With the camera held tight on their eyes, young trans people are asked what it’s like to be in their shoes. One responds: “It can be really hard and emotionally draining.” Another adds: “It's fun, it’s interesting.”
Perhaps the most endearing response, however, is one interviewee who grins, then says, “Being in my shoes is boring most of the time. I work five days a week, play guitar. I’m really just a totally uninteresting person who happens to be transgender”.
Part of the Australian Shorts package screening Friday night as part of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF) at Melbourne’s ACMI, In My Shoes is co-directed by ABC journalist Monique Schafter and cinematographer Mat Govoni. The queer filmmakers were tasked by Sydney-based support service The Gender Centre after being suggested by trans advocate Kate Doak.
“She was familiar with the films I’ve done and my work for the ABC and suggested me as a trusted storyteller who might do a good job of this and create an artistic film that’s not too preachy, raises awareness of issues and might encourage young trans people to seek support,” Schafter says just after touching down in Melbourne to attend a Q&A following the screening.
“What I set out to do with all films that I make is to humanise the subject and to provide a platform for people to explain what it’s like to be them, so that whoever sees that film has a deeper understanding of that person, regardless of their circumstances.”
A touching insight into the lived experience of young trans people, Schafter suggests it’s just as useful for the broader community to see too. “We’re super-chuffed it’s getting a run at HRAFF. We wanted to make this a universal film. The fact that it’s screening tonight is testament to that. It’s cut through. It’s not just a queer film, it will resonate with a broader audience.”
"Creating these sort of films can humanise the subject. It’s a gentle film, it’s not preachy or in your face."
Originally screened in 2014, the current political climate, and particularly the posturing around the Safe School Coalition and its subsequent review by the current government, means the HRAFF screening, alongside shorts tackling indigenous, disabled and refugee rights, is particularly relevant.
“There has been such a political attack against Safe Schools and that’s so unfortunate, disrespectful and de-humanising to see those sorts of political conversations taking place,” Schafter says. “But creating these sort of films can humanise the subject. It’s a gentle film, it’s not preachy or in your face.”
The Gender Centre put out the call for young people to take part, resulting in five engaging subjects. The decision to focus tight on glimpses of their faces, including a play on the film’s title with close up on their footwear, was very deliberate.
“We wanted to make it really intimate but to also deconstruct bodies,” she says. “With some of the detail you’re looking at, it’s not necessarily gendered. It’s just human. It tries to kind of break through that and just hear from the person, instead of their gender.”
Schafter was humbled by their generosity. “They were just so wonderful, all very unique in their personalities. Some were very self-deprecating and funny, others where a little more shy. One of the participants in the film, we don’t show his face because he wasn’t so comfortable about being identified, but felt it was important he had the opportunity to share this story.”
One of the most confronting aspects is a common theme of repeatedly being asked blunt questions about genitalia by complete strangers. “One of them points out that it’s practically sexual harassment,” Schafter says. “If you are a non-trans person, I suppose some people kinda go, ‘aww, I have the right to know this because this is part of your transgender identity,’ and that’s such bullshit. Do you go around asking your mates about their genitals? That’s not cool.”
Further details on Australian Shorts at HRAFF can be found here.