story by GK Gurley | photo courtesy Melisse Tokic
Much of what is in the media does not represent our experience of being queer in the South. Now, there’s a new award-winning short film made by various Southern and queer people, about Southern queer people, called “Queer and Southern God”. Having been born and raised in the South myself, I connected to and loved this film by local therapist and filmmaker, Melisse Tokic.
Recently released at the Nashville Film Festival, “Queer and Southern God” is about Hank, a trans man who finds himself pregnant after being raped by his childhood best friend. Because it takes place in the rural South, this film makes space for more dialogue about trauma and transitioning in poverty. Hank is poor with little to no access to healthcare, so because he’s been off his hormones, he gets pregnant and doesn’t know what his options are.
Hank has to tell his boyfriend Trampus what happened and talk about the pregnancy with his mom and his abuser’s mom. Of course, they are all sharing their opinions steeped in Christian language, as much of the South does, and Hank is basically left to fend for himself.
The film is well-written, and the cast brings it to life perfectly. There are powerful, visually poignant moments in the film. In one scene, Hank wears an open button-down to account for his pregnant belly. With so many stereotypes of “maternity” and pregnancy, I loved this image of queer parenting.
In an interview with Tokic, she told me that she changed the narrative from a novel to a film script because she wanted contributors and wanted the story to be put together as a collaborative effort.
“In the novel,” Tokic said, “the lead character here as well as the movie is a transgender individual, and I am not a transgender individual, so I didn’t want to put anything out there that was untrue or not helpful.
With a film, I can get more collaborators and change the script around.”
Tokic wants to not only show more diversity in queer culture but allow for other people to contribute and tell their stories. Being a storyteller and a therapist, her priorities are helping disenfranchised people find a safe way to share their stories.
Regarding transphobia and representation, she said, “There are a lot of divisions, separation, and misconceptions in the world about transgender individuals. I want people to have a dialogue and start talking about this. I want a platform for this conversation where other people can answer. I don’t want to be the spokesperson.”
“Queer and Southern God” brings up important issues of the sexualization of trans people. Tokic mentioned patterns she sees with her clients: “Something I’ve heard my trans clients say is ‘everyone is obsessed with my genitalia and what I’m doing with my genitalia’.” That is true of Hank in the film. His best friend assaulted him. Everyone is telling him that his pregnancy “is not about you”, “think about the bigger picture”. Everyone asserts their opinion about the pregnancy and his body onto him.
On top of having no resources to properly make a decision about the pregnancy, Hank has to process his assault. Hank can’t remember saying “no”, thus prompting a discussion about consent. Hank was betrayed by his friend and abuser Lanny, a character we do not meet in the film. Tokic intentionally didn’t show Lanny in the film so that the focus could be on the survivor.
In this age of the #MeToo Movement, the media has to include trans voices. Something the movement has failed to do is create a safe space for survivors once they’ve shared their stories. The media turns too much focus on the abusers and vindication, not healing and safety for survivors.
Tokic noted, “We have to show more diverse populations of survivors in the media. People need to see that other people with similar stories have survived and that there is hope.”