Meet Tony: Director of “I Am the T: A Trans Documentary”
What does the ‘ideal body’ look like in queer culture?
I think that in queer culture, the ‘ideal body’ looks like two things. It is either supposed to be very ‘normative’ which for masculine-identified people (such as trans men like myself) is centered on being muscular with six pack abs, toned, and possessing minimal body hair, except on the face. On the flip side, there is a segment of queer radical culture that is very focused on bodies adhering to a countercultural norm. This countercultural embodiment is more in-line with hipster culture, where a person’s body is judged based on how ‘edgy’ it is. In my opinion, both of these conceptions about the ‘ideal body’ can be damaging to queer identity and self-esteem.
Where does that idea come from?
I think both ideas, honestly, come from the same root: societal standards regarding beauty. The pressure to have a chiseled physique for masculine-identified people in the queer community has its root in popular media. We are constantly being told or being showed through films that men are supposed to be tall, muscular, hairless, and usually light-skinned. As a result, queer culture has internalized this beauty belief, and this type of body has become a norm. I think the queer radical notion of bodies looking ‘countercultural’ is rightfully a backlash against oppressive societal standards, but it can also be confining. By dividing bodies into ‘normative’ versus ‘non-normative’ categories and giving the non-normative ones more value, you are still creating a hierarchy that can be damaging. In other words, I think both ideas are just different forms of internalizing what we have been told to believe ‘beauty’ is.
What can we do to change this?
I think that it would make a big difference to have more media representations about different bodies, especially queer ones that defy societal norms. Speaking from my position as a trans man, I would like to see more magazines and films that feature trans people. Since we often struggle with our embodiment, I think it would be powerful to see more positive stories about trans lives. That’s one of the reasons I created a documentary about trans people around the world (I am the T: a trans documentary). I want to show that our stories are worthy of attention. I am the T is my way of using film to educate the public about trans embodiment, and to show that trans lives matter.
How do you feel about your body?
Today, I feel good about my body. I think that as a trans man, it has taken me some time to get to this point where I feel content in my body. When I look in the mirror, I see the person that I always envisioned myself as being when I got older. This is why it’s so important for trans people to be able to transition and have inclusive healthcare. It’s such a powerful thing to feel happy about my body and to see the reflection I always wanted to see in the mirror. I think that feeling at peace about one’s body is something that all people, whether trans or not, deserve to experience.
What sorts of things do you do, or have done, if any, to change the way you look?
At the beginning of my transition, I would say I was more focused on having the “ideal male body” in that I would work out consistently to try and create the physique that I see on men’s health magazines or in action movies. At that point in my transition, I was just trying to fit in, and I thought that body positivity was connected to how chiseled I looked in the mirror. These days, I still take care of my body, but I’m less concerned with adhering to conventional notions about the male body. I exercise now simply because I enjoy it. I’m very happy with my transition, and I see myself as having reached the end goal of my transformation.
Name three things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with what you look like.
Three things that I like about myself that aren’t related to what I look like, are that I am a social justice activist and I fight hard for LGBT-inclusive healthcare. It’s hard work, but I’ve always known that change doesn’t always come easily. I would also say I’m courageous, in that I’m always up for a challenge and I don’t hesitate from engaging in projects that are difficult. This quality has really helped me as a film Director, especially when my crew and I film in countries where being trans isn’t accepted. The third thing I like about myself is that I’m genuinely interested in human stories. That’s why I find traveling and filming so interesting; talking to other people and unraveling human stories proves that we are all unique, yet also connected.
What is one piece of advice you would give to younger you, in regards to how you feel about your body?
As a former hockey player and a college athlete, I would have told my younger self to slow down at times, and just enjoy more leisure activities. I think that before my transition, I was very focused on attaining the ‘ideal body’ that I didn’t realize that I was dealing with being trans rather than pressure to remain fit. These days, I think there are more resources for trans youth to process their feelings about their body, allowing them to come out sooner. I think this is a positive development, and I would definitely tell my younger self that it’s okay to be trans and that I was always meant to be the man I am today.
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