Kings, Queens, In-Betweens

Why I’m Making This Film… | by Gabrielle C. Burton

I went to film school on a Rotary scholarship in France, where I fell in love with filmmaking.  I consider films to be modern-day storytelling, and I feel a strong sense of social responsibility in filmmaking–starting with what story I’m putting out there. The inherent intertwining of artistic expression/aesthetics with a commercial reality (distribution, financing, etc.) presents a vibrant challenge for any filmmaker, and I balance this with a focus on subjects and stories I care about creatively and personally, while keeping in mind accessibility for an audience. Each film I’ve made or project I’ve worked on has been different from the last–a romantic comedy, a slice-of-life feature about the “other” side of GenX, a comedic fable about gender roles and marriage, Julia Sweeney’s monologue about religion and atheism, short doc spots on people and their cars for Ford, PSAs with Julia Ormond and a short doc piece about human slavery/trafficking, working with Victoria’s Secret as Creative Consultant on leadership development through filmmaking and storytelling–these and other films all share a sense of hope in the human condition and interest in capturing a good story.

I wasn’t planning to make a film about drag.  Two years ago, a friend asked me to his husband’s show – and it turned out he’s a headlining queen in Columbus. The thriving world of drag here was exciting in its dynamic creativity, and it made me question assumptions I had. So I set out to make a film about it. KQIB focuses on the distinction between gender, sex, and sexuality as brought into question by the performances and personal stories of drag queens and kings.

I was immediately captured by the drag king and queen troupes here.  The people in the film are not only deeply thoughtful, talented, and magnetic personalities, but their compassion for those who have hurt them, who do not embrace them or even judge them, is remarkable.  This story must be brought to the screen.

From my research, I was surprised to find there hasn’t yet been a film to include kings, queens, and transgender performers together. How can there be so many films about drag, but not one that talks about kings AND queens?, I thought. Not one that addresses transgender performers alongside queens and kings?  It seemed an obvious subject for a film, because these performers are, in one sense, all doing the same thing – making us look at gender in a whole new light.

Part of this divide reflected a divide I found within drag performers and the BGLTQ community as well – that of him versus her, and a possible larger theme of sexism and judgment even among marginalized groups.  Queens thought their audiences wouldn’t be interested in kings; some gay men thought kings are too political and boring; some kings felt queens were self-focused, too competitive, unaware of political ramifications of their work…  But in the process of filming, I noticed this generation of kings and queens were bridging a gender and community gap – and they started performing together, surprising both themselves and their audiences at times in how successful they were, and how their snap judgments and assumptions had been wrong.  This reflects to me a more important issue off-screen that needs to be addressed and can be with KQIB and our social outreach campaign: that of breaking down invisible or even unconscious barriers and presumptions that we might not even be aware we are perpetuating.

I feel so strongly about this film because campaigns against bullying and gay teen suicide must be supported — and part of this support has to focus on gender expression.  When people don’t fit into a box, it’s difficult; and frankly, few of us fit into those boxes.  I relate to this from my own youth and struggling with confusion about my sexuality and gender expression.  Now I keenly feel the prevalence, influence, and significance of gender role assignments with my 4 year old son and 6 year old daughter — from toys and clothing selections, to gender assumptions in language (every animal being assumed to be male) and in playgroups (soccer for boys, crafts for girls), to a narrowing of their future’s possibilities based on their biological sex and constrained by their expected gender expression (“girls do this,” or “boys don’t do that”).  It is inescapable and difficult to question or resist, whether the enforcement is coming from themselves, their friends, their teachers, other adults (relatives, parents, shoppers in the grocery store), advertisements, television and films…or even from me.  We are raised wanting to categorize in the blink of an eye, and it is difficult to not continue with familiar binary-based assumptions.
For the release of KQIB, I want to screen the film at schools, universities, for policy makers, families of BGLTQ people, as well as the BGLTQ community, having community discussions about the differences between our identities of biological sex, sexuality, and gender.  This isn’t easy stuff, and it’s laden with assumptions, judgment, and sometimes fear, anger, or emotional pain, but it’s critical that we think and talk about this important — and vital — issue.

“Kings, Queens, & In-Betweens” is a much-needed film that will serve to encourage community discussions and support for BGLTQ individuals and their families.  A month ago, Vice President Joe Biden called transgender discrimination the “civil rights issue of our time,” referring to problems related to gender expression for everyone who is discriminated against because they do not fit into strict male-female, straight-gay, butch-femme categories.  I see this film as part of a movement to encourage positive understanding of the real and complex issues we face in our socialization when thinking about gender and sexuality.

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