March 7, 2017 | REAL BOY| Reading, PA
We arrive in Reading, PA, a small community of brick buildings near a river. The Miller Center at Reading Area Community College is right downtown and is the center for art and performance in Reading. When we arrive, Natalie from the Miller Center introduces us to a small group who have gathered to talk with us about issues of gender and sexuality.
The group is small but engaged. A father has come with his two gender expansive teens. He’s supportive of his trans seventh grader and his questioning high school freshman, but he still has questions about what this all means — for his kids and for himself. A young person in their early 20s has driven from a nearby town, where the local Planned Parenthood hosts the area’s only LGBTQ youth support group. They give their name and preferred pronoun (the gender-neutral pronoun, they/them) and share that as a non-binary person who spent their childhood in foster care, the group is the only place they’ve found supportive community. “It’s my home and my family,” they tell us.
After our conversation, we visit the Miller Center lobby to see an art exhibit by Andy Hurley, a young trans man from Philadelphia who has been documenting the physical and emotional aspects of his gender transition through photography.
Joe opens the evening with a set of music. He plays several of his most beloved songs, including “A Guy Named Joe” and “Ghost Boy,” and closes with the theme song from Real Boy (the one that makes everyone cry)—“For My Family.”
After the screening, Joe and I are joined onstage by the photographer Andy Hurley and Sara Grove, a therapist at the fantastic gender-affirming counseling center, Sanctuary Counseling. Sara mentions how important it is to be having these conversations about gender identity in towns like Reading and shares he own story of how she came to do this work. Andy talks about how the themes of family in Real Boy resonate for him and how hard it’s been to navigate his own family’s rejection and disapproval. “But I’m taking care of myself and doing what I know is right for me,” he says.
The evening ends with a group of people who gather to share their own lived experiences of gender transition or parenting a gender nonconforming child or supporting a friend who is transitioning. I am reminded how many people are touched by these issues — in big cities or small towns, red state or blue. And I’m grateful to be part of this work.
Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas