“For decades, Hollywood has taught audiences how to react to trans people”, says Nick Adams, the Director of Transgender Media and Representation at GLAAD, a short bit into Disclosure. The documentary makes clear that it’s not just a look at the history of trans representation in Hollywood, but an explanation of how that has led trans people to the position we’re in today.
We see this explanation and history through the eyes and mouths of actual trans people. Not just actors, but writers and producers, consultors like Nick, or historians like Susan Stryker. As a trans person, I’m awestruck when I realise just how many people there are like me, living their lives, doing work. Of course I knew about Laverne Cox, and Candis Cayne, and Jamie Clayton. Yet Disclosure reminds me that there is a whole world of my people even in just Hollywood. To realise that Sandra Caldwell has been an actor for three decades, living stealth, fills me with a deep resonance. To know the struggles and accomplishments of all these people who are so much like me is breathtaking.
The title of the documentary is evoked at one point by writer and actress Jen Richards (who’s web series Her Story was perhaps the first time I truly felt represented), “I kind of hate the idea of disclosure, in the sense that it presupposes there is something to disclose.” I’m still trying to wrap my head around this and many other things said in the documentary. Having struggled with coming out and the idea of stealth, having often thought, “at what point do I need to tell them I’m trans?”, her statement brings up many feelings and emotions for me, as I attempt to process the idea of a world where my transness is absolutely nobody else’s business.
The documentary of course brings up the many corners trams people are pushed into in Hollywood. We’re either a cause for laughter, a perverted serial killer, or a victim, our bodies serving as a puzzle piece for cop dramas, our genitals and hormones as our own killers in medical stories. “The more we are seen, the more we are violated.” is how writer Tiq Milan describes this phenomenon. Every time I see this part of the movie, my thoughts go to how often I see my own mother watching the Kapil Sharma Show, which constantly features comedy based on crossdressing men.
Disclosure clearly means a lot to me as a trans woman, and was an important watch. However, I think it is probably even more essential a watch for every cis person, ally or otherwise. A cis friend asked me earlier this month about what they should do to celebrate and support the queer community. The answer didn’t come to me immediately, but as I started watching Disclosure I realised, the answer was to learn, and educate, and understand. That’s what cis people should be doing to support trans people, more than anything. A cis person who watches Disclosure will not only see how we’ve been oppressed through the years, but also why, and why the image of us is what it is. Why they’ve had the misconceptions of us that they’ve had. Perhaps just seeing so many amazing, successful trans people on screen, from all over the spectrum, talking about these things, will also humanise us just a little bit more in their eyes. We are real, and we’re everywhere. Disclosure is limited to just Hollywood and America, yes. But it still speaks a lot to our portrayals all over the world.
Overall, disclosure made me feel. Feel the pain of our past, the awe of our present icons, and the hope for our future. It could of course be triggering for some trans people, with major depictions of a transphobic nature, but I would still recommend it as a great watch. As for cis people, I would go beyond just recommending it. I would advise any ally to watch it, because it’s a perfect opportunity to learn and understand trans peoples’ history through visual first hand accounts, albeit focused on one part of our big world. If you want to be a better ally to trans people (and almost all of you have vast room for improvement), watching Disclosure is a good easy way to start.