There are things we often forget about in the LGBTQ community—the B and, more overwhelmingly, the T.
The lack of attention to bisexuality as “legitimate” and our community’s oft misalignment of it as some form of gay ineptitude has begun to be addressed; it’s “finding its way,” so to speak. However, transgender issues and people are still in this marginalized space, even as pieces such as Alexandra Billings’s Post article or the incredibly simply graphic that is beginning to spread online.
For the most part, it is the most ignored and lacking space for identity in that litany of identities, LGBTQ.
Of course, this is not meaning to sound overly grave. After all, there is a beauty to a person—despite social inhibitions—who decidedly becomes one’s self.
And that is where the beauty of I Stand Corrected—the most impressive of the documentaries showing at this year’s QFilms—lies.
There is a whimsical attitude to Andrea Meyerson’s direction of the film that gives both a lightness to the transgender transformation and plays directly with the film’s focus: the brilliant jazz bassist Jennifer Lietham, née John Leitham.
The way in which the film portrays the power of human consciousness and decision—that is, the ways in which we can achieve things we thought otherwise impossible, the ways in which we can supersede common conceptions of understanding—is beautifully simple and yet simultaneously complex, much like Jennifer’s musical medium of jazz.
“I have four birthdays,” she explained. Four different dates that all represent birth, in one form or another, for her: the day she was physically born; the day she officially chose to transition from a male to a female; the day she legally and socially altered her name; and the day she physically left behind her maleness.
Of course, this is one of the multitude of nuances the film proffers where—in those moments when a documentarian understands that the obsession of its subject is just as is important as the subject herself—the film mimics the art that is holding the Jennifer together. Like jazz, this film bounces and plays with the concept of transgender like jazz initially did with music, showing both its playful and deep side.
One of the most brilliant albeit simple aspects the film portrays is the idea there is a closet, much like the rest of the LGBTQ community, in which a trans person must come out of. However, it supersedes a mental one; there are multiple closets. It doesn’t just begin with the inner psychological closet—the one in which one admits they are not what they portray—but also a social closet—where one tells others that their conception of normal is different than what they were told was normal—and the far more fascinating and unique physical closet—where they actually transform their physical bodies. There is no simple, “I’m here.” It’s a beautiful albeit chaotic array of, “I’m there, over there, and here.”
Like many in the LGBTQ community, though her closet was different, she experienced many of the same situations—of course with a different twist. There was no need to hide the gay magazines niftily. No, she had to learn to memorize the way in which her mother folded her clothes so that, when she snuck around to put them on, no one would notice they had been handled after she put them back.
A closet with a different set of skeletons.
One should not be easily comforted by the description of this closet as “beautiful albeit chaotic,” for the chaotic aspect is not an understatement; it is almost, at least in the case of Jennifer, dissociative in nature. She had to, professionally and personally, initially divide herself into multiple people.
“Jennifer stayed at home while John worked,” she joked. She amusingly tied this into her bass playing where, despite being right handed, she taught herself string instruments left-handed because of the way Paul McCartney played. “Ever since [acting like The Beatles with my friends], I’ve picked up string instruments from the wrong side… I do it from the side most people don’t. But that’s okay, ’cause I’ve lived my life from the way most people don’t.”
The chaos does not stop at the turnstile of professional endeavors. Jennifer’s struggles has immense personal complications and implications.
Her spouse of fifteen years gave her the name of Jennifer in 1980, when John had become comfortable enough to tell her spouse about her desire to be someone else. It was at that point that, once John came home from work, she was permitted—due to her partner’s support—to become Jennifer. However, as time progressed and Jennifer had a much stronger need to come out on a larger, there was, as Jennifer put it, an infidelity in her spouse’s eyes.
“I had a real, beautiful marriage for fifteen years,” Jennifer said. “I confided every fiber of my being—I never held anything back. But my needing to express myself away from home was becoming more prevalent and that was creating a schism between us… Maybe the fact that my spouse was the only one who had contact with Jennifer was a power issue. Y’know, maybe the thought of sharing me might have been an issue.”
These descriptions of stereotypically normal lives—a wife feeling jealousy at sharing her husband—paired with the jealousy being entirely unique—that her husband’s inner identity was beginning to be shared outside the confines of her marriage—make the film a melodic and contemporary tale on the complexity of human identity.
And, on a rather beautifully sublime note, the viewer will not experience discomfort with viewing Jennifer. Rather, they’ll experience it with seeing John. As the film—in a brilliant rhetorical move—overlays Jennifer’s descriptions of being so out-of-body with John, one begins to easily read the cues of such a discomfort: his body language, his attempt at masculinizing his femininity, and his overt lack of confidence shine through, even in photos.
But not with Jennifer. She exudes a happiness, confidence, and downright comfort with herself that—unless I am widely mistaken in my judgement of humans—all of us want at some point in time.
The 2012 QFilms Festival will occur September 14, 15, and 16. I Stand Corrected will be shown on Sunday, September 16 at 2:45pm at the Art Theatre, located at 2025 E. 4th Street. It will be followed with a Q&A with filmmaker Andrea Meyerson.
For the complete lineup of the films playing at this year’s QFilms, click here.