Interview with Hijra film makers.

By Darren Marples.

Edited by Tom Wiese.

I managed to catch up with a film maker who is in the process of setting up a documentary about the Hijra folk in India.

Hijra-Trans sex workers getting ready for work

Could you please introduce yourself:

I’m Ila Mehrotra Jenkins, I’m the director of the documentary HIJRA. I grew up in Delhi and I’ve been based in Britain for the last decade. During this time I’ve been working in British television, specifically in documentaries and current affairs with the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. HIJRA is my first feature documentary.

Most people will not know who hijra people are who read our article, due to culture differences. How do the hijra differ from Western Transgender? Could you please explain?

Hijras are the oldest ethnic transgender community in the world. Hijras are known as the ‘holy hermaphrodites’ from ancient Hindu scriptures. The scriptures say the hijras have the power to bless and curse, and even today that belief is very prevalent.
Tradition holds that a hijra must leave their biological family and society to live within a hijra family and earn a living through their blessings. Through the centuries, the hijra community has grown to absorb very large numbers of trans and non-binary people, particularly from the lower sections of Indian society. Paradoxically, while hijras are considered ‘holy’ in society, it is a matter of grave shame to manhood to have a hijra within one’s family. Unfortunately, young trans-hijras are often excluded from their biological families to live amongst hijras. They continue to bless in exchange for money in India today, but a very large number of hijras are forced to beg and do sex work to survive, excluded from education and mainstream society. As in many parts of the world, hijra people in India face extreme violence, marginalisation and abuse; but unlike in many countries, while facing extreme ostracisation, transgender people can find a precarious acceptance in society as “sacred” figures.

What are the rights both legally and socially of the hijra community in India?

In 2014, the Supreme Court of India recognised transgender people as a Third Gender and a socially and economically backward class entitled to reservations in education and jobs, and also directed union and state governments to frame welfare schemes for them.
This tabled bill was then passed in 2018 in a much watered down and heavily amended version that provides the equal recognition and protection only in theory.
Although homosexuality was finally decriminalised in 2018, in reality, hijras continue to face massive discrimination, marginalisation, violence and abuse, as societal prejudice is very widespread.

Hijra- Trans activist – warrior, Rudrani

How important is the making of this film for yourselves and society understanding and what do you wish to achieve in the making?

We hope to share the stories of hijras. One such astonishing activist for the hijra community is Rudrani Chettri. Part of this film includes her and the hijras she helps, and through this film we hope the world will hear the voices of the trans-hijra community. Further, we hope for the film to raise support of Rudrani’s work and help with increasing acceptance for trans-hijra identities, in the way they wish to be defined.

What can other cultures learn from the hijra?

The hijra trans community inspires others to have the courage to live beyond restrictive gender norms. While they have faced severe discrimination hijras have also thrived as a welcoming community to those who choose to live a transgender identity.

Hijra blessing at a temple.

How can others support you?

We are currently asking for financial support through our crowdfunding campaign:

These funds would allow us to continue making the documentary, and will help get us into production for two crucial shoots. We’d ask you to please support us and share the project widely and support Rudrani’s work for acceptance, love and respect for the trans hijras in all their human complexity.
This film will spread the word about the struggle these incredible people face, encouraging international solidarity by documenting the hope and force of will they display, and reaching out to the wider community on their behalf.

Lgbtqia and the media. 

​By @letatdemoi 

Laverne Cox from Orange is the new black.

It would be wrong to say that the media does not try to incorporate homosexuality, however the way in which this is done is what needs to be discussed and altered. It is rare for there to be an LGBTQIA+ couple that is positively portrayed within the media. Either one person must be a drug addict or suffer from other psychological issues and this presentation sends out a message to the rest of the world that members of the LGBTQIA + community are unstable and problematic, which further alienates them from the rest of society. The fact is anybody is prone to become victims of substance abuse and experience mental health issues and these problems are not exclusive to members of the LGBTQIA + community. Shows such as Orange is the New Black explore homosexuality but this is predominantly based on desperate circumstances such as being incarcerated. These presentations do not help to create the best image of the LGBTQIA+ community and it is becoming frustrating. Characters are not allowed to just be homosexual, there must be a background horror story that ‘caused’ them to be gay, suggesting that had such circumstances not occurred, they would be heterosexual just ‘like everybody else’. The conjunction that is accompanied with LGBTQIA+ needs to be eradicated, there needs to stop being a clause that de-normalises and ostracises the LGBTQIA+ community from the rest of society. People are not ‘gay but’, ‘trans but’, just let them be. The media is a key influencer of society and so it is primordial that the right message is portrayed. Hopefully there will be a day whereby there are characters who are members of the LGBT+ community who just get to be themselves with no complications or drama. That is the representation that is needed.

Paul Coker was murdered in the summer of 2016 by long running London based soap Eastenders. 
The face of LGBTQIA +. 

My opinion like others is the media’s presentation of people who identify as LGBTQIA + is both deplorable and laughable.

The notion that throwing in one white homosexual man to a television show or a series is somehow considered diverse is abhorrent. The stereotypical homosexual person is white, a man and an atheist, yet contemporary society defies this stereotype. It is not a coincidence that the LGBTQIA + flag is a rainbow; this is seen to represent the diversity of the community indicating that various types of people of various ethnicities are members. This is true diversity. There is a Ted Talks video in which Sabah Choudrey discusses being both transgender and Muslim, they share initial fears of belonging to more than one minority group. This is a well understood fear within the LGBTQIA + community, especially amongst ethnic groups.
People should not think that being a part of one minority group stops you from being valid within another minority group. A lot of people belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community also belong to ethnic minority groups such as Samira Wiley and Laverne Cox from the popular Netflix series Orange is The New Black, writer Wander Sykes and beloved Star Trek character George Takei.

This is the 21st century and it is hoped that with the ever-growing representation of minority groups within the LGBTQIA + community, the media will more accurately represent the face of LGBTQIA+ and portray it as the colourful community that it is.
Other platforms such as YouTube have become an excellent means in dispelling myths regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly the YouTube channel Buzzfeed. They uploaded a video whereby people re-created the covers of famous romance movies such as Titanic and The Fault in Our Stars but incorporated LGBTQIA+, which I thought was an incredibly powerful concept. Times are progressing and in the foreseeable future there is hope that there will be more of an accurate representation of the LGBTQIA+ community and the film Danish Girl about a trans-woman released in 2015 will be followed by other predominantly LGBTQIA+ related movies.  

LGBT+ through the ages

There have been discussions regarding the media’s presentation of the LGBTQIA+ community and whether incorporating LGBTQIA+ experiences into platforms designed for younger viewers would result in there being a more favourable perspective regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. Undoubtedly, this would introduce the concept of having an LGBTQIA+ community and would help to eliminate confusion felt by children regarding it. However, people do not want their children to be ‘different’ unless this ‘difference’ is something that is accepted and promoted in society, such as child geniuses. Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community is stigmatised to the point where being called a lesbian or gay seems to have pejorative implications, making people not want to identify as such. Within society, there is this inherent desire to be considered ‘normal’ and to me it is baffling that people would want to strive for something so tedious and non-existent. It is time for society to start celebrating and embracing everybody, respecting and accepting the beauty of individuality. The idea that people regard the presentation of LGBTQIA+ topics as ‘corrupt’ and ‘immoral’ is saddening, it is also sad that they feel that by demonising homosexuality this acts as a means of prevention regarding their children ‘becoming’ gay. The media, being a tool of education, can help alter such archaic ways of thinking and people will soon start to see people past the label, realising that once you peel off this label a human being is present and that, ultimately is the only thing that matters. People should no longer see people as a ‘gay man’ or a ‘trans-man’ but rather a ‘hu-man’. 

Maybe, rather than mash ups we need a real Disney lgbt love story. 


Interview with creator of ‘more than only’


Hello Michelle, thank you for taking part in this interview. Could you tell me a little about yourself? 

My name is Michelle Leigh

Simply put I am a registered nurse, the single mother of two amazing young women and the founder of children’s theatre in my community to elaborate a bit more, I became a theatre geek at the age of 13 years and continued on that path until I was 26.  I had learned the art of performance, stage management and directing up and down the North West coast of America.

I took a hiatus from theatre after I had my first child and decided it was time to look into a career that didn’t require job to job uncertainty.
I graduated from nursing school in 2000 and have spent the past 16 years in the most amazing career I could have imagined.
Eleven years ago, once my life as a nurse was settled and other interests were able to be pursued again, I started a children’s theatre in my community. initially it was to provide an opportunity for my own child to gain the same confidence and strength theatre had given me. However it very quickly became an outlet for so many that I have kept it going.

We are currently in rehearsals for our 26th production.

Could you explain about the project you are working on? 

“More than Only” became the passion project for me,  a first time screenwriter, film director and producer.

It was a story that evolved,  literally from beginning to end without an outline or plan, once the opening sentence of the film, “my father only wanted two things; straight A’s and a straight son”, came to my mind. 

It is a story far too real for so many in the LGBT community. It evolved into becoming about showing that being told you are “Only” worthy of affection, even from a parent, if you willingly hide an intrinsic part of yourself, to discovering you are so much more when you live your life for yourself and love everything about who you are and know that you are “More”. 
How and why did you come up with this project? 

I became an LGBT advocate about four years ago, I learned two things that changed my perspective and altered my mind set about advocacy 

Firstly the complacency is as detrimental to society as bigotry,  it helps no one. It allows hate to grow and spread and it defeats the purpose we were all placed here for,  to support, help and love one another.
Secondly when asked how I can support LGBT as it goes ‘against what is natural’ I learned this VERY truthful statement “you fall in love with a person: not a gender”

That has catapulted my belief and my stance on love, regardless of the gender of the person, love is love.

It made me think about love from a physiological perspective, once I made the connection again, love is nothing more than a chemical reaction to another human being that you are drawn to, knowing that that chemical draw has NOTHING to do with their gender, again my stance grew and strengthened and I can state loudly with the best of them,  love is not a choice that is made. It is a response to another who feels it as well.

What became the opening senescence of the film, “My father only wanted two things; straight A’s and a straight son,   was one I had penned, as a challenge to myself, in response to an LGBT television character and his relationship to his father.

I wanted to define the relationship in 3 sentences or less.
I saw the name “Justin Johnson” on a door name plaque in a shop almost a year later and thought “that name should be in a movie”.

On my drive home that sentence re-occurred to me,  by the time I was home what is essentially the essence of the opening voice over was written.
From there the story continued to evolve and the characters who surround Justin fell into place. 
As I neared the ending I didn’t know what it was going to be or how to settle Justin’s story, but like the opening sentence – it simply happened when I sat down and allowed it to.
My goal was to provide what I had seen many posts about from the LGBT community, a real romantic comedy and a real LGBT couple that we see laugh, cry, fight,hurt, love and carry on living their lives to the best of their ability, just like every couple that is represented in the media, gay,  straight, black, white, mixed race and so forth. 
LGBT representation has evolved a great deal in the last five years,  but it is still new and just starting to build momentum. 
I would love for my film to be a small contribution to a necessary genre.
Could you tell me about the plot? 

More Than Only
is the story of Justin Johnson, an openly gay young man.

When not under the watchful eye of his father, Justin tries to find his place in this world and someone to share it with.
After meeting Michael Garner, Justin resolves to do whatever it takes to win Michael’s heart. While not impressed with Justin’s antics, Michael is willing to give Justin a chance and a first date, if he can complete three impossible tasks first!

While Justin courts Michael, he must contend with the looming disapproval of his father,  who only wants two things from Justin: 

straight A’s and a straight son.”

So how can people help out? 

We do have a donation button up on our website and it is available.

We are planning to attempt a kick starter again in January/February, so watch out for that. 

I have applied to two different grants at this point – one with Tribeca – the second with frame line – both as a completion grant.

I am hopeful that those will be a huge assist for us moving forward as well.

We are doing the Seed and Spark Campaign through May 31. – I need 500 followers (We have just over 200 already!) for “Project Greenlight” and I have a contribution minimum to raise to assist with the final phases of post production – my link to S&S is:

Please if anyone wish to help out don’t hesitate to contact ourselves,its so important for the comuinity. 

Newspapers and the LGBTQIA community! 

Newspaper readership has been declining steadily amongst all age groups as other forms of media provide more immediate news. In the last week however, social media discussions have been dominated (in Britain anyway) by the actions of newspapers. Those papers that had supported Britain’s exit from the European Union were furious that the process now had to be put to a vote in parliament. The judges who made the decision were lambasted by the Daily Mail, a mid-market, right-wing newspaper, which said:

“The judges who blocked Brexit: One who founded a EUROPEAN law group, another charged the taxpayer millions for advice and the third is an openly gay ex-Olympic fencer”.

Given that the headline was ‘Enemies of the people’, the paper clearly considers these are activities that are Not What Reasonable People Do. However, isn’t a part of a free press, that newspapers report on areas which may be potentially controversial? Yes, but then there is the way in which the story is reported. In 2015, The Sun, another right-wing tabloid, reported on a school catering assistant coming out as a trans woman. The article talked about the school’s support for their employee and the comments from parents criticised the process of notifying them, not the individual. Despite this, the story’s headline left your in no doubt this was something you should react to: ‘Dinner Laddie – School’s ‘Sir’ Shock’.

Although these are extreme examples, there are biases which apply across many papers. In Ireland, a father killed his wife and their three children, then committed suicide. Headlines included: “How could he kill those poor boys?”; “Wonderful children who will be missed by all who knew them”; “Killed in their pyjamas by father in frenzied attack.” Reading these, you might forget that a fourth person was killed: the boy’s mother. The hashtag #everydaysexism has hundreds of similar examples of where women are airbrushed from stories or presented in a stereotypical way.

What does this tell us about perceptions of sexuality and gender in newspapers? It shows that the old dictum of story-writing, first simplify, then exaggerate, is alive and well. This is not a place were nuances will be recognised or explored. There are also powerful agendas behind the scenes. While the political agenda of newspapers is well-known, as readership shrinks, a technique for retaining readers can be to pander to the more extreme views. The majority of newspaper readers are older, white and male, so the tone of articles reflects this.

There is hope in the widespread condemnation of the Mail’s position. Amongst the criticism was a beautiful reaction from JK Rowling who tweeted:

If the worst they can say about you is you’re an OPENLY GAY EX-OLYMPIC FENCER TOP JUDGE, you’ve basically won life.

It was interesting that the Mail removed the words from its website a short period after this. Does that mean its approach will change?

Almost certainly not while it can still provide a solid body of readers which is attractive to advertisers. That is where a new campaign is focusing its efforts, to boycott the advertisers in the Daily Mail for indirectly supporting hate. This approach of follow-the-money comes as firms become ever more sensitive about perception of their brands. Newspapers survive because their brand has built a bond with their readers: they are trusted to report the news but also provide a reassurance that you are not alone in your opinion. On that basis, there will continue to be bigotry and sexism presented in newspapers while there is still bigotry and sexism in society and this will take all our continued efforts to eradicate.
Alex Clare is the author of He’s Gone, featuring a trans woman DI. Chat to Alex on Twitter @_alexandraclare. He’s Gone is available from Amazon … and Hive

Interview with Boaz Stark.

Above: Boaz Stark, Producer and writer. 

Recently I got the chance to chat to Australian writer, Boaz Stark, who has worked on programmes such as Neighbours and Home & Away.  He is also the producer, writer and director of the hugely successful online LGBTQI series The Horizon.

Can you explain to my readers what The Horizon is about and how long as it been running?

The Horizon revolves around a small group of gay characters living in Sydney – a kind of “Gays of our Lives”.  We’ve been in production since 2009, although we started off extremely low budget.  I wrote the first season as a favour for a friend who wanted to produce a gay webseries.  That season was made by film students but went viral.  In 2012, I saw it was still getting impressive viewer figures, despite the low production values, and decided to do morewith it.  I found more sponsors and it has built from there.

As it is Internet based, I guess you have followers globally. Does this affect your storylines? 

It has been affected, yes.  For example, our most popular territory is the USA. That attracted an American sponsor who paid for an American actor to come to Sydney and be a part of theseries – Jai Rodriguez from “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” fame.  He was a pleasure to work with, by the way; very professional and easy going.

How do you choose your characters and of course finding the right performers to play them?

I like writing characters who represent different members of the LGBTQI community. It’s about balance and making sure no character is doubled up. Despite the series’ success, we’re still low budget, so paying actors is a consideration. We need to keep cast numbers down, so every character must be unique, able to generate story and interact with all the others.  In terms of casting, it’s the tradition route.  We advertise the need for an actor, several come in and we audition them, choose the one who best fits the role.

As it is a LGBTQI Web based enterprise, do you think it as a value in influencing external views from our rainbow family? 

The Aids Council of NSW (ACON) has supported us from the start and The Horizon includes subtle safe sex messages and health information weaved naturally into the drama.  I hope we are influencing viewers to look after their health and each other. Our series fans (#Horizontals) include many straight people, who often write to us via social media to thank us for the insight into LGBTQI life, and the health info too. For example, many people had no idea about the existence of PeP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) until we covered it in a story.  We may have saved a life.  Now we’re doing a big PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) in Seasons 7 & 8.  It’s gratifying to give this information a global platform.

Above: Cast members of the show.
In general do you feel there is a lack of certain LGBTQI roles and performers in media entertainment and how can this be addressed? 

Yes, we’re not very well represented, which is partly the reason why The Horizon is doing so well. I think members of the LGBTQI community want to see images of ourselves on screen, as any community does.  TV networks are generally too conservative to produce any queer content that’s edgy so I guess it’s up to queer film makers like me to do it and put it online. That’s the beauty of modern technology – content can be shot on phones these days and edited on personal computers, then uploaded to platforms like YouTube.  Anyone with passion and commitment can produce something and put it out there. Hopefully they’ll find an audience.  It’s obviously not all about good production values or The Horizon would never have got off the ground. 

Recently there have been calls for Hollywood to address issues of not using transgender performers to play such roles. What are your thoughts on this and how can this be better addressed through the industry?

The industry is first and foremost a business.  Producers will often opt for a known, non transgender actor to play a trans role because it helps with financing and publicity.  That’s why you’ll have people like Jared Leto (Dallas Buyer’s Club) and Felicity Huffman (Transamercia) cast in transgender roles. The bigger the project, the more likely producers will go for a “name”, so as to more easily recoup their investment.  I don’t see this changing in a hurry. The only hope transgender actors have of securing big roles is if they’re cast in smaller productions first and gain a profile – like Laverne Cox (Orange Is The New Black). I’m planning a transgender story for The Horizon at the moment with a preference to casting a trans actor because my series is relatively small and we have nothing to lose!

Above: Wilma Bumhurt, the shows resident Drag Queen. 

Do you think your own personal experiences come out in the script?

It’s funny, my boyfriend is always catching me using stuff that’s happened in our lives on The Horizon – situations, dialogue; the works. I often steal from friend’s lives too, or things I hear about that actually happened.  I find truth far more exciting than fiction. There’s a storyline in season 7 where our drag queen character, Wilma, goes home with a kinky “Daddy”.  He makes her wear a nappy and gives her a baby bottle to drink from, then leaves without having sex with her.  People have said the story is outrageous but it’s based on actual events that happened to a friend in LA – so there!

Thanks for taking part in this interview. Is there anything else you would like to add?

The Horizon series has a unique voice and gives HIV information and general gay men’s issues a platform while it entertains. I’d simply ask everyone to watch the series and share it if they like what they see.  The more viewers we have, the easier it is for us to get funding and keep going.  We all love making  it for you. 

You can watch The Horizon from here……

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