Tag Archives: college

On Tour: Germantown, MD

13 Apr

March 26, 2017 | REAL BOY| Germantown, MD

When I arrived in Germantown, MD, I was welcomed by Krista Bradley, Executive Director, and Jason DeMarchi, Director of Education, at the Black Rock Center for the Arts, a beautiful Arts Center outside Washington DC. The space has three theaters and a wide range of programming that serves the diverse population of Germantown.

The local PFLAG group had adjourned their meeting early to come to the screening and by the time the film started, a sizeable crowd had arrived.

This audience seemed especially moved by the film, as many of them were parents of LGBT youth or were themselves trans or non-binary.

After the screening, I was joined for a Q&A by Sean Lare, a DC-based therapist and gender specialist in private practice, who brought a clinical point of view to our conversation. There were several trans and non-binary teenagers in the audience who asked for advice. One young trans man asked if his body dysphoria would ever go away. My heart went out to them in a big way and I was happy to hear they lived in a community with supportive schools and accepting parents.

I had several great conversations with people after the film, and was grateful to meet a longtime fan of my band, Coyote Grace, who, in his mid-50s, has just begun his transition and was deeply moved by the film and the music.

I left feeling tired, but so grateful to be there.

Post provided by REAL BOY protagonist, Joe Stevens, who joined On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas on tour

On Tour: Lewisburg, WV

12 Apr

March 24, 2017 | REAL BOY| Lewisburg, WV

Lewisburg is a small town nestled in the steeper hills and hollers typical of WV on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The folks I met told me the hippies came and brought the art scene to Lewisburg in the 60s and 70s. Carnegie Hall is a stately white-columned building that has expanded its programming in the last 25 years thanks in part to several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Before the screening, we had a reception where I chatted with local community members, people who were artists and interested in the arts. Lots of people moved to Lewisburg after retirement, drawn by the “artsy” feel.

I met a woman whose daughter just graduated from film school and moved to Los Angeles. In talking, we realized that her daughter and I had gone to the same arts boarding school in Idyllwild, California. I also met Janet & Steve, a couple in their late 70s/early 80s who invited me out to dinner after the screening.

The audience was wonderfully responsive. I could hear them laugh warmly throughout the film and several people said afterward that the ending made them cry.

After the screening, Janet, Steve, and I walked down the street to the only restaurant still open, a well-loved fusion restaurant where the owner knew everyone by name. We talked about Steve’s time in the Air Force and Janet’s longtime job as an accountant at a local construction company. Their daughter, who is deaf, works at a school in NY and we talked about how, as hearing parents of a deaf child, they related to much of what Suzy (Bennett’s mom) went through in the film. They were grateful to have a story about trans experience come to Lewisburg and as we parted, I thanked them for making the screening so special.

Post provided by REAL BOY protagonist, Joe Stevens, who joined On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas on tour

On Tour: Waynesboro, VA

12 Apr

March 22, 2017 | REAL BOY| Waynesboro, VA

The Wayne Theater sits in the center of downtown Waynesboro, VA, a once-industrial town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A large DuPont plant and the Benger Laboratory (where spandex was invented) once employed many of the town’s residents. But de-industrialization has hit the region hard and by 2010, 18% of the population lived below the poverty line. Waynesboro has been growing in recent years, thanks to visits by Appalachian Trail hikers and the regional tourists drawn to the area for its craft beer and artisanal food. The Wayne Theater’s renovation in 2016 is also part of this resurgence. They program a wide range of events, from live music and theater to film and fine art.

We arrive in Waynesboro and are greeted by Tracy Straight, the Wayne Theater’s Executive Director, who invites us down the road to dinner with two of her co-workers from the theater. She tells us about the town’s history and how important she feels it is to bring artistic diversity to Waynesboro and to program events that engage and challenge their audiences.

“The Wayne Theater is Waynesboro’s largest classroom,” Tracy likes to say.

After Joe’s performance, we are joined for the Q&A by several members of the region’s only LGBT community group, based at the local college. The young trans man on the panel shares his personal experience of transition and family support — and reminds the audience that there are trans people in every community, whether or not they’re out or “visible.” “We’re here. We’re part of your community,” he said. “And we may be listening to the things you say about us.”

Came in reticent – ended up warm and expressed gratitude for bringing a film about gender identity and family support to Waynesboro. As we filed out of the theater, an older man approached me and said, “I’m the father of a gay son. I’m supportive, but I have to admit, I don’t know much about transgender issues. Thank you for bringing this film to Waynesboro. It’s so important that we see these stories.”

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas

On Tour: Blue Bell, PA

12 Apr

March 21, 2017 | REAL BOY| Blue Bell, PA

As Joe and I arrive at Montgomery County Community College on a chilly afternoon, we’re greeted by the fantastic staff who make all the arts programming at MCCC possible. Brent and his team are extremely welcoming. Already we know the event is going to be great.

Before the evening’s screening, I visit a film directing class. We talk about favorite films, the differences between documentary and fiction, and the work of finding your voice as a director. The students ask great questions and have much of their own experiences to share.

Then, as the evening’s screening approaches, people begin to file into the theatre and take their seats, which have been set up on that stage, making the venue intimate and cozy. Some of the audience members are therapists who have just come from a workshop with Dr. Michele Angello, a gender specialist and the co-author of “Raising the Transgender Child”. Others in the room are longtime supporters of other MCCC programs.

After the screening, Joe plays a few songs and MCCC instructor Tim Gallagher asks the audience if they have any questions for us. Multiple hands shoot up at once. The questions are thoughtful and delve into issues of gender identity, addiction and recovery, and how therapists can best support their trans clients. It is an especially lively and also deeply personal Q&A. I am grateful that there so many people thinking about how the can be more affirming in their work with trans people and with the LGBTQ community as a whole.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas

On Tour: Bloomsburg, PA

4 Apr

March 8, 2017 | REAL BOY| Bloomsburg, PA

The drive from Reading to Bloomsburg winds through late-winter countryside, interspersed with coal mines, beautiful dilapidated buildings, and one-street micro-towns built to house the coal miners who worked in the area. There are more than a few Trump lawn signs and one HUGE Trump flag dominating the front yard of a house on a rural road. I count two confederate flags—one in the window of a home and one pinned to the front of a bar, alongside beer signs and handwritten for sale notices.

We’re white and gender-conforming, so no one seems to look twice when we stop for gas or food, but we talk a lot about what it would be like to be a young queer, trans, or gender nonconforming kid in one of these towns.

When we arrive on the Bloomsburg University campus, the theater manager welcomes us to the Gross Auditorium, a beautifully renovated Victorian-style theater with a gorgeous stained glass window in the ceiling. After a tech check, Joe and I walk across the street for cheesesteaks. The headline of a front page article in The Voice, the Bloomsburg student paper, reads: Gender Inclusive Bathrooms are Here to Stay. Following the Trump administration’s recent reversal of an Obama [advisory] extending Title IX protections to transgender students, Bloomsburg University made a commitment to keep their bathrooms gender neutral. This gesture, which I have come to take for granted in many of the places I frequent in Oakland or Los Angeles, feels like a huge step forward here in Bloomsburg.

It’s meaningful, too, for the Bloomsburg University students who join us on the panel after the screening. For the young trans man who has only recently come out to the larger school community, or for the pan-romantic, asexual, agender person who knows that their feminine presentation means most people will assume things about their gender that aren’t true, this story, this event, and the wider efforts of the university community really mean something.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas

On Tour: Reading, PA

24 Mar

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

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.

Monmouth HS crop 02

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.


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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