Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Respect

Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Why would you make a doc on a trans person yet insist on using pronouns your subject doesn’t?

This couldn’t be simpler, as far as I’m concerned: If you, as a filmmaker, convince individuals that you’re the right person to tell their stories, then you should treat them with respect. They’re entrusting you with access to their lives, so show them the same level of trust with how you represent them.

Speaking specifically about transgender subjects, names and pronouns are typically a big deal in asserting and reinforcing an identity that is usually the result of a lot of emotional, psychological, and physical struggle to come to terms with. If your subject says she is a she, refer to her as such – if he prefers his new male name, use it. If you have some problem with that, I have to wonder: Why are you making this doc? How did you convince your subject to participate? Did you misrepresent yourself?

If you have some issue with trans people based on a religious or moral conviction, I respect your right to your beliefs, but would disagree with your conclusions and judgements. I would also question your ethics if you felt compelled to make a film undermining individuals and their identities at the service of your beliefs. Your beliefs are not, and will not ever be, everyone else’s beliefs. Some people will always disagree with you. Sorry.

If you don’t necessarily have a problem with trans people but are still referring to your subject’s biological gender name and pronouns, why are you doing that? Do you not know any better? Do you think you’re somehow showing impartiality around what others might consider a “controversial” issue? If the latter, re-think that tactic. If the former, educate yourself, but do so before you put out a doc that disrespects your subjects, causes harm to others like them, and potentially influences others to develop or reinforce transphobia.

Much more could be said, in a general sense, about respecting your subject, no matter what his/her age, gender, sexuality, religion, or race is. While I’ve touched upon this topic here and in previous posts, I’ll likely have to tackle it at greater length in the future. For now, though, I’ll sum up with the common sense reminder to follow the Golden Rule – treat your subjects like you’d like to be treated if you were in their position.


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Filed under Dear Documentary Filmmakers, Documentary, Film

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