Metro Weekly

God Knows

'The Believers' is at heart an old-fashioned success story of a transgender choir that succeeds against the odds

Recounting her initial fears about launching a transgender choir, founder Ashley Moore says, ”Are people going to be able to stop laughing long enough to hear us sing?”

In a culture awash in the cynical cruelty of American Idol auditions, it’s not an unfounded fear. And watching the group of San Francisco trans people struggle through their first weeks of singing together, it’s clear that the challenge was there. As the choir director points out, it’s not just a matter of giving choir members the confidence to sing as a group — there was also the challenge of managing voices that were in flux from gender transitions.

But The Believers (starstarstarstar ), a documentary that charts the formation of the Transcendence transgender choir, is at heart an old-fashioned success story — through hard work, adversity and perseverance, the choir finds itself reaching unexpected heights.

While charting the course of the choir, The Believers also delves into the personal histories of some of the choir members, both male-to-female and female-to-male. These provide some of the films most emotional moments, from Ashley’s harrowing tale of escaping from her shotgun-carrying father to Bobbie Jean’s visit to her ambivalent-yet-loving Memphis family. The look on Bobbie Jean’s aunt’s face when she realizes that there are also women who become men is priceless.

Saturday, May 12
7:30 p.m.
Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ
11th and R Streets, NW.

Director Todd Holland skillfully weaves these stories together along with interviews and performance footage that chart the group’s journey. The religious aspect of the film takes a backseat until the last third or so, when they sing at a national meeting of the United Church of Christ. While it might have been interesting to see more of the conflict between a GLBT community that’s wary of religion and a trans chorus that proudly proclaims its Christianity, overall The Believers scores with a profoundly humane and touching look at the lives and struggles of an often misunderstood part of the community.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.