American Beauties is an award-winning documentary on Asian transgender immigrants. We enter the secretive, often misunderstood world of immigrant male to female transgenders. In a series of illuminating interviews, Amanda, Imani, Kimberly and Kosal give revealing insights on the issues closest to their hearts: discrimination, prostitution, and sex reassignment surgery as well as their former lives, and their dreams for the future.

The documentary is designed for use in a variety of disciplines: transgender and transsexual studies, human sexuality, gender identification, sexual development, family relations, psychology, sociology, etc.

If you wish to purchase a DVD copy, click here.

An Interview with JoAnne Keatley
Project Director
Transgender Resources and Neighborhood Space (TRANS)
Q: Many transgender individuals experience a lack of social acceptance and support. What can we do to improve this situation?

In the transgender community, there's kind of two schools of thought. There's a community of transgender individuals who feel like living in a kind of normal environment, hetero-sexual environment, is the ultimate goal. So, they're those that kind of seek to disappear within mainstream society and not be associated with transgender community. So, there's a large population like that, that kind of just you know becomes invisible. They seek employment opportunities, they stay employed, and things like that. Of course, one of the things that's necessary to have that kind of existence is the ability to pass because if you're not able to pass, then you're not going to have access to that kind of hidden environment.

Then, there's another school of thought within the transgender community. It's a kind of emerging, political point-of-view, and that is to be more visible and to create a sense of safety for the transgender community so that all gender variant populations will have equal access to employment, housing and things like that. That political movement actually has been changing things I believe throughout the country. Some communities have gender identity specifically in their anti-discrimination language. Now, it is illegal in the State of California to discriminate in terms of housing and/or employment for someone on the basis of gender identity. However, that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. It happens all the time. People do get discriminated against but at least if it does happen then there's an avenue for seeking some kind of resolution.

It's a huge issue, I think we have to do a better job of educating society at large, really raising awareness. I think you can kind of compare it to what was happening in the 70s and 80s in terms of raising awareness around gay and lesbian issues. The fact of the matter is that gender is very a kind of fundamental concept for many people. Many people find gender to be a kind of rigid and they don't want variance within the concept of gender. So, when they're presented with someone who is trangressing gender lines, they are threaten. I think people are threaten by that, they don't understand what's going on. So, I think that we as a community need to first be open to kind of, you know, widening our way of thinking, and also we need to do a better job of educating ourselves and being able to explain what is know, what does it mean to be transgender, and what are the fundamental concepts that need to be kind of looked at and explored.

I can't blame anyone for feeling the way that they do in regards to like my gender or your gender. People have right to their own opinion, and I'm not the person to take that right away from them. But I do say that people should educate themselves around something if they have strong feelings about it because if it's going to affect how you interact with me, then you should at least know where you are coming from in reality, not based on some assumptions that you have made about either me or the population I work with.

Q: What kind of issues immigrant transgenders usually face when they come to the US and what advice would you give to them?

Many transgender individuals experience transphobic reactions or discrimination in the home countries that they come from. So, many transgender individuals will migrate to the United States and then be able to come to their own in terms of their transgender identity. But what happens is that once they get here, they are transitioning and so they may have immigrated, for example, in their birth sex and then when they are in the process of transitioning, they may come up cross roadblocks in terms of their gender identity.

With transgender people, I think that what heightens the difficulties is the lack of either family support or peer support, so there's not only the struggles of having to assimilate into a new society and to a new culture but also being alienated from those people that would normally support you while you were doing that. So, it can be very difficult.

The other thing is that if you're a male-to-female transgender then there's this a kind of tendency to erotise male-to-female transgender individuals, and a lot of immigrant transgenders end up being drawn into the commercial sex trade because of the ability to engage in commercial sex work and gain at least some income and some access to...perhaps medical care that they would not be otherwise able to afford. I think, that's a problem.

Engaging in commercial sex work, while it may seem like an easy way out, it isn't an easy way out, it's a trap. There's no easy way out. So, in order to sustain a living, to you know in order to have access to health care, in order to have access to the kind of life that you're seeking, really falling into the commercial sex trade trap is not the way to go. I think you're going to be exposed to a lot of risk, exposed to STDs, HIV, drug use, violence, and I think over time the best you know approach that you can take is really to seek and get an education. And if you're persistent, then you will be able to seek and find employment, and I think over time that's really the better way to go. I have seen too many people die as a result of being involved in the commercial sex trade, and you know it doesn't have to be that way.

Visit Dani's T-Room for transgender term definitions (transgender, transsexual, transvestite, tranny, cross dresser, drag queen, hermaphrodite, shemale, etc.) and learn the differences between them! Another good source is Wikipedia.

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