The Austin Chronicle

aGLIFF: The Life of Austin’s Trans Youth

Four-year project follows transgender folks navigating Austin

By Iman Shah, September 8, 2017, Screens

A project four years in the making, Trans Youth is a documentary centered around the experiences of several transgender folks living in Austin. Powerful emotions are captured onscreen as seven young adults navigate both daily activities and life-changing events.

Director Rebecca Adler logged over 100 hours of footage during the filming process and was a steady presence in the lives of the cast. "It was like having this intimate connection with people you're really working on depicting. I'm friends with this person and I'm creating this thing that is their life. I'm witnessing their life."

Meet Winn, Faron, Frost, Elliot, Peter, Seb, and Ursula, the cast of the documentary and Austin locals. For most of them, the four years depicted in the film are an important transformative period of their lives. These changes manifest in numerous ways, both physically and emotionally.

Adler explained how her documentary tries to show how "the journey for trans people is a lot more complex than a cis person can imagine, unless they've spent a lot of time educating themselves."

In Trans Youth, she wanted to get away from many of the stereotypes mainstream media perpetuates onto the trans community. The few times trans characters are represented, the content tends to focus on tragedy and the binary narrative of a person "being born into the wrong body."

Adler believes this is an overly simplistic way of looking at identity. According to her, more recently "nonbinary identities have come a lot more into representation. A lot of our culture is grappling with certain kinds of polarity and duality. We're really asking ourselves these questions of how people belong and what's the power dynamic we want for people."

By spending a lot of time with different young trans folks in Austin, Adler was able to portray a more comprehensive view of what gender means to different people and how it functions within society at large. The driving force behind the narrative comes from the voices and experiences of the seven youths the film follows.

"I'm cisgender, so I've worked really hard to be with the people in the film and tried as much as I can to be a little bit of a vehicle and not try to come from an outsider perspective," Adler explained.

There are several hardships depicted in Trans Youth, ranging from losing important friends, struggling to find a stable job, and coming out to family. At the same time, there are distinct moments of happiness and contentment.

Adler recognizes that "there's a very fine line between being compassionate and also being truthful. Showing someone's pain in a way that feels more voyeuristic versus being with someone and showing the journey they're on and being able to see a little more through their eyes."

Even though she had knowledge going in as a therapist who works with trans youth, the process of shooting the film was very educational. Adler learned a few valuable things along the way.

"Trans women of color have it the hardest," Adler said. "I learned a lot about dysphoria ... and the importance of hormones for a lot of people. That can really be a life or death situation. And as a cisgender person and someone who doesn't have that experience, I really don't think it's our job to have any sort of judgment on any of that. It's really a lived experience that each person discovers for themselves."

Trans Youth screens Sat., Sept. 9, 10am, Alamo South Lamar. Director Rebecca Adler, along with crew and subjects from the film, will be in attendance.

The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival runs Sept. 7-10, at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. For more info, and to purchase badges and passes, visit

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.