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Four Must-See Documentaries About Transgender Youth

Trans students' rights have been front and center in the news. Here are four documentaries that put faces to those whose rights are being debated.

by Nick McCarthy /
Coy MathisDanette Kalb /

From the White House rolling back guidance to protect transgender kids in school to the Supreme Court announcing it will no longer hear the case of trans student Gavin Grimm, it has been a disheartening past few weeks for supporters of transgender rights.

In light of these recent developments, we've selected four recent documentaries that portray the experiences of trans children and young adults in the hopes of putting faces to those who will be impacted by these decisions.

GROWING UP COY

When 6-year-old Coy Mathis was told she could not use the girls' bathroom at her Colorado public school, her parents decided to fight back against the ban placed on their trans daughter. With the legal help of Michael Silverman, formerly of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Mathis family launched a landmark civil rights case and were thrust into the media spotlight. Director Eric Juhola and Producer Jeremy Stulberg respectfully capture a family that is reconciling the challenge of being in front of the cameras while trying to protect the rights and privacy of their child.

RAISING ZOEY

With the help of her highly supportive mother and sister, trans Latina teenager Zoey Luna fights for acceptance in her California middle school, where she was alienated and bullied, in this intimate documentary from Dante Alencastre. Fighting ostracism and calling for visibility, Zoey becomes active in speaking out about the discrimination she faces as well as the happiness she experienced after transitioning. Zoey proves to be a born activist and community convener; she’s able to convey her perspective while inspiring others to share their experiences. And, as Zoey’s mother shouts into a megaphone at a rally with her daughter, “We need to keep our children safe. Let’s accept them and love them for who they are.”

REAL BOY

While "Growing Up Coy" and "Raising Zoey" reveal the close ties of familial support and youth empowerment, "Real Boy" presents a more challenging portrait of family and understanding. Bennett Wallace, 19, is an aspiring musician facing the ups and downs of transitioning while his frustratingly apprehensive mother repeatedly questions his decision to fully transition. But with the guidance and camaraderie of the successful musician Joe Stevens, who is also trans, Bennett is able to find his voice in more ways than one in this heartwarming tale of mentorship and chosen families.

BECOMING MORE VISIBLE

Profiling four transgender young adults in New York state, this diverse and thoughtful documentary observes the everyday experiences of coming of age while exploring one’s true identity. Despite the difference in backgrounds, Sean, Katherine, Olivia and Morgin all exhibit strength in the face of societal expectations and cultural traditions to fight for acknowledgement and understanding of trans youth. Director Pamela French beautifully weaves and balances the narrative threads while never distracting from the powerful voices of these four individuals--whether they’re dealing with mental illness or nervous about performing a stand-up comedy routine. And through sharing their stories, the fearless foursome take control of their own lives and reach self-acceptance as they navigate their paths toward adulthood.

Nick McCarthy is the operations manager at NewFest, an LGBTQ film and media arts organization, and has written for such publications as Slant Magazine, Time Out New York and The Film Experience.

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