Josi Victoria and the importance of trans awareness

Jordan Bosch
Special to the Times-Herald

The Moose Jaw Cultural Centre was pretty busy on Saturday night for the showcasing of Josi Victoria: A Complicated Masquerade.
The documentary film by local artist Ken Dalgarno chronicles the transition of his friend, a man born Greg Martin, into the woman Josi Victoria Martin. As Martin herself pointed out before screening, the people coming to this premiere were a mix of Dalgarno’s friends and supporters, Greg’s friends and supporters, members of Moose Jaw’s LGBTQ community, and folks who were just curious about the subject matter of gender transitioning. As a result, the Mae Wilson Theatre had a stronger turnout than either of the two RuBarb productions I saw in the summer. Which is a very good thing for a film like this.
Trans awareness, despite being leaps ahead of general knowledge and attitudes in decades past, is still not largely felt. Trans people still face social ostracizing, and there are a lot of people intolerant towards the idea of a man choosing to become a woman. Martin dedicated a few moments in her emotionally charged opening speech to talk about the atmosphere of fear that all too often pervades cisgender feelings towards trans people. She was also quick to dispel stereotypes that most trans women began as overly feminine cross-dressing boys (Greg having been a sportsman and quite traditionally masculine). By shedding light on this, movies like Josi Victoria are needed to create a dialogue. Dalgarno says in making the movie he wanted to convey a better understanding of trans issues and struggles.
“It’s living inside a body you’re uncomfortable with,” he explains.
He also expresses a hope that the film acts as a bridge between the LGBTQ community and the cisgender community.
Dalgarno, already an accomplished artist and photographer, was looking to make a movie as his next artistic project when he heard the news of his old friend. He explains the impetus for making a documentary about Martin’s journey.
“I knew Greg from high school and was shocked when he came out as trans over Facebook. He’d always been an alpha male. And it just seemed the natural idea to approach her about making a movie of her story,” he said.
The movie was filmed over six days in Martin’s home of Vancouver, 90 per cent in May 2016 before concluding after her sex change in February 2017 to better illustrate her transition. With post-production finishing this past May, the project took Dalgarno and Martin almost exactly a year to complete.
The movie is structured as a long interview, with Martin talking about her life story, and the 51-year journey of becoming a woman. Illustrated by photographs and occasional footage, she talks about Greg’s personality, his relationships, and the hardships of recognizing and then embracing his desire to be a woman. The film mostly focuses on the mental, psychological, and emotional transitions, touching for a short time on the physiological. It’s real and unapologetically bold, not straying from vivid detail or emotional subjects, especially when Martin touches on the initial rejection of her mother to her coming out. She recalls a phone conversation where, upon bringing up Martin, her mother responds with apprehension, as though this were merely a teenage phase, and it’s a very crippling moment. The film also addresses how the few times Greg was open about who he was, those around him made the assumption he was gay, and how through his own experimentation this turned out not to be the case. Greg had met and fallen for a woman who is still his partner as Josi.
Dalgarno’s use of image is very strong here, often undercutting Martin’s recollections with pictures of Greg one moment playing football or in his Coquitlam, B.C. firefighters’ uniform, and then the next privately in a negligee or dresses, rendering the masquerade of the title clear: the overcompensating outward masculinity being a guise for the inner femininity Martin always had.
Josi Victoria: A Complicated Masquerade has been getting attention from the Regina International Film Festival, been short-listed for the Fraser Valley Film Festival, and was entered into fifteen more festivals and counting. Additionally it’s going to have a featured spot on Focus Saskatchewan coming this October.
“I’d like it to be an educational tool for people,” Dalgarno says. “We asked questions people wanted to know.”
This film does have the power to enlighten and broaden minds, which is a crucial thing. Martin inferred that Moose Jaw was the kind of place where coming out as trans isn’t easy, and made a point of how there are many closeted trans people here. I hope some of them at least were at this screening.