In the fine tradition of the military motto, “no guts, no glory,” the producers of the short documentary film, Transgender, at War and in Love, are pressing on with the next phase of their TransMilitary project — a full-length feature — following its recent nomination by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for a national Emmy award.
But not before they look back at how far they’ve come.
What is now a 12-minute film began in 2012 as a project to put a face to transgender troops serving in silence. Then, early last year, the editorial board of The New York Times chose to commission a new video based on the personal stories of two trans service members. On May 14, 2015, The Times called for open military service for transgender members of the military, which estimates say amounts to more than 15,000 active duty personnel.
And this undertaking was not only groundbreaking and daunting, it was something most Americans had no idea was even a problem.
That includes two of its producers, who were hired by the paper to work with “a woman we had never met about a topic I quite honestly knew nothing about,” conceded Jamie Coughlin, cofounder and executive producer of SideXSide Studios in a blogpost.
“I was in the Thayer Hotel at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. We had to set the scene, the lighting, camera, etc., in the most restrictive of circumstances,” recalled Fiona Dawson, the creator of TransMilitary.
Dawson is an out bisexual, media-savvy LGBTQ advocate, corporate communicator, outspoken leader and now a producer, who grew up near Boston, U.K., and has lived in Houston, New York, and the Washington, D.C. region. She posted on Facebook how she and her team were rushed from the start, which was especially true as she sought to film one last interview with Senior Airman Logan Ireland of the U.S. Air Force, a transgender man who was already serving overseas. Dawson filmed Ireland with his family before he left in 2014 and via Skype throughout his deployment, but the team needed his final anticipation before he returned to the States. The person who volunteered to capture Logan on camera in Kandahar was another key figure for the forthcoming feature film: LGBTQ advocate Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., the man credited with sparking the process that ended the ban on transgender military service.
All just novices in the film world, trying to do our best to ensure that Logan’s story was told. A couple of months later, when I saw for the first time that Gabriel had cut The New York Times op-doc together with that scene being the opening lines I burst into tears of joy, because it showed that our labor that day (or night for Logan and Jesse) had paid off.”