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Lesbians vs Trans: A Rallying Cry for Unity

06 Aug Posted by in • Guest Writers | Comments
Lesbians vs Trans: A Rallying Cry for Unity

Transit of Venus is a film about grieving, about how we are haunted by people and events in our lives that we can’t control. And our need to let go. My oldest and dearest lifelong friend, a beautiful, strong, loving and funny artist was a trans woman who took her own life and this is my way of loving her, honoring her and letting her go. Transit is a film about transcendence, love and chosen family. And here is the story behind it.

You know that infamous old Diane Arbus photograph of the little boy in central park tenuously holding a toy pineapple hand grenade in his hand, his face a twisted grimace? Yeah. That’s us lately – The LGBTQ+ family – Just before the grenade is about to go off, splintered innocence, the explosion. Boom.

I grew up in a remote place, on a military base in the far north of Canada, in the middle of nowhere. It was the 1960’s. The hippy love revolution was taking place out there in the big wide world and I wanted to be a part of it. Being a kid, there was little to do except panic at the mediocrity, the homogeny of my weaponized environment and dream of running away to be an artist in a big city where I could discover other creatives, outsiders, lovers, misfits like me.  I was 13 and discovering my feelings for girls and knew one thing for sure, it was not good and must be kept a secret. My best friend Lake was a then (without the language) trans girl living out her life as gay boy, someone who suffered for being a feminine ‘boy’. She was bullied as a ‘fag’, beat up, slept with the high school jocks who would show up drunk on her doorstep at 2am.  She held her head high and we plotted our escape to the city when we were older.

Lake, in later years

Who knew back then that there could be other ways of living a life you were born to live? It was prescribed from birth. I remember her whispering to me, eyes wide, in a quiet moment that she wasn’t ‘really’ a boy, even at that tender age, she knew she was really a girl. I was 13 and had never heard of such a thing back then. I didn’t know what to say, what it meant. All I knew was that I loved her, that she was my best friend, the wild and fiercely passionate and funny person I had come to know. We held hands and I vowed to be her friend always and protect her always as she protected me. She was the keeper of secrets. And deep down, my secret was that I knew I was a misfit like her. I couldn’t tell her at the time that I liked girls, I was too afraid but when I finally came out to her later in a brave moment when I was 22, it was she I ran to, she who took me into to her arms, her apartment, her life. And what a life! I was exposed to gay bars, disco, drag queens, gay men, lesbians. Lesbians. Even the word scared me. I had finally accepted myself as gay and already the language was shifting. Over the decades, I became lovers and friends with many, most who would identify more politically as feminist lesbians. I used that identity too but was also aware the language for our identities was also fluid, shifting and people held on to those identities closely, a rallying cry, guarding them, fists at the ready.

Our paths moved in different directions and later I moved to a different city but she was always my oldest, best friend, my soulmate. She became an artist and was well known back then. I became an actor and writer.  We had forged creative lives for ourselves as we said we would do many years before.

When she could no longer live her life with a male body, she decided to have sex reassignment surgery. This was in the 1980’s. She was in her early 40’s by then. The surgery itself was complicated as she had developed an infection during recovery which was not diagnosed nor treated in time. It created permanent scar tissue and chronic pain for which no amount of pain medication could help. She tried to deal with it as best she could over years. Nothing worked, not even heroin. Her quality of life deteriorated.

Eleven years ago, I got a phone-call which forever changed the course of my life. She had ended hers.

What this did to me was to blow open the center of my being. To not shrink ever again is the face of fear of others who are marginalized, whatever label they give themselves or not. Not on my watch. When I see the splintering, the infighting between our family members – LGBTQ + it saddens me to the core of my being. When my Lesbian sisters talk about needing ‘safe space’, I think where was her safe space? There wasn’t one.  There wasn’t enough love in the world to keep my friend alive. We need to stop fighting for scraps of our own lives and identity. Especially now when the war from outside is upon us.

Kate Johnston

I am a filmmaker and have written a new film (Transit of Venus) about a chosen family of LGBTQ people of every age, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, who get blown apart and shattered by the suicide of their best friend, a trans woman, and how they learn to finally come back together in the end as a family.  I wrote it for me, for us. It is my rallying cry for unity, and for love and understanding in a blinkered world that would have us dead.  It is a film about us, about grief, individual and collective, grenade in hand.

We are gathered and thrown together by sexual and gender identities that are increasingly changing and mutating; shards of glass, a rainbow prism, each colour beautiful in its singularity but not a unity or true rainbow unless we wish to see and make it so. And we need to change. All of us. Now. As Lily Tomlin says, “Evolve or die.” We will all eventually die but it would nice to evolve a little while we are here.

Kate Johnston is a writer and filmmaker. She grew up in her father’s projection room where she discovered magic. She believes that we are our stories and that as women, as POC and LGBTQ+ people we need to see ourselves up there on the big screen. She is a creator and producer of both shorts and features. Her feature film TRU LOVE (writer/director/producer) circled the globe to critical acclaim winning 15 International awards and is distributed worldwide. Kate is currently working on two feature films in Canada (LAS ALAS with Joie Lamar and TRANSIT OF VENUS) as well as a feature in the U.S. (TURN LEFT with Jan Miller Corran).

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