My Artistic Statement (from my Sundance application)
Note: I was not admitted into the screenwriter’s lab but still thought I’d share what I said.
Throughout my adult life, I sought and found comfort in the arts because they allowed me to understand my most personal truths in productive and tangible ways. It might be through a resonant scene or a completed piece. But it hasn’t always been sunny. I spent a period trying to negotiate with myself and the Universe. I attempted to sneakily redefine what personal meant in my work to avoid vulnerability. I tried my hand at a looser definition meaning I only had to do work that I was “personally” interested in. It is not surprising to me now, but that work was flat and easy to walk away from.
Fast forward to a frustrated me who was angry at the work I was making. I dared myself and maybe God too: “oh, you want to see me make something personal? I’ll tell my most personal story and we’ll see what happens.” So I did that. I made a very personal short documentary called Coles Manor. I entered that labyrinth with a bravado meant to drown out the fear. I had no idea what the result would be or what I wanted. The outcome was beyond what I could have imagined. I felt validated, clear, and unburdened. Facing that fear so directly—the fear of doing personal work has had powerful implications on how I see myself as an artist and how I decide what to work on. It opened me up in a way I could not have predicted.
When I began to write Imposter Impersonator, the process was magical. It was not logical in the way writing had been for me in the past where I set out to write a very particular and planned story. In this case, I would sense bits and pieces. The breakthrough came when I connected with my main characters, Nina and Mechelle. I began to talk to them through my journal writing and out loud at my desk. The story developed, took shape and I found myself falling in love with them and their story more and more everyday. Nina and Mechelle gifted me with the honor of telling their story. They were faithful, consistent, and patient with me even on the days that I did not fully show up. I am forever in their debt.
That explains part of my personal connection to the story. But, there is a whole other dimension that this reflection process has shown me. I was open to this story in part because of my children. I have a daughter and son who have rocked my world with their gender fluidity. For me this is two things colliding in a very real way. I am a Texan in some of the most stereotypical ways: my family is from Midland—hometown of George W. and Laura Bush. They value being “normal” and that is loaded in all the conservative and traditional ways you can imagine. But, I am also an open-minded artist who seeks to define herself.
I always sought to encourage my children to be their authentic selves. But admittedly, it is one thing to espouse that as an idea and another to be faced with the reality of it. I remember a moment when I looked at them—my ingenious girl who shuns superficial femininity in all forms and my sunshine boy who prefers headbands and fashion shows—and I felt confronted. My first thought, of which I am not proud, was, “what did I do wrong?” And then, what an opportunity it became. I had the opportunity, and I took it, to flip that upside down. I rewrote that question to ask, “what did I do right?” I transitioned to feeling proud that my children feel safe enough in our home and the outside world we have curated, to unapologetically express who they are. I love that my fixed notions about gender seem to have very little, if any, effect on them.
That awakening was mirrored in writing Imposter Impersonator. When I began, I was very comfortable describing Mechelle as a drag queen. I could wrap my mind around that. Yet, I knew she was telling me something more and it took time before I finally owned her truth. She is a transgender woman. That truth filled me with fear. Who am I to tell this story? Can I do this with authenticity and compassion?
My motivation and boon was always Mechelle and Nina. They kept coming. They kept telling me their story. My connection to Nina is much more direct. I, too, am biracial, grew up in the 80s, often felt ignored and looked over. I, too, felt a desperate need for role models and attention. I wanted to be seen and loved by the adults in my life who seemed dismissive and distracted.
Nina and Mechelle deserve to be featured on a big screen in a place of celebration and dignity. In the most personal way, I want to see myself on screen. I want my eleven-year-old self to feel seen and celebrated. In a more general sense, I want everyone who feels ignored and unseen to feel seen, loved and celebrated. I want Mechelle to be the star that she is. I hope that her transgenderness is secondary to her charismatic personhood. I hope that, like me, an audience can feel uncomfortable with their preconceived notions about gender identity and then let them go because they realize they are no longer useful.
Our hope, Nina’s, Mechelle’s, and mine was always to find the humor, the irony and have a good laugh together. We want the audience to have fun and feel their heart tugged. We hope for this to be a family movie. A huge wish is that families would see it together and follow it up with a discussion about how family is defined and what it means to be transgender. Maybe we can advance the LGBTQ cause and spread joy in the process.