A new mini-documentary premiering on Netflix takes an intimate look at parenthood from an often-overlooked perspective: that of the fathers of transgender people.
In The Dads, six men gather for a fishing trip in rural Oklahoma amid the wave of anti-transgender legislation that continues to sweep the country. Five of them — including Wayne Maines, the father of actress Nicole Maines — have children who are trans. They’re joined by Dennis Shepard, father of the late Matthew Shepard and a trailblazer for dads advocating for their LGBTQ+ children. Over the course of the weekend, director Luchina Fisher captures their conversations about fatherhood, fighting to make the world safe for their kids, and the obstacles they’ve faced along the way.
“I think it’s really important to understand who he was as a human being, not just as a symbol of hate crimes and things like that in the world.”
Fisher spoke with LGBTQ Nation about why it’s so important to see more depictions of fathers supporting their trans children in media and pop culture.
Never Miss a Beat
Subscribe to our daily newsletter to stay ahead of the latest LGBTQ+ political news and insights.
LGBTQ NATION: Where did the idea for this project come from, and why did you want to focus on the fathers of trans kids?
Luchina Fisher: My first film, Mama Gloria, was from the perspective of a mother’s love. That was about a Black trans elder activist named Gloria Allen who started a charm school for homeless trans kids. And she did it because she had the love and support of her own mother and grandmother. So, that was driven in large part by the love I have for my trans child. I know so many moms who are out there on the front lines, giving those hugs. You have films and representations of those moms, Mama Bears being a great example of that.
But there are also these incredible dads who are out there, who are speaking out, who are marching alongside their kids. And I know these dads because I work alongside them for the Human Rights Campaign’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council. So, back in 2020, I was with some of them at HRC’s conference, Time to Thrive. And I overheard them talking about going on a trip to the woods. It was Dennis, Frank [Gonzales], and Wayne. And I was just like, This is so fascinating. If people could only hear you talking about this at an LGBTQ conference, what would they think? And I was like, Wait a minute. That’s a film! That is something that really interests me, the way these dads are showing up in their lives, but also in their kids’ lives and in the world. I invited myself along!
LGBTQ NATION: We do see so many more depictions of supportive mothers of all LGBTQ+ kids. Why do you think there are fewer depictions of and examinations of supportive fathers?
LF: I wonder if dads are a little bit afraid to be depicted having these conversations. I’m not sure. I think part of it is generational. This idea that moms are supportive and dads aren’t — that’s been the narrative for so long. I’m always about bustin’ narratives. There’s also the narrative that Black families don’t support their LGBTQ kids as much as other families, and when I heard Mama Gloria’s story, I was like, That’s not true! And I know that’s not true because I’m one of those families.
So, I feel always that there’s a responsibility for me as a filmmaker to challenge narratives that we see. And so, I know, in my life, there are these amazing dads, including my husband, so I really wanted to show them. And I hope that through The Dads we will start seeing more of these depictions.
It wasn’t easy, necessarily, for these dads to share some of their deepest regrets or their biggest vulnerabilities. And yet they did it because they really feel strongly that it’s important for dads to show up, and that that’s what it took for them to get to this place of supporting their kids.
LGBTQ NATION: Was it hard to get the dads talking on the trip? What was your role as a filmmaker in facilitating or prompting the conversations you wanted to capture?
LF: Their first real opportunity for us to capture their conversations on camera was at breakfast. Honestly, they dived right in. There was no prompting on my part. I think they were all eager to talk to one another because this can be a bit of an isolating experience. It can be such an individual journey, not only for their children, but for the family. So, I think they were just so eager to talk to one another and talk about some of the issues that we were just there as literally flies on the wall.
For me as a filmmaker, it’s always about creating a safe space where people can open up and be vulnerable. I think already that relationship and that trust was there. So there wasn’t any need for me to prompt anything. These dads were ready and willing to talk.
LGBTQ NATION: Of course, parental roles are traditionally gendered, so it’s interesting to think about these fathers of transgender people interrogating a certain gendered aspect of fatherhood.
LF: I think that is interesting. Dennis says, “Dads have this masculine image. They need to get out there and show that they also support their kids.” It’s image stuff, right? As Wayne says, it’s always like “What is your fear?” If I can find out what that person is afraid of, then we can start to have a real conversation.
So much of it is fear that has been put on us from the world, from our socialization. I think what’s amazing is that all of them had to go on this journey because of their kids. And their kids are actually teaching them how to be more human, how to get outside of their own socialization of what it means to be a man, what it means to be a father. That is super powerful, that our kids sometimes can show us how to be different people, to really find that part of ourselves, maybe, that got lost or closed off. Because that is what’s being called for to support our children. They answered that call, but it wasn’t easy and they’re expressing that — that was a journey, but ultimately it was worth it.
LGBTQ NATION: Dwyane Wade is an executive producer of the film. Can you tell me about his involvement and what it means to have both him and Dennis Shepard attached to the project?
LF: Well, Dwyane Wade actually came on after the film was finished. We had premiered at South by Southwest in March, and that was when Netflix called, and soon after Dwyane Wade came aboard. I think in talking to his producing partner, John Marcus, he saw the film and was so incredibly moved and recognized many of these thoughts and conversations that he’d had himself, that he hadn’t been able to find a way to express in some kind of visual way. I think he just could feel that this was a film that represented his experience as well as so many other fathers. I love that he’s lending his platform to be able to lift the film so that it is going to reach even more people.
Same with Dennis. You know, Dennis at first was like, “Well, this is their conversation. Do I really belong here?” And I’m like, “Yeah, you do! You’re the one who paved the way for dads. You showed the example of what it looks like to show up.” So, we have Dennis from 25 years of doing this, and Dwyane Wade who is sort of the new voice of dads and what support looks like. I heard him and his wife, Gabrielle Union, speak just a month before the film came out at the NAACP Awards. He had written a letter to his daughter and he shared that with the audience. There was not a dry eye in that room. So the fact that these dads can have these conversations with different dads outside of the LGBTQ community, outside of dads who are already supportive — how can we reach those other men? Maybe even men who don’t have LGBTQ children? It could make the world different and safer for all of us.
LGBTQ NATION: This film will be on Netflix, where so many people will have the opportunity to see it. What do you hope people, especially fathers, will take away from this film?
LF: My hope is that all people, but particularly dads, will see what unconditional love looks like. It’s not a straight line. It’s not easy by any means. And sometimes it means getting over your own fears to show up for your child. But when you do, it’s powerful, and there’s joy and there’s hope, which is where the film leaves you. So I just hope to spread more of that in the world. Cause, honestly, that’s what we need right now.