When I was growing up, there were no families that looked like mine on TV or in the movies. I would watch "Full House" or "Family Matters" and daydream about what life would be like if I had a normal family — a mom who would pack me lunches and a dad who would come home from work in a suit and tie. What I didn't realize at the time is that no one really has a normal family — mine just stuck out a bit more than most.
Growing up with a transgender parent was challenging for my sister and me, mostly because we cared so much what our friends and neighbors thought. But as we got older, we realized that in our small town, everyone knew about Trisha. Though some townsfolk shunned us (and still do to this day), our close friends didn't care — and that made all the difference.
As an adult working in documentary film and journalism, I avoided the idea of making a film about my family for years, precisely because I'd never seen a story like ours in the public consciousness. The idea of filming my family made me very uncomfortable and I knew that my parents wanted to live a quiet life. They didn't want to defend their choices to outsiders. So, rather than focusing on my own family, I initially thought that I would make a film telling the story of numerous rainbow families — families with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members. An easy endeavor, right?
It soon became clear that this idea was too far-reaching. So when I took my camera out at home and saw what a ham Trisha was, and Marcia's eye-rolling indulgence in response, I decided to turn the story inward and began asking more pointed questions of my parents. In this way, the film evolved gradually over the course of several years.
Usually when I hear the story of a married transgender person, it's a tale of coming out and the inevitable divorce that follows. For my parents, the process was different. I know that Trisha doesn't think of herself as being representative of the transgender community, because she's not what she pictures as a typical transgender woman. Most of the time she doesn't wear dresses, makeup or heels, and she cut her long hair short around the time that I left for college. She explains these changes by saying that she peeled away "layers of the onion" to unveil her true self — a "farmer woman" comfortable in her own skin.
I chose to incorporate Trisha's ongoing search for identity into my film's narrative in part because I struggle with my gender expression every day, and I know that a lot of other women do, too. Does it make Trisha any less of a woman that she eschews skirts much of the time in favor of utilitarian overalls? Does it make me less of a woman that I wear jeans and a long-sleeve shirt nearly every day? I don't think so. I applaud the graceful, glamorous women who are the new faces of transgender identity — Janet Mock, Laverne Cox — while also recognizing that there are those who land elsewhere on the spectrum of gender expression.
The fact that my parents remain married, even though my mom identifies as straight, makes Trisha's search for identity all the more complex. But to my parents, the larger political conversations about gender identity are less significant than what they truly care about — staying together. They've prioritized one another in a way that may make not only heterosexual, but also some transgender people feel uncomfortable, because what Trisha has done could be viewed as compromising on her gender expression some of the time. Yet Trisha's choices are at once fully her own and, like everyone's, made in response to a plethora of social, cultural, familial and personal considerations.
In my own marriage, I constantly consider the feelings of my husband and make choices accordingly. Similarly, my parents' marriage is a give-and-take, a loving dance in which both partners willingly engage and, I believe, a beautiful thing to witness.
Unfortunately there are many stories of transgender people that don't have happy endings — stories of discrimination, abandonment and even violence. I think that it's important to hear these painful stories, because they galvanize society to push for change, for an end to discrimination. But I think it's equally important to hear stories of hope within the tapestry of transgender narratives. No two stories are alike, but they're all valid. Ultimately, my wish is for my family's story to inspire others to embrace the LGBTQ people in their lives with compassion, respect and love.
— Sharon Shattuck, Director/Producer/Director of Photography