Editor's note: This piece was originally posted in Chinese (see below) on Wechat on July 27th, 2017. It was written in response to "Escape", a movie about being trans that was produced by a group of high school students in Beijing. It was later shared online and viewed over 100,000 times.
Greetings to the producers of "Escape",
I am Kelly, the Trans Project Director at the Beijing LGBT centre. Last week I joined your premiere of “Escape”, and listened to your producers sharing details about the filming process and from behind the scenes.
The next day, an article entitled "Students From The High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China Made a Movie about "Sexual Minorities", a Topic Avoided By Almost Every Parent. How Should We Start Talking About This?" was widely circulated among my friends on Wechat. The topic "High School Students Made a Trans Movie" went viral and ranked highly on Weibo’s most searched topics.
As a viewer from that day, and a trans woman, there are some things I would like to say to you. If you really want to speak up for trans people, as you claim to be the aim of Escape, then I hope you can listen to the voices from the community.
First of all, congratulations on making a film that attracted widespread attention. It is very difficult for high school students to achieve this goal with the limited resources to which they have access. Secondly, I would like to thank you for your awareness of trans issues. It is especially commendable for you to have such a scope when queer people in China are facing increasing censorship. However, after viewing the whole film and talking to the producers, I have made the conclusion that you do not actually understand trans people.
According to the questions I raised the day of the premiere and the talk I had with H.C, director of Guangzhou's Trans Center, there were no trans people in your filming crew. You did not engage with the experiences of trans people before or during the shooting of the film in any longterm or meaningful way either, and were only referencing and copying how trans people were portrayed elsewhere in some other films and documentaries - all a bit different from what the media reported about your film. This deviation from reality may not have impacted the film itself too much, but it does hinder this opportunity for you to further understand trans people in real life.
When talking about the creation of the film, the main producer mentioned that “the male lead in the film (the role played by Yuge) is firstly a man,” me and my friends from the trans community were shocked, as the person in the film identifies as a woman. Using the words such as “male lead” and phrases like “firstly a man” is very inappropriate and disrespectful towards a trans woman.
Also, you should be more careful when answering questions regarding trans people, you should have the courage to say phrases like “I don’t know”, “I cannot answer this question”, or “it is inappropriate to discuss this here”, instead of rushing to definitions and conclusions. This is not only because each individual across trans communities identifies and expresses themselves differently, but also because being trans itself is a complex matter, and many questions relating to this don’t yet have confirmed answers.
Folks like us who work with queer issues, and even those like myself who are trans women, still cannot claim to be able to represent every individual in the trans community. We have to be very careful when talking and doing things publicly in order to eliminate the possibility of hurting others in our communities. As a non-trans, or non-queer people in general, you should be even more aware of this and be humble towards every trans individual.
There is another thing that made me feel unhappy. When I asked you why you made a film like this, you said that you only wanted to make a film about queer people, and then added that at first you wanted to make a film those with reading disabilities, but you didn’t know how to do it, so you opted for a trans film instead. Then I asked whether anyone in your team was trans, and you said no. I asked whether anyone among the producers is LGBT, and you answered by saying that you could not tell me due to privacy issues. In an queer-friendly and private environment like the Beijing LGBT Center, there is an attitude that members of a production team of a film centered around queer issues cannot even share their gender identity or sexual orientation with the community? I felt a chill ran down my spine: you can make a film about trans people and you can look at trans people all you want, but we can not see you.
Regardless of whether or not you have queer people among your crew, is this inequality of information and communication a subtle form of discrimination? Also, you took pictures of the audience at the premiere without the knowledge of our LGBT Centre's staff. The next day it appeared on media reports everywhere, without any consideration of privacy issues. We only realised this after receiving complaints from volunteers who took part in the event. We then asked you to take those pictures down from the reports, but your response to that was mediocre at best. You only wrote a letter (see below) expressing your apologies after a request from our Operations Director A’Ming. Shouldn’t you be thinking about this double standard of privacy?
Looking at the recently published articles praising the high school students for making a film about trans people as compassionate and visionary, I felt speechless. What do those internet traffic figures mean? Is it the topic of trans people that attracted 100,000 clicks, or is it because the producers of the film are students from a famous high school? Are they really speaking up for trans communities, or are they simply showing nominal support for trans people as a way of expanding the discursive power of mainstream society?
I have mixed feelings at this time. As someone who is trans and who also works for the community, I hope that trans issues will receive more public attention. On the other hand, such crude attention from mainstream “allies” makes me feel at a loss. On the other hand, while for the high school students who did this for the community, our demands may seem excessively harsh... but even if so, I still have to say my real thoughts out loud, because if I don’t, our voices will likely be drowned out by the big cheers.
I recall a paragraph from The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” I hope that all of you who sincerely care for trans communities will be like the Little Prince and use your heart and time in nurturing the roses of love. My thanks to you all.
Letter of apology
Dear Director of the Beijing LGBT Center,
Because a member of our crew acted thoughtlessly during the premiere of our film Escape by taking pictures of audience interaction and later sharing the images with one enthusiastic person there without telling them not to release it to the press and to protect the privacy of those in attendance, they let one of those pictures be used by a certain newspaper without any right or permission from Beijing LGBT Centre or those in attendance. We are sincerely sorry and ashamed for the unnecessary trouble and impact we brought to the Beijing LGBT Center, and will sternly criticise and deal with those members of our crew who were involved to ensure that matters like this do not happen again.
Once again, our whole team promises to take responsibility for this matter, and offers our sincerest apologies to all those affected, to Beijing LGBT Centre, and to the general public. In order to minimise the impact and restore the reputation of those affected, we hope you can forgive us.
Crew of "Escape"
24th July, 2017
(Translated by Luoluo and Ausma Bernotaite)
Kelly Kiseki (Qiji) is a trans woman, and the Director of Beijing LGBT Center's Trans Programs. She is the coordinator of the project "2017 Situation of Trans People's Lives" supported by the United Nations, Peking University, and the Beijing LGBT Center. Image credit: Beijing LGBT Centre.