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‘Trans in Trumpland’ review: A powerful snapshot of state-sponsored discrimination

"Trans in Trumpland" uses the former president to depict the impact of living in states where bigotry is state-sponsored

Trans In Trumpland
Trans In Trumpland: Evonne

A particularly poignant moment in new docuseries Trans in Trumpland (★★★☆☆) comes during its first episode. Daisy, a mother in rural North Carolina, recounts trying to source hormones for her transgender son, Ash, and repeatedly running into roadblocks. Even with a doctor’s prescription, insurance could deny coverage, or a pharmacy could simply refuse to actually dispense the drugs necessary for her son’s gender dysphoria. After hours on the phone trying to convince someone to release the drugs, Daisy finally breaks and declares that Ash is at serious risk of suicide should he not receive treatment. That primal plea for help, from a mother desperately trying to protect her child, provokes the necessary response: Ash’s drugs are finally sent — only to arrive with his deadname on the label.

That injustice is emblematic of the larger treatment of transgender people depicted in trans filmmaker Tony Zosherafatain’s four-part series. Whether it’s Ash, a teen navigating school in a state where he’s banned from using the boys’ restroom; Rebecca, a Mexican immigrant in Texas who fears deportation at the hands of an emboldened ICE; Evonne, a community activist in Mississippi who has turned around the lives of multiple young queer people; or Shane, a two-spirit veteran in Idaho embracing his Indigenous heritage, Zosherafatain presents deeply personal insight into the impact of systemic discrimination on transgender people across the country.

What’s perhaps missing is the series’ somewhat clickbaity name. The orange-hued title character is more of a fleeting guest star than a pervasive threat, his bigoted actions told in brief news clips — revoking guidance for transgender students, labeling Mexicans “rapists” and “animals,” or banning trans people from the military — but for the most part this series could have easily been titled “Trans in GOP-land.” Less catchy, sure, but the discrimination presented is largely entrenched by right-wing politics and an increasing hostility to transgender rights that Trump’s administration encouraged, but didn’t engender.

Trans in Trumpland: Tony
Tony Zosherafatain

Regardless, it makes for compelling viewing. Zosherafatain narrates, directs, and appears on-screen, and offers his own perspective on events, frequently with reference to his own experience transitioning, completed days before Trump’s election victory. It grounds the series in key ways, such as noting the progress made when comparing his school photo, where he presented as female, to Ash’s photo reflecting his true identity.

Trans in Trumpland occasionally strays into mawkish territory. A shot of Ash standing outside a boys’ restroom, staring at the sign before forcefully pushing his way through the door, is particularly contrived. But Zosherafatain uses such excesses sparingly, and the series is more often powerful and moving than not. Take, for instance, when Zosherafatain and Rebecca visit the ICE detention center where she was held, for six months, with male detainees and denied access to hormones. Her reaction — hands shaking, heart racing — as they look at the compound is palpable.

Arguably the series’ standout episode is Evonne’s. It focuses on the ongoing epidemic of violence against transgender women, particularly trans women of color, and makes for grim viewing at points, such as when Evonne recounts dressing the body of a close friend who was murdered because the funeral home refused to touch a trans person. In another scene she shows the gun she carries for safety. But it also celebrates both Evonne and the community she helped establish, the network of support and love that allows marginalized LGBTQ people to survive and thrive amid discrimination. Jazielle, one of her children, notes, “Mama [Evonne] makes me feel secure. Not just loved, but secure.”

Trans In Trumpland - Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 6.04.29 PM copy
Rebecca and her mother Marina

It’s a core theme in Trans in Trumpland, that community — be it found, chosen, or from birth — can help dull the impact of ongoing discrimination and legislative hostility. And, as Shane’s episode notes, anti-transgender sentiment is something of a colonial Western import — his two-spirit status places him at the center of his community, where “trans people are considered sacred” and his reservation has a two-spirit awareness day.

Shane’s episode is also where Zosherafatain’s desire to inject himself into proceedings arguably falls flattest. Zosherafatain makes his four-part road trip as much a personal journey as a literal one. That leads to Shane’s story being oddly sandwiched in Zosherafatain’s retelling of his own road to acceptance.

Minor issues aside, however, Trans in Trumpland succeeds in its core mission of presenting the transgender experience in states that supported — and continue to support — the former president. Putting face to the impact of an executive order, state legislation, or neighborly intolerance, it’s a snapshot in need of a fuller picture, but one that still honors its powerful, proud subjects.

Trans in Trumpland is available to U.S. and Canadian audiences on Topic through Topic.com and Topic channels on AppleTV & iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android, and Amazon Prime Video Channels.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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