The first time I speak with Malcolm Himschoot I ask what everyone wants to know.
â€śDid you get married? Did you come out to your in-laws?â€ť
Audiences of the 2005 documentary Call Me Malcolm fairly beg for the answer. The filmâ€”which follows Himschoot during his final year in seminary to become an ordained priestâ€”ends with Himschoot suggesting to his fiancĂ©e that the couple simply avoid telling her parents about his transgender status.
â€śSix months after the last scene was filmed we got married. Both my parents and her parents were there and were very positive and accepting of us that day at leastâ€”and since. So, that was a real landmark.â€ť
With his soft-spoken, succinct answers, Himschoot glosses over any hint of hard times. He rarely speaks of the difficulties of his transition from female to male, although he has admitted that it was only after viewing the film that his own parents acquiesced to the titleâ€™s plea and began to call him Malcolm.
An unusual trans documentary, the project was initiated and produced by the United Church of Christ (the Cleveland-based Protestant church which has long welcomed LGBT parishioners to their 5,700 congregations) and yet it never comes across as religious propaganda. The UCC influence on Call Me Malcolm remains subtle partly because church leaders allowed director Joseph Parlagreco and his Filmworks partner Kierra Chase creative control of the project.
Himschoot, a quiet, reserved individual by nature, admits that when he was first approached about being featured in the film, he declined to be involved.
â€śIâ€™d seen a bunch of other documentaries, and often they really do reduce or limit the humanity of a transgender person and make them a specimen or an object of study and I was not interested in that.â€ť
Director Parlagreco had already settled on Himschoot as the perfect documentary subject and the project stalled.
â€ś[Parlagreco] got this particular storyline in his mind that could be told through me,â€ť Himschoot explains. â€śI was mid transition in 2001, and needing some space for just myself, some kind of privacy to live for a year or two.â€ť
When those years passed, Himschoot agreed to participate, despite his apprehensions.
â€śI put a lot of faith in them and put myself in their hands to make something that was really valuable and human. And they did that.â€ť
Starting where most trans documentaries endâ€”after transitionâ€”-Malcolm (callmemalcolm.com) follows the then 27-year-old Colorado resident Himschoot on a cross country odyssey as he converses with other transgender individualsâ€”including San Francisco police sergeant Stephan Thorne and African American gospel singer Miss Major. We also meet Malcolmmâ€™s gay brother, his fiancĂ©e and a former highs school teacher and learn their reaction to his identity transition.
After Malcolm premiered at film festivals Himschoot quickly learned that it was having a powerful impactâ€”even on conservative viewers.
â€śI watched all these audiences that werenâ€™t trans people coming to get it. Or coming to have empathy. I had doubted peopleâ€™s ability to do that, really. I kind of thought there was a line that most people wouldnâ€™t cross. And they wouldnâ€™t understand me and they wouldnâ€™t understand [trans people]. And I actually found myself surprised that they did.â€ť
In the two years since the film wrapped Himschoot has become the Outreach Minister at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis where he takes a restorative justice approach to issues around poverty, crime and racial diversity.
Those who think of Minnesota as racially monochromatic may be surprised to hear Himschoot describe his Minneapolis neighborhood as a gumbo of Anglo, Latino, African American, South Asia and Eastern Africa immigrants, but Himschoot explains, â€śFor about 30 years the demographic of Minnesota has changed as theyâ€™ve really been welcoming to a whole bunch of refugee populations.â€ť
Believing that his trans identity has blessed him with an insight that can benefit his community, Himschoot argues, â€śTrans people have had to get to know each otherâ€¦for strength and solidarity. Weâ€™ve had to go outside of other boundaries to do itâ€”boundaries of race and class. We have to discuss physicality and body and mental health and mental illness and the systems in figuring out what we need to do to preserve our rights. Some really good lessons are involved in all of that. IIâ€™d like to see the discussion broaden within churches to everything all at onceâ€”I get impatient sometimesâ€”so [weâ€™re] talking about ability, disability, talking about class, and especially, talking about race.â€ť
Himschoot recognizes that many LGBT individuals have suffered previous damaging religious experiences, but he believes that there is a place for LGBT Christians.
â€śI am guided the idea of religion as a community of people. In a community you have all kinds of dynamics. You can find that in Christianity, so its not like you can write it all off wholesale. The trick is to get beyond the binary with religion too, so itâ€™s not just a good or bad thing; like [the trans] experience with gendersâ€”male and femaleâ€”that itâ€™s not that simple.â€ť
Trans man Jacob Anderson-Minshall can be reached t firstname.lastname@example.org