12 Great Movies About the Trans Experience

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12 Great Movies About the Trans ExperienceStrand Releasing

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Call us biased here over on the film vertical, but it is our belief that there is no more effective tool for empathy than the movie. Movies offer an opportunity to sample someone else's worldview, amplifying voices that have been systemically repressed and outright ignored. Far more than a resurfacing of age-old traumas and tragedies, the movies that have been made about the trans existence are often campy and more creative than most. Hedwig and the Angry Inch should be mandatory viewing for, like, everyone.

Here are 12 of the best movies ever made about the trans experience. Learn a little, feel a lot.

Mutt (2023)

This “day in the life” style film follows a trans man in New York City as he unexpectedly crosses paths with three people from his past, from whom he has become estranged during his gender transition. This movie presents the modern nightmare of running into your ex-boyfriend, estranged half-sister, and foreign father on the same day, but compounded with dodging the micro and macro aggressions—being deadnamed, being asked personal questions about medical care, and even being asked to show the scars left from top surgery. The film feels like an echo of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, following one character through a single, dense day, in which their small-scale human interactions reflect the larger-scale state of society.

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Paris is Burning (1990)

An absolute pillar of LGBTQ+ media, Paris is Burning documents the height of New York City’s ball culture through the experiences of the people who lived it, namely the trans people of color. The titular “Paris is Burning” ball was one of many which empowered Queer artists to find community and beauty in their existence, long before RuPaul’s Drag Race made it commercially palatable.

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Tangerine (2015)

This indie dramedy was dually celebrated for its portrayal of transgender people and for being filmed entirely on iPhones. Tangerine comes from Sean Baker, who went on to create A24 gems The Florida Project and Red Rocket. The film follows Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker who, upon being released from jail, learns that her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her. As the film begins, Sin-Dee convenes with a fellow trans sex worker at a Hollywood doughnut shop on Christmas Eve, sparking an 88-minute long journey through the midnight streets of Los Angeles. Though actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor were not nominated for an Academy Award, Tangerine marks the first studio-backed Oscar campaign for openly transgender actresses.

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Boys Don't Cry (1999)

The legacy of this film, as explored by The New York Times in 2019, is winding and fickle— the trademark of a progressive conversation. We did it, Joe! Upon its release in 1999, Boys Don’t Cry became the first mainstream movie to feature a transgender man, except there was no transgender man in the room. Rather, Hillary Swank played the lead role of Brandon Teena, who at the age of 21 was raped and murdered in Nebraska. His story, coupled with others like Matthew Shepard, pioneered conversations around hate crimes in the US. Were Boys Don’t Cry made this year, we can only assume that the creative decisions would’ve been entirely different, giving agency and screen-time to transgender talent. But for 1999, Boys Don’t Cry did a lot to move forward conversations about transgender people in America.

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The Stroll (2023)

This HBO Original documentary recounts an oral history of New York City from the lens of trans sex workers of color. The title is a reference to the city’s Meatpacking District circa the ‘80s and ‘90s, dubbed “The Stroll,” where sex workers convened prior to the area’s gentrification. The film is made of archival footage of and real interviews from the trans women who survived this era, met daily with violence, bigotry, and the realities of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which began in 1981 and led to the death of more than 40 million people.

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The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

This campy road comedy follows three traveling drag queens, one of whom is a trans woman, boarding a tour bus named Priscilla across the Australian Outback. As historic and culturally relevant as every other film on this list, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has all the style and comedy you want, with less of the tragedy and emotional torture seen across the genre.

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

John Cameron Mitchell, we salute you. Before leading Peacock’s Joe vs. Carole, making series-defining cameos in HBO’s Girls, and directing some of the best television of the last 10 years—GLOW season 2, episode 4, this one’s about you—the multihyphenate wrote the 1998 stage musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. After writing the biblical beast of a show, Mitchell went on to star in the titular role, both on stage and in the 2001 film adaptation of the same name. His dreamlike, camp icon of a character, Hedwig Robinson, is a German, genderqueer rock singer who falls for a younger, greener artist. After mentoring said artist to fame, the flame steals Hedwig’s music and becomes a full-blown rockstar. Hedwig and her band tour in the shadow of the new star, exploring her past along the way—which includes a coerced gender reassignment surgery by an American soldier. It’s a whole thing, just watch the film and be cultured.

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The Danish Girl (2015)

Controversial casting aside, The Danish Girl belongs in the trans story canon for its depiction of real-life Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, played by Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. The former, Lili Elbe, was one of the first known cases of gender-affirming surgery, and while the casting of a straight man in this role was disappointing, both actors were nominated for Oscars, with Vikander winning her category. The film is set in 1920s Copenhagen and follows the social transition that Lili undergoes before ultimately receiving medical gender affirming care in 1930.

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The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone (2022)

This documentary short introduces Australian actress and transgender rights activist Georgie Stone, the youngest person to receive hormone blocking treatment in Australia. Her existence and advocacy led to a changing of Australian law, removing the Family Court’s involvement in the early stages of medical treatment for trans kids. It is both empathetic and informative.

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Disclosure (2020)

Another must-watch documentary on the subject of trans existence, Disclosure features popular transgender actors and pop culture figures including Laverne Cox, Alexandra Billings, Chaz Bono, Yance Ford, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, and more as they discuss the impact of transgender stories in mainstream American culture. Beyond the recent positive projections of trans lives on screen, the film dives into the history of harmful depictions of trans people in media in such projects as Ace Ventura, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Victor Victoria.

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Bound (1996)

It’s taken us 11 movies to finally give flowers to The Wachowskis, and for that we formally apologize. Transgender sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski are two halves of this highly successful filmmaking team, having created The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas, Sense8, and more. Their first ever film, Bound, came out in 1996, but it wasn’t until The Matrix that the sisters really broke into the box office. Bound is not specifically a trans story, but its cultural impact exists in the wider story of these trans creators. It's a neo-noir, lesbian crime thriller, à la the new movie Love Lies Bleeding.

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All About My Mother (1999)

This late ‘90s dramedy comes from legacy gay filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, the name behind such highly acclaimed films as Talk to Her, Parallel Mothers, Julieta, Pain and Glory, and more. All About My Mother explores issues of AIDS and gender identity through the lens of an Argentine nurse who leads the donor organ transplant program at a hospital in Madrid. When her son is killed in a car accident on his 17th birthday, she agrees to have his heart donated to a man in need and embarks on a journey to find her son’s estranged father, a transgender woman named Lola whom she kept a secret from her son.

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