Trans in Trumpland documents the struggles and resilience of the trans community under the Trump administration. With each episode focusing on a different trans person’s life, including young trans boy Ash in rural North Carolina, Rebecca, a trans Latina immigrant in Texas, Evonne, a Black trans woman running Mississippi’s only trans-led non-profit, and Shane, a Native American trans military veteran in Idaho, the four-episode series highlights the shared experiences of discrimination as well as their individual journeys through it. The series, produced by trans-owned production company TransWave Films, is directed by Tony Zosherafatain, with Trace Lysette (Hustlers, Transparent) executive producing alongside trans advocates Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Chella Man. GLAAD interviewed director Tony Zosherafatain and executive producer Trace Lysette about the docu-series, the impetus for producing it, how they found the diverse trans people featured, and their hopes for what people watching take away.
GLAAD: For those who don’t know, what is Trans in Trumpland and why did it feel important for you to make this series?
Tony Zosherafatain: Trans in Trumpland is a four episode docu-series about the Trump administration’s devastating impact on the trans community over the past four years. It felt incredibly important as a trans filmmaker to create this series due to the hateful actions that Trump took against the trans community. It was born out of necessity—I wanted to help protect my community and educate the country about the daily plight of trans Americans.
Trace Lysette: It’s a window into the life of some of our trans siblings who live in some of the harshest areas of this country to be trans.
GLAAD: How did you first get involved and what has the process been like?
Tony: I first realized I had to create and direct the series the first week that Trump took office. Especially right after he removed any mention of LGBTQ rights on The White House website that same week. I knew I had to do something as a trans filmmaker.
Trace: Tony and Jamie (DiNicola) approached my team a while back and I have to say it’s been so refreshing creating with a trans led team like this.
GLAAD: For you personally, why were you wanting to help share these diverse stories?
Tony: I’m a trans Iranian and Greek American, and also happen to be first-generation as well. My mom was born in Greece, and my dad in Iran. So diversity to me in a sense has been part of my story since my childhood growing up in a mixed household. I wanted this to translate into the types of stories featured in Trans in Trumpland. As Trump continued to attack trans people, I wanted to help share the most marginalized stories in the trans community. So it made sense from an ethical standpoint to choose trans stories that also focused on racism, xenophobia, and colonization.
GLAAD: The people you chose to interview have really unique experiences and stories to share. How did you find each of them and how did you decide who ultimately would be included in the series?
Tony: I found each of the people featured in Trans in Trumpland, except for Shane, online or through trans support groups. I had known Shane for quite some time as an internet friend, so I just reached out to him directly. Ash and his mom Daisy I found through a North Carolina group focused on supporting trans youth. I reached out to a trans Latina group in Texas to find Rebecca, and Evonne through mutual friends working in the South. It was a long process of tapping into my trans network. I wanted to make sure each person represented the most marginalized trans groups and that they were all spread throughout the country.
GLAAD: What was the filmmaking process like–did you experience any setbacks or struggles, and how did you face or overcome them?
Trace: I think the biggest setbacks or struggles came during the financing stage. We had a lot of transphobic messages and hate mail come our way when we fundraised on Kickstarter. So we had to get creative and tap into our network of support for funding through grants and alternative ways. What got me through this difficult time was just focusing on why I was making the series – to lift up my trans siblings and show them that someone actually cared and wanted to showcase their stories.
GLAAD: Where are the people you interviewed now since filming and how have you seen the project affect their lives?
Tony: Each person has had the series affect their lives positively. Ash is now older, and it’s incredible to see him now pursuing college applications, and continuing to be an advocate in his own way. Rebecca continues to speak out for the rights of trans immigrants, and wants to start her own non-profit one day. Evonne’s non-profit is thriving, and she continues to serve the most vulnerable in Mississippi. Shane advocates for both Indigenous and trans military rights, and was incredibly relieved to see Biden overturn the trans military ban. It’s made me happy to know that the series helped elevate them.
GLAAD: In a post-Trump administration era, what do you foresee the trans community experiencing and what can people do to support?
Tony: In this post-Trump era, I see trans rights growing exponentially on the federal level under the Biden administration. I’m especially hopeful for a bill that would mandate health insurance to cover trans hormones and surgery in every state. That’s a big state by state inequality that trans people face. I think every person, even if they’re not trans, can help support trans Americans by speaking out against transphobia in their community. And by advocating for trans rights at the state and local level, wherever they may live.
Trace: I’m old school… I think we still have a long way to go. Obviously legislation helps and is important. But really a larger conversation about our quality of life and how we are deserving of abundant lives needs to happen. This society has made it so hard for us to thrive. I hope our new administration can be aware of that and take steps to counteract it.
GLAAD: What do you hope people watching take away from these trans people living across the country, at different intersections and experiences, and their stories?
Tony: I want people to see that trans people are incredibly resilient, and we’re shaping our communities and are bettering the world around us. There is so much to be learned from the examples of trans joy in the series, and I think that’s one aspect of trans stories that hasn’t been told enough. In a certain sense, I hope viewers see that trans people are part of the diverse fabric that makes the United States unique.
Trace: I hope it can be a bridge to people outside of the trans community. To help them understand us and what we are up against better. Maybe they will stumble upon it and change the way they think or interact or judge us.
GLAAD: For you, what was one of the most resonant or powerful scenes captured?
Tony: Definitely the scene where Rebecca and her mother hug and cry in the Texas episode. That happened without any planning, and was spontaneous. Our whole crew, including me, was shedding tears while watching that scene unfold. It was such a powerful moment of a mother’s love for her child.
Trace: I really enjoy the scenes with Evonne and her chosen daughter. It reminded me of my own relationship with my trans mother Rhonda back home. I really would not be here had I not had her to guide me when I was younger.
GLAAD: What did you personally learn or find out during the process of filming from the people who were interviewed?
Tony: It was life-changing to film each person and learn their stories on such a deep level. I had never been to many of these states and so I didn’t know what to expect. What shocked me the most was seeing the ways in which trans people are resilient and create their communities and “pockets of joy” in the least likely of places. It just proved to me that we really do exist across history, time, and space. That was the most powerful thing to realize.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Watch the trailer here:
Trans in Trumpland will be available on February 25th to US and Canadian audiences on Topic through Topic.com and Topic channels through AppleTV & iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android, and Amazon Prime Video Channels.
Topic features North American premieres and programming from around the world, complemented by a diverse slate of Originals including documentaries, scripted comedies and dramas, discussion shows, and more. With exclusive TV series and films that take you to more than 40 countries, Topic showcases an unparalleled diversity of creators, perspectives, and experiences. We prioritize bold storytelling, champion underrepresented voices, and believe that entertainment should expand your view of the world. Topic’s Original productions include the Sundance 2021 docuseries Philly D.A., Call Center Blues (directed by Geeta Gandbhir), The Letter Room (directed by Elvira Lind and starring Oscar Isaac), Chris Gethard’s Beautiful/Anonymous, and Release (created/directed by Joe Penna & Ryan Morrison). Topic Entertainment from First Look Media, includes Topic Studios, which develops, finances, and produces content for all platforms, and our rapidly growing streaming service, Topic. Topic is available to US and Canadian audiences on topic.com, AppleTV & iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android, and Amazon Prime Video Channels, with more coming soon.