Things have changed a bit since Ed Wood directed Glen or Glenda, his 1953 movie about a man who wants to wear women’s clothes without being arrested or harassed. Despite the bad acting and hack directing, the camp classic is a plea for tolerance: The film follows a cross-dressing man who struggles to reveal his tendencies to his wife.
Movie buffs curious to see this low-budget auteur’s vision of a world in which men can openly wear angora sweaters can catch the film at the Gender Reel Festival, a three-day celebration of art and activism aimed squarely at Philadelphia’s growing transgender and gender nonconforming community.
“Initially, Gender Reel was a response to the lack of representation of transgender and gender-variant images in more mainstream LGB art festivals,” says organizer Joe Ippolito. Now in its second year, the festival includes live performances, workshops, panels and an art exhibit. “Gender Reel has grown to become an entity all its own, with artists and filmmakers from all over the world participating in this really unique event.” The organizers hope the festival will empower artists, filmmakers, and photographers to continue creating works that are reflective of LGBT issues.
This year’s event has a diverse array of work on offer. Attendees can enjoy both Austin Unbound, a thoughtful documentary exploring the life of a deaf transman, and Shawna Virago’s Transsexual Dominatrix, which won Best Music Video at this year’s CineKink festival in New York City. “I do it for the pleasure of $250 an hour,” Virago sings in this feisty folk-punk tune.
Local talent is well-represented, too. Wren Warner’s Transpass documents the negative effect of SEPTA’s gender stickers on trans and gender-variant riders. The interviewees make it clear that having your identity called into question by a bus driver isn’t just absurd, it’s potentially life-threatening. (SEPTA has since agreed to remove the stickers.)
Krissy Mahan takes a different approach to tough issues in Gloucester City, My Town. Using familiar childhood toys, her animated short employs humor to address the way society imposes strict gender roles on individuals.
“It’s completely autobiographical. I couldn’t make it up!” says the self-identified gender non-conforming butch lesbian.
Mahan’s dialogue skewers rigid expressions of male and female identity without attacking the people who utter those statements. “Because as deeply and as often as gender roles, sexism and racism are taught, good values such as looking after one another, eldercare, and sharing, and laughing, and dancing, and drinking together and cheering for the Phillies were also taught.”
The festival continues on Saturday night at MixTape, the official after party at Tabu Lounge with drinking, dancing and DJ Evil v. The event is a fundraiser to help a local individual raise funds for gender-reassignment surgery.
Fri., Sept. 7-Sun., Sept. 9. $10-$20. William Way, 1315 Spruce St. genderreelfest.com
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PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide