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When I watch films, it’s hard for me to not also keep an eye on those I’m watching with. When I react, I like to see how they’re feeling, too.


And as another full frontal came onto the big screen, I had to glance around.

Yep, a fair number of folks were shifting uncomfortably.

It made sense — even the most open-minded person may be uncomfortable with nudity — and there was plenty of that in “Bixa Travesty.” But then again, if I had to guess, this film was a lot to handle for other reasons, too.

In its annual tradition, the China Women’s Film Festival — renamed the BATURU International Cultural Festival — had returned to Beijing. Boasting a great line-up of films, all themed around women’s and LGBTQ rights advocacy, I signed up to be a volunteer.

As it were, the film screening I could attend with the aforementioned Brazilian film about Linn Da Quebrada, a black trans woman and activist who has been shocking the streets of Sao Paolo with her beautifully bold performances.

Throughout the film, Quebrada doesn’t hold back anything — not about the struggles the transgender community faces internationally, nor about the pervasive harm she saw pouring from her country’s heteronormative culture.

And to think, we were seeing this in China. I was shocked — not by the film, as a strong ally of the LGBTQ community myself, but by the fact I was watching it here. I mean, China’s censorship made “Fifty Shades of Grey” an almost family-friendly film, yet there was Quebrada, slamming the patriarchy in strips of black leather.

After the screening, two Chinese activists sat for a Q&A, sharing their experiences being transgender in China. One man then asked: “So, how do you want others to treat you?”


To their credit, both speakers replied patiently, and quite succinctly: You should treat us like you would anyone else. After all, there was no reason not to — we’re all simply people, equally, and to think otherwise is the problem. It was a silly question, they said.

“But this question isn’t silly!” another woman butted in. “You people are strange! Not normal!”

We — the crowd and I — collectively shuddered. The activists ignored the ignorance, and instead continued on with their thoughts.

As the event wrapped up, though, the coordinator found me — the incident was still bothering her.

“All the more reason to host festivals like this,” I said, comforting her, “and all the more reason to screen this sort of film in countries like this.”

She nodded — this film, like others in the line-up, were chosen for just that reason.

And while it felt then like a hollow comfort, I suppose these small steps forward were better than any taken backward. Hopefully, this film would impact those who saw it, and that impact would spread on to others.

I know the whole event certainly impacted me.

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