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Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012

Making the Cut: When Art, Life and Trans Activism Collide

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Local filmmaker Ashley Altadonna has been working for the past three years on the project of a lifetime: simultaneously struggling to find a way to pay for the medical costs of her transition from male to female while creating a documentary film about the process. The goalposts are now in sight; the final fundraising efforts for both the film and her health care expenses are taking place on November 2. I caught up with Ashley to ask her what she’s learned, why this project is important, and what you can do to help.

Side note: language about gender identity is ever-evolving. Some people have recently begun to use the term trans* in an attempt to be inclusive of transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender non-conforming and other gender-variant identities. It’s not a perfect word, but I’ll use it here in the spirit in which it was intended.

Laura Anne Stuart: For trans* people, deciding which, if any, surgeries or other medical treatments to pursue as part of their transition is very personal. What made you decide to make a documentary about your process?

Ashley Altadonna: I’d like to think I’m an open book.  I’m willing to put myself out there, especially if sharing my journey will help other people.  For years I kept how I felt hidden from everyone out of shame and embarrassment.   I was so deeply in denial about who I really was, that I would fool myself for a while, but the need to be female would always resurface.  No one should have to suffer that.  I personally drew a lot of inspiration and courage from reading about transgender individuals that came before me.  It helps to see other people going through what you are, and knowing that you’re not alone.  I guess I wanted to create “Making the Cut” as a way to give back.

LAS: Over the past few years, it's become more and more popular for trans* people to host fundraisers to pay for different types of transition-related surgery. What do you think is behind this trend?

AA
: Trans related surgeries cost a lot of money and often not covered by health insurance.  Even when they supposedly are, many of providers require trans folks to cover the surgery costs up front because the providers aren’t sure the insurance companies will reimburse them.  Trying to raise the amount of money needed would be difficult for most people, but is often especially hard for trans people who may have been discriminated against by employers, or disowned by their families.  Trans folks face possible housing discrimination and a poorer quality, or even [lack of] access to healthcare.  Fundraisers are a great way to obtain the funds needed and they’re a lot of fun.  For my own surgery I’ve held raffles, drag shows, film nights, art shows, yard sales and more.

LAS: What have you learned over the past four years as you've worked towards both the documentary and fundraising for your surgery?

AA
: Over the past 3 years of filming, I’ve gotten to speak with lots of amazing people about a ton of issues. I’ve been looking at discrimination & violence against trans people, medical gate-keeping, black market healthcare, transgender hierarchies, passing, legal and personal issues of identity, trans women’s exclusion in “women-only” spaces, as well as the way the health insurance industry treats transgender individuals.  One of the problems I’m facing now is that much of the conventions and ideas regarding these topics are constantly changing.  New laws and rulings are coming out all the time.  Just this past August, the American Psychiatric Association changed their position that “gender dysphoria” (i.e. being transgendered) is no longer considered a mental disorder.  This is such a huge step towards helping trans people from being stigmatized and discriminated against!

LAS
: What else do you want us to know about the film/fundraiser? OR How can we help support your work?


AA: The final “Making the Cut” fundraiser is taking place Friday, Nov. 2nd at the Down and Over Pub (2535 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) at 6pm.  The event will include a catered dinner by Ball n Biscuit Catering, some storytelling by me, and live music by Hayward Williams, followed by a judged karaoke contest provided by Power Company Karaoke. There will also be a raffle.  Tickets are $40.00 and can be purchased on my website, Tall Lady Pictures.  Everyone who buys a ticket is automatically entered into the raffle.  The event is sponsored in part by OnMilwaukee.com, WMSE 91.7FM, People’s Book Co-op, The Palomino, The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, and more.

If people can’t come to the fundraiser, but still want to help, I am also currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the documentary.  Our goal is to raise $6000 for basic equipment, travel costs, and production expenses by Nov. 16th.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than fifteen years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.