Queer Canadian filmmaker and media activist Gwen Haworth swears, âIf I sit through another portrayal of victimization for the supposed purpose of âeducation and awarenessâ, or another image of a trans woman putting on high heels and lipstick, or another film that equates gender transition to the metamorphosis of a butterfly, Iâll vomit!â
Concerned with the âglaring lack of decent media out there,â Haworth, who transitioned from male to female in 2000 upheld that oath by filming her own family as they struggled with her transition. The result, Sheâs a Boy I Knew, captures the complex, heartrending, but ultimately positive response of friends and familyâincluding the wife she lostâto Haworthâs gender transformation.
âIt was important to me that I let my family speak their mind,â Haworth remarks. âI recognized that we were all going through this together, weâd all have emotions and feelings to work out, and that my family would be less prepared to handle this than I.â
Haworth calls the process of filming and editing the movie a âbig post-transition debrief,â and reveals, âEditing was incredibly emotional. I came to realize how much my family loved me, regardless of their apprehension and frustrations. The film was my ode to them, thanking them, and reaching out to tell them I love them in a way Iâd never risked before.â
Holding degrees in a psychology and film production, Haworth also trained as a directorâs intern with the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television and served as a programmer and board member for Out On Screenâwhich sponsors Vancouverâs annual Queer Film and Video Festival.
Now screening her own documentary at festivals around the world, Haworth says that the reception has been âtremendous.â In fact, the film has been selected to play over 70 film festivals and has received six audience awardsâso far. âThankfully, the interest isnât letting up,â exudes Haworth, who will be traveling to Iceland, Germany, US, and Brazil in the fall, and speaking at universities in the US and Canada.
Surprised by the filmâs crossover success, Haworth admits, âIâm totally amazed at how well itâs resonated with so many peopleâespecially when you take into consideration that itâs an autobiographical film about something I kept hidden for twenty-three years, due to the shame and self-hate that grew in me from watching years of negative portrayals.â
Contending that âself-representation is a necessary step towards self-empowerment,â Haworth suggests, âAs long as our communityâs representation is primarily created by non-trans media makers, thereâs a certain level of community empowerment thatâs inherently lacking. Even the most well-intentioned allies still tend to focus on disenfranchised and disempowered representations. When these are disproportionately the images that are presented, it canât help but negatively impact our communityâs self worth and how weâre perceived by [others].â
Still, Haworth (artflick.com) believes, âWe can truly change the way people see us, and consequently behave towards us, if we create our own representations along with new narratives that challenge the misconceptions. Iâm not just talking about having trans actors play trans roles, but more importantly, that we increase the number of stories written, directed, shot, and edited by trans folk.â
When not shooting films, Haworth divides her time teaching film production, DJing for non-profit events and working part time at an emergency homeless shelter in Vancouverâs Downtown Eastsideâan area Haworth calls, âthe poorest neighborhood in Canada.â
âIâve learned a lot about the difference between acceptance and tolerance fromâŠthe trans women [at the shelter],â Haworth reveals. âTolerance is just a veil for discrimination that quickly exposes itself when youâre considered too different. Privilege isnât just about opening doors, but also about whether or not youâre invisibleâŠ in this predominantly white, middle class city.â
âI see my work at the shelter and my filmmaking as two different forms of activism,â Haworth says. âMy work at the shelter is reactiveâŠhelping folk who are currently dealing with the discrimination and abuse that has already taken place, whereas my filmmaking is meant to be preemptive activism, attempting to help change societal attitudes so that the next generation [is] more informed and ready to embrace gender diversity.â
Watch for Sheâs A Boy I Knew at film festivals and, this Winter, Outcast Films (outcast-films.com) will release the home video version.