Documentarian Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is best known for his work with HBO on the List series, one-hour compilations of interviews with prominent people of minority populations. What started with a three-volume series called The Black List later expanded to include The Latino List in two parts and The Out List, which encapsulated the experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people of interest. Greenfield-Sanders has now returned once again to create a profile of another minority group with The Trans List.
In a series of interviews conducted by noted transgender activist Janet Mock, transgender individuals share their stories and experiences one by one. This includes how they grew up, the complications of coming out, the support or lack thereof they received from their family and friends, the daily discrimination they each face and the battles they have had to wage, and what their identities mean to them. Among the interviewees are noted television personalities such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, but also present are lesser known figures to popular culture, such as Miss Majors Griffen-Gracy, a transgender activist pivotal to the Stonewall riot, and Buck Angel, a transman porn star.
What is refreshing about this multitude of experiences is that at no point does the film ever try to pin down one definitive trans narrative. The simplicity of using talking head interviews with photos of their pasts as the primary way of communicating their stories lends itself well to the idea that every person comes to their identity in a different manner, and what that identity means to that person is unique to them even as they share commonalities with other members of the transgender community. For example, Caitlyn Jenner has often been criticized for publicly speaking perspectives that are at odds with what community leaders want the trans rights narrative to be, but she has always said that she can only ever speak to her own experiences and that she shouldn’t be taken as a representative of the entire transgender community. This doesn’t delegitimize her identity, even as her perspectives and experiences differ from the other transwomen and other transgender individuals interviewed for the film.
The simplicity of the film’s presentation doesn’t win it much kudos for visual inventiveness, but to be a visually dynamic piece would likely distract from the pure power of the stories being presented. In a world that continues to oppress transgender people simply for who they are or how they look, voices like these not only deserve to be heard, but they need to be heard if positive change is to occur. That alone makes The Trans List important viewing for HBO subscribers when it airs later this year.