For transgender director Tony Zosherafatain, watching Donald Trump become the 45th U.S. president sparked a lengthy creative journey that has culminated in a four-part documentary titled Trans in Trumpland.
“I was sitting at home with my mom and we saw, unfortunately, that Trump was going to win the election. We were in shock,” he recalls. “A week later, the title Trans in Trumpland just came to me.”
The four-part series, created by New York City-based TransWave Films and produced by Jamie DiNicola, follows four people in Idaho, Texas, North Carolina, and Mississippi as they fight for transgender equality in the U.S. during the Trump presidency. Production was completed in 2019, and the film is slated for release on streaming platforms later this year.
Zosherafatain knew he wanted to deal head-on with the Trump administration’s anti-LBGTQ policies. “I knew I had to do something as a filmmaker to fight back against this kind of hatred,” he says.
Since the election, the Trump administration has worked to erase trans Americans from official websites, remove discrimination protections, ban trans members of the military, legalize discrimination based on religion, and create new rules to ban trans women from women’s shelters.
Zosherafatain knew he could not sit by and watch the Trump administration attack his community in this way, and creating a documentary felt like an effective way to shine a light on trans rights.
“I thought I needed to commit my resources full-time to this,” he says.
Trans in Trumpland is the latest in a wave of documentaries and docuseries about the LGTBQ community. Disclosure, which tells the history of trans representation in film and television, earned widespread praise when it premiered on Netflix this past June. Also receiving critical acclaim earlier this year was the five-part Apple TV+ series Visible: Out on Television.
Zosherafatain feels honored to add his own documentary to this lineup, and hopes that Trans in Trumpland offers a raw but ultimately uplifting look at the state of trans rights in America. “It is about individual struggles, and showing how human and resilient every character is. There are a lot of moments of joy and happiness, and I made sure we see each character surrounded by love. We are human like everyone else,” he emphasizes.
Zosherafatain’s plan to split the documentary into multiple parts was not something he had originally planned, but he soon realized this was the right approach once he started hearing his four subjects’ stories. “We had four very distinct stories that would be difficult to mesh together,” he says. “The stories are all connected, and in each episode the viewer is going to be introduced to a different trans character who is battling their state’s anti-trans policies.”
One of those four individuals is Houston’s own Rebecca Chapa-Garcia, a Mexican-American trans woman. Chapa-Garcia came here legally as a child, but her family overstayed their visas. Trans in Trumpland tells Chapa-Garcia’s story of being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) several times since Trump won the election.
Her story, while rooted in injustice, is one she hopes can inspire others who are facing hatred.
“I wanted to be a voice for those trans immigrants who are coming into the United States for a better life,” Chapa-Garcia says. “I wanted to be a voice for those who cannot speak out.”
Each ICE facility that Chapa-Garcia was placed in was different, but none of them knew how to accommodate a trans woman like herself.
“The first time I was detained in a facility, I was housed with a hundred men,” she says. “It was hard. They are not educated, and they are not ready to house trans people in these facilities. Even with the correctional officers there was mistreatment.”
Chapa-Garcia fought her way into the system and was eventually able to legalize herself, but her battle is far from over. “Now, while I am no longer targeted as an immigrant, I am targeted as a trans person,” she says.
She hopes her struggles will open viewers’ eyes to the current anti-trans prejudice occurring throughout the nation.
“I feel like this film is going to be very educational,” she says. “We, as trans people, exist and we are not going anywhere. More than anything, I hope it will educate people and show them that this administration is not the best for us.”
The documentary also provides a realistic snapshot of the trans community’s day-to-day lives. “I want to show people the real truth of how trans people live,” she says. “We really want to showcase our stories, and we want to showcase to the world what we have been through.”
The documentary is now in post-production, and Zosherafatain hopes to get it released on streaming platforms before November. “We do not have a solidified release date, but we are aiming to get this out before the election, just because of the title and the topics discussed.”
Depending on the ratings success of Trans in Trumpland, Zosherafatain sees a sequel as a real possibility.
“I do have a strong interest in maybe a season two,” he says. “Depending on the election results, that could morph into something like a documentary about the [nationwide] fight for trans rights. Even with a new president, these issues are not going to go away. It’s going to require a lot of political changes during the next four to five years.”
As for Chapa-Garcia, she plans to start her own nonprofit organization for the trans community.
“I want to be an ally,” she says. “I want to be someone who can speak up for everyone. I want to be a leader for my community.”
For more information on Trans in Trumpland, go to transintrumpland.com.
This article appears in the September 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.