Profile of Brooks Nelson, Guest on 1/27 Gender Blender



I recently profiled Brooks Nelson in my TransNation column.  Brooks is a Portland, Oregon filmmaker and a guest on tonight's show, where we will be discussing his new documentary, Switch:  A Community in Transition

Here's more about Brooks from TransNation,which appeared on, Wednesday, January 14, 2009.

 Tired of “watching trans movies where everybody dies or is really sad,” filmmaker Brooks Nelson felt compelled to film his own, Switch: A Community in Transition

The documentray suggests that comunities shoulder much of the “responsibility” for their trans memebers’ gender transformations

"I didn’t change,” Nelson insists. “I became more who I am—so really, the burden falls on everyone [else]. I peeled back stuff to reveal who I really am"

Meanwhile, he says, friends and family members—and the tightknit progressive community in Portland, Oregon—were forced to switch gender pronouns, incorporate new names and examine their own assumptions about what it means to be male or female. 

“In all the different spheres that we all occupy,” Nelson argues, “People in them have different responsibilities to the person who is transitioning. My boss’s responsibility is really different than my partner’s responsibility. I’m expecting different things from him…like[to] step up as an employer and say, “This is a bad law for some of my employees,’which means a lot more to somebody making those laws than you or me calling in.”

"I feel completely blessed to live in this kind of amazing community. If anybody is going to have a stab at some of these frank conversations we wish would go on, it would be this community  Its age diverse, its race diverse, its got class diversity—ability—everybody gets to bring this kind of unique perspective to the table.”

Despite his conviction that his community had been “doing progressive political work for so long we know how to have really hard conversations,” Nelson admits he wasn’t happy with everyone’s reaction to his transition—and the responsibilities it placed on them.

“I really, really try to meet people exactly where they are. [But] I have a limit. At one point I reached this limit with this guy and I said ‘I will take you out back and beat the shit out of you. You just need to know that its not okay.’ He got it, at that point. And then I spent a lot of time thinking about that—was that some kind of guy thing? If I threaten to kick your ass then you have to do what I say?”

Nelson says he hopes the film builds allies, by illustrating the way sex changes can be seen like any other tranition. “Everybody has change and transitions that they go through…how is this different."

Nelson identifies as masculine, but he admits, “Am I a man?  I don’t know. What is one?”

“This push to declare gender pronouns…has been really tough. I was tenaciously holding onto the middle and then it just became too much energy. It’s really hard to be genderqueer and own that place, particularly when you have to move through a mainstream world. People come up to me and say ‘Dude, I get you’re trying to end oppression based on gender presentation, [but] I still need to know how to refer to you in the meeting.’ It was like, Okay, I have a lot of different battles to fight; I don’t want to have to fight this one"

The longtime activist, moved to Portland from Atlanta, Georgia in 1986; but only began filmmaking a few years ago; after joining the organization, North West Documentary Arts.  His first movie addressed the difficulties gender variant folk have utilizing public restrooms.

“We could tell that story a thousand more times,” Nelson argues. “As long as gender nonconformining people are being harassed in bathrooms and the movie is entertaining and it’s providing some kind of new perspective—make it. Make ten.”

Although the title, Switch, may conjure up sex changes and moving from one box to another, Nelson says that’s not what the he intended.  “It’s really about language. That was the biggest change.And that was the biggest struggle for the people who are more on the periphery; [but] that’s the expectation that folks are going to have. No matter what your relationship is with the trans person, you’re likely to be asked to switch your language in some way.”

In association with Film Action Oregon, Nelson’s production company, Boxxo Productions ( presents the first public screening of Switch, Wednesday, February 4 at Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon.It’s a date Nelson awaits apprehesively, hoping viewers will take something away with them.

"One of the goals I have set for the movie is that no matter who you are, when youre watching it you see someone who either you are or you know. And number two…you walk away and have some thoughts about it afterwards. I don’t know if I accomplished it. This is the first public screening.

Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall is the author ofBlind Faith, the latest Blind Eye mystery, which is already garnering rave reviews. To view the book trailer and find out more, check out

(c) 2009 Jacob Anderson-Minshall


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