Where did it come from? And why? Why do we have to take care of it right?” Crayton says referencing some of the longstanding fear-mongering and disinformation around transness. “As if we never existed before. As if we just landed on the earth. […] Every aspect of my being in existence is art. It’s a beautiful time in place. The work is expanding and the work is complicated. The work is layered and the work is difficult. At times and the work is beautiful because everybody is pitching in and doing what they can where they’re at to the best of their ability in that moment. And that’s enough.”

Throughout history, trans people have been both under and misrepresented which has increased the stigma around trans bodies and experiences, but attending Outfest Fusion as part of their inaugural press fellowship offered a glimmer of hope that the future can and will be different as diversity in QTBIPOC voices continue to be amplified and celebrated.

Shar Jossell (she/her) is a media personality and journalist based in Los Angeles with bylines in Variety, Essence, and them. among others.

Jossell is one of the eight 2023 Outfest Inclusive Press Initiative Fellows for the Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival. You can learn more about them and the program here.


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