On Tour: West Long Branch, NJ

24 Mar

March 6, 2017 | REAL BOY| West Long Branch, NJ

I have been looking forward to the On Screen In Person (OSIP) tour for months, hoping for the opportunity to meaningfully connect with audiences around our film about a young trans man and his given & chosen family. I am traveling with Joe Stevens, one of the film’s protagonists. Joe, a touring musician, is known for his smoky baritone voice and his songs that resonate with deeply universal themes while exploring his identity as a trans man.

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This isn’t our first road trip. We traveled together a few times during the making of REAL BOY. Once I joined Joe and the film’s main protagonist Bennett Wallace (and Ben’s dog, Honey) on a road trip from Tucson, AZ to Los Angeles, CA. We all squeezed into a big white conversion van and drove from hot springs to music gigs to sand dunes. Camera in hand, I perched myself between the front seats where Ben & Joe took turns as driver and passenger, storyteller and DJ, and tried to keep the dog from eating my sound gear between bouts of filming.

This time we’re on our way to our first stop on the OSIP tour — West Long Branch, NJ.

In the morning we head to the local high school where we meet with their GSA (gender & sexuality alliance) to talk about REAL BOY and the issues it addresses: gender identity, family support, mentorship, addiction & recovery, and the healing power of the creative arts.

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We move to the library to accommodate the group of 20 or so students, eager to talk to us. Like most audiences, they want to know how the main characters in the film are doing now and why I decided to make a film on this topic. But they also have questions that speak to their own experiences as young LGBTQ people (and their allies). “Adults keep saying, ‘It gets better.’ Do you think it really does get better for LGBT people?” “Do you think we’re going forward or backward in terms of LGBT issues?”

Before we know it, the bell rings and the students gather around us to take selfies and have Joe sign their postcards for the film. One of the students tells me it was their first time talking with adult queer people and how important it was for them to see that “there are adults out there that made it far in life.”

Later that evening, we screen REAL BOY at the beautiful Pollak Theater at Monmouth University. The film looks and sounds fantastic in the newly remodeled concert hall. After the screening, Joe plays a few songs for the audience and he is immediately surrounded by newfound fans. A junior at Monmouth University tells us the film was a turning point for him. He has recently come out as trans, but his family back in Queens is not supportive. They still refer to him with female pronouns and use his given name. He doesn’t know any other trans people at Monmouth and has only a few friends he can talk to. Coming out as trans was hard, but it felt right. The film made him feel less alone, he said. A small group of students and community members stayed on to ask questions and tell their own stories. It’s late when we leave the theater, exhausted, but so grateful.

If this is day 1, what’s possible for a month on the road?

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas

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