transfeminine narratives are not new. here’s a list of free archival films you can watch
trans lives are often deemed expendable and by extension our art (or even art that seeks to represent us), has been viewed as insignificant and cheap, and thus undervalued.
often a trans archive is limited to a footnote in a crime log or has been actively destroyed by cis culture, killing the memory of the people within them.
excellent projects have started to rectify this, such as the digital transgender archive that has created an accessible database of transgender lives, through documents, magazines, and photographs.
it’s important to see yourself not only in culture, but also as a part of history. therefore, the internet can prove a crucial resource in sharing archival material that previously would’ve been blocked behind a pay wall or just forever out of print.
here’s six films you can currently watch on youtube:
GLEN OR GLENDA
director ed wood’s relationship with transness is complicated but undisputable. although their self-described status as a cross-dresser may not fit neatly into the labels we now use to describe ourselves, their attraction to pink angora sweaters and adoption of a female name seem all too familiar to trans and gender non-conforming people.
wood’s 1953 film, glen or glenda, goes far beyond the cheap exploitation fare of the period and instead acts as an endearing plea for tolerance towards trans people. initially commissioned as an adaption of the christine jorgenson story, wood felt their experience made them right for the job. they created a film that is both a trans docu-drama and a chance for bella legosi to spurt out some fabulous quotables. a delicious slice of camp from legosi and a beautiful slice of trans history, all in one radical and remarkable film, especially for 1953.
frankly it’s transphobic that it’s been dubbed the worst film ever made by cisgender critics for half a century.
white trans girls’ obsession with the warhol muse, candy darling, is almost as cliché as fifteen-year-old huns and their marilyn monroe pillows, yet this 2010 documentary is still a must. the combination of vintage clips and interviews with superstars such as holly woodlawn brings the short life of candy back to life.
in the mid-20th century, the only chance of notoriety for a trans girl was to be a muse – from romy hagg entertaining bowie in berlin to amanda lear on the arm of dali – yet it is candy darling who has come to eclipse this role of trans muse. candy is scattered through popular culture, from lou reed’s candy says; peter hujars haunting portrait; the cover of anohni’s i am a bird now; the cover of the smiths single sheila take a bow; and even recently st vincent has rather questionably adopted candy’s image.
candy darling, and by extension trans aesthetics, have been the root of so much popular culture for the past fifty years and the girls should know!
if you fancy digging deeper, many of candy’s filmography is also available on youtube, such as some of my best friends are and women in revolt.
BEHIND EVERY GOOD MAN
this remarkable short from 1967 presents a fascinating time capsule into the pre-stonewall era as we follow an african american trans woman as she goes about her day. this quietly political film still stumbles with some of the usual pitfalls, such as shots of her applying her make-up and a wig, but unlike most trans cinema at the time, it refreshingly manages to avoid the presence of an obnoxious cis male host.
behind every good man captures candid insights into her experiences with bathrooms, the police, and cis men. issues that are unfortunately still prescient for many black trans women today.
THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT
quentin crisp’s reputation as one of the ‘stately homos of england’ may cause you to question this addition. however, upon the recent publication of their last diaries, it was made public that crisp saw themselves as a trans woman.this admission from crisp inevitably adds a new lens to the film.
crisp’s journey in the 1930s and 40s to express themselves with feminine aesthetics, and the complex ways crisp approaches sex could be read as a trans person’s early search for the language and the aesthetics they find comfortable, at a time when the language was limited to labels such as gay or queer.
crisp’s one request for the film was for it to start with the image of them as a young child staring at their own reflection as they dance in their mother’s dress. you’d be mistaken for thinking this was the recent ‘’controversial’’ john lewis ad, yet this same image was beamed out on prime time british tv several decades earlier in 1975! fancy that aye….
CITY OF LOST SOULS
von praunheim’s filmography is often tragically hard to find and inaccessible to english speaking audiences, therefore this upload is a real treat.
this cabaret cult classic has it all – musical numbers, communism, punk rock, drag queens, erotic trapeze artists and star turns from angie stardust and jayne county. much of angie stardust’s narrative in the film mirrors her own story as a black trans woman navigating an all-american upbringing in the early 20th century and her experiences with racism working as a performer in new york. there’s also an incredible trans reveal scene, that has yet to be eclipsed.
if this hasn’t convinced you… jayne county plays a capitalist cisgender american woman who gets impregnated by a communist who promises to make her a big tv star in east germany!
PARIS IS BURNING DELETED SCENES
over the years jenny livingston’s documentary has become infamous: bell hooks first highlighted the significance of a white cis director profiting off black culture in her essay, ‘is paris burning?’ – this appropriation has grown a new life with the international popularity of rupauls drag race and the never-ending ahistorical references it throws in.
black ballroom cultural language such as ‘reading’, ‘slay’ and ‘werk’ have been co-opted by everything from primark hoodies, to corporate advertising campaigns.
this deleted footage digs further into the lives behind the black and latinx trans people who dominated this scene. highlights include venus extravaganza getting ready for bed in her grandmother’s house and more cutting one-liners from dorian corey.
this footage has yet to have an official release, so this upload is a valuable and treasured source.