in Film and Televison
Photograph by Robert Katzki
BY chai (aka) alexander McLennaghan
May 1, 2022
A little bit about myself; my name is Alex, AKA Chai (stage name). I identify as non binary, of Kiwi and samoan descent, one of 9 children, I participate in the art of drag and I also love to sing and dance. I have seen all of this presented in film, television or both and I know that this is not a full representation of queer individuals or our culture. We are much more than one person.
Queer individuals, art and culture being featured on film and television has grown immensely over the past decade.
Across the globe notable award winning shows such as Ru Paul’s drag race, Pose and Queer eye have represented many and presented to the rest of the world a glimpse into a culture that is rich and diverse. These shows have opened many doors for queer people and aided in conversations around change, equality, representation, even changes in law.
Though we have come a long way there is still work to be done. Voices to be heard, people to be seen and spaces to be reclaimed.
On an international scale a lot has been showcased; though it is very important to know our own history here in Aotearoa. Home to legendary, historical icons, like Carmen Rupe and Georgina Beyer, (the worlds first openly trans woman politician and Mayor) Both public figures, powerful activists, Drag Artists and Trans woman of colour who have forged the path for queer people in Aotearoa.
Where we see one part of the community represented on a major platform, often the years of work prior to this, and the people that made it possible are generally not featured or mentioned.
An I admit, as a young queer person I had not done much research of our queer culture or let alone been educated about it through my schooling years. While writing this article I went through the motions of, I can't write that, I wont say that, I don't want to upset anyone, I'm not educated enough to be doing this.
I had to have a cuppa tea, breathe, centre myself and search to find answers.
Realising that all of these feelings are related to fear. Fear of who i am, who we are. The exact thing that's kept not just mine, but millions of voices unheard and faces invisible. I believe the more voices that speak up for others, not just ourselves, is how we will see more change that leads to representation, appreciation and respect.
Photos courtesy of Trinity Ice
One woman in particular that has continued to forge the path for queer people here in Aotearoa, is Miss Trinity Ice; a powerhouse performer, Drag artist, business woman and Trans woman of colour.
I had the wonderful opportunity, being able to sit down to ask Trinity a few questions to listen as she shared her experiences of being in the industry and why representation is so important.
Trinity’s career spans over more than a decade with her drag career beginning in Wellington which in turn became the catalyst for her Trans journey. She has since relocated and for the past 16 years has lived in Auckland. You can catch her hosting and performing in multiple venues, clubs and events around the city.From travelling cabaret shows, event management under the JOYLAB company, radio to television. Trinity Ice, has blazed a trail and continues to utilise the platforms to spread the message of being unapologetically yourself.
House of Drag - A televised show that was the first of its kind here in Aotearoa. Trinity was one of two Trans people to compete (Trinity Ice & Season 1 winner; Hugo Grrrl). Trinity loved the experience;
‘It was the best time ever, bonding with people i don't usually work with, or know so much about to have that memory with them was fun. ’Coming out as a trans woman on national television’. ‘I was able to step out from behind the drag as a proud trans woman of colour’.
Trinity had hidden her identity from the world and her community for such a long time, so being on national television was a massive step for her.
‘I realised that kids are gonna watch this. If I inspire one kid or two kids or anybody that is trans or just wanted to do drag, then i’ve done my part in the world’.
House of drag was also screened in Canada. When the show was aired in 2018, she received a lot of messages.
‘I had so many people reaching out to me, mothers, fathers and kids, saying ‘I think I'm trans’.
That outreach sparked conversation within herself.
‘I'm not a trained professional, I don't have a degree in these things, but what I do have is life experience’. ‘That was also the reason why i did it. Being very visible. I felt relieved after coming out on television. I felt like I always lived a double life’.
Being queer can be difficult navigating the industry. Watching Trinity on television and other queer people on major platforms has inpsired me and ushered me into the heart frame that IT IS okay to be me. There is so much prejudice and many stereotypes. Frequently trans and queer people are showcased in the role of the addict, the prostitute, the one with issues or the butt of a joke to any given situation.
Again, that perception shown only shows just how far said platform has yet to improve upon. Not all the time, but often or not, presenting to ALL that we do not exist in all forms beyond what film and television portray. We are more than just a stereotypical form.
Trinity - ‘Many years ago, I had an epiphany. I don't wanna take this off, it's not an aesthetic. It's not a costume. It aligned with who I was, who I am. It's how i knew i was trans’. There was a time where I did transition and I thought that I couldn't do drag, because I'm a woman.
‘I always say. Drag is what I do, Trans is who I am’.
On the topic of representation, Trinity also shares why it is so important being visible and being seen on platforms such as television and film.
‘We’re more visible than we were 10 years ago. It's absolutely amazing. It’s a beautiful thing to see, because then you don't feel alone. You see a character that's like you, you want to be able to connect with them, and if you can’t there’s something wrong there’.
Seeing queer people represented and portrayed in a way that is honest is something we are seeing more of now. As opposed to past times where films and television present the queer character in a derogatory way.
‘Back when I was watching movies like Ace Ventura, you know when they pull the skirt up and there’s a bulge or White Chicks. From that to where we are now, I do believe we’re heading in the right track’.
Like many who follow their heart and dance to the beat of their own drum, some have had support and inspiration, some have not.
‘I don't really have any role models, or aspire to be like someone, It’s more so as a wider net’. ‘Being a role model for myself’. Trinity aspires to be the proud, strong woman she is today. ‘I’ve navigated my transition by myself’.
She is an inspiration to me and I imagine many more. The courageous character and belief in herself gifts Trans & Queer individuals the ability to continue believing in ourselves. A light, burning bright, like many before her. We are seeing change in film and television. There is more representation, though i do believe there's more work to be done.
Trinity - ‘I think we don't have the right people in the right places to fully facilitate a full change’. ‘Like anything, it just becomes progressive’. Shows like POSE, We’re Here, Rurangi (Film) have created platforms that are smoothing out the labels that we’re usually labelled by’.
Photos courtesy of Ru Paul's Drag Race
Queer people walk a journey that is so vivaciously beautiful, different and at times difficult to navigate. Living as an openly queer person is not easy and it shouldn't be hard. The pressure of conforming to heterosexual norms an expectations represented in film and television makes it so. That is a sign of the times. That reality continues to nurture a belief Queer people do not exist or are negatively indoctrinating people to believe otherwise.
As times have progressed with the featuring of Trans people like Trinity and queer individuals on platforms such as television, film and politics; I completely agree with Trinity. We are heading in the right direction. Seeing more and learning more of a culture that is rich, diverse and fabulous. Space has always been there. It should be the industry's prerogative to create it, support it and give it back. But, it is also up to us as queer people and non queer people to educate ourselves more, do the research, learn about our people. In turn we provide ourselves the means to help aid in these changes that support us ALL!
We do exist! We are Here! We are queer! We are You!