Mallory Wood is an co-producer on the upcoming documentary TransGeek Movie, a feature-length look at trans people in geek & gamer culture. She was kind enough to speak with Satan’s Jacuzzi about the project.
Name: Mallory Wood
Location: Washington, D.C.
Documentary Title: TransGeek Movie
Runtime: We don’t have a set runtime yet but we’re currently planning on making TransGeek Movie a feature length documentary with an accompanying web series of additional footage.
Other team members: This project is really the brainchild of Kevin McCarthy, our Director and Producer, as well as Sayer Johnson, Assistant Director and Co-Producer, Lisa Jones, Editor, and Mandan Kirk, our Graphics Designer. I’ll be a Co-Producer, particularly for political and thematic content.
Distribution: We plan on starting by submitting the film to the festival circuit and moving from there. We’d love to see a modest number of theater viewings, and the entire movie will be available for streaming. We already have some venues tentatively booked, and we’ll also be showing it at a few conventions.
What made you want to produce a documentary on trans people participating in geek and techie culture?
That’s really Kevin’s story. He’s a programmer, a techie, and a huge geek, and he noticed a number of years back how much more prevalent trans people seem to be in geek cultures as opposed to our dominant culture. Eventually he decided it would make a great documentary. To be honest, as a trans lesbian feminist, I was initially pretty skeptical of the entire project, and especially of it being the brainchild of a cis straight man (albeit a dear friend). I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling similarly.
But I’ve been involved in the project from the outset, at first tangentially and now very directly, and I’m convinced that TransGeek is going to provide an avenue of representation for trans people that hasn’t been (and wouldn’t be) explored by large media outlets. My personal motivation for being on the team for this film is that it’s going to be our own words, our own stories, with all the sensationalism cut out. Very, very few cis people will even be on screen. We’re not cherry picking for inspirational fairy tales or sob stories. We’re just trying to put together a narrative for why so many trans people find ourselves immersed in geek cultures- and what happens along the way; good and bad.
Are there a lot of trans people in these worlds?
There are trans people everywhere if you start looking! But yeah, I’d agree with Kevin’s initial assessment that there are a disproportionate number of us in geeky subcultures.
Who are you interviewing for this piece?
Engineers, software developers, games developers, science fiction authors and critics, fans of all sorts, gamers, games critics, IT workers, security professionals, musicians; the list goes on. Diverse representation of all kinds is one of our core goals, and geeks are a diverse bunch, regardless of what some people in the community would like to believe/enforce.
In the media, it seems like the tech world has barriers to entry for lots of minorities. What have you learned about the experiences of trans techies in what appears to be a culture of exclusion?
Well, the question kind of speaks for itself. There isn’t just a culture of exclusion, but of violent rejection. We have stories of people who were literally escorted from the premises when they came out at work. We have stories of people’s promising careers completely derailing. It’s not an easy world for us.
What opportunities are there for trans people in the tech sector?
Not enough. The same bias and hatred exists there that exists everywhere else, unfortunately. I’m inclined to be bullish and say that opportunities are increasing, but we’ve been disappointed before. In some cases, we’ve started to see trans entrepreneurs making room for themselves, but that obviously hinges on another set of privileges over which most of which have no control.
Video game culture still seems like a pretty homogenous space. Have you learned anything about the trans experience with this realm, with gamergate? Are there parallels between this and the larger cultural experiences of trans people?
Yes. Also I think it’s worth pointing out in this instance that gamergate singled out trans women for special “attention,” which really shows the prevalence of transmisogyny in cis geek culture. I mean, we even saw people attacked for vague rumors of gender nonconformity. Gamergate was really vicious, but it was only a microcosm of the gatekeeping that trans people, and AMAB trans people in particular face in this sector.
What are some of the games that seem to have special appeal for trans gamers?
There are definitely games that handle gender pretty well and some that handle it exceptionally poorly. Games that focus heavily on rich character creation processes including a variety of body types tended to get mentioned positively a lot. Dragon Age: Inquisition, I believe, was specifically mentioned. In other games, the ability to pursue any romantic subplot regardless of gender was mentioned positively. A good, albeit binary example would be Mass Effect.
As for the bad guys, I don’t want to name names, but an actual robot that’s a parody of a trans female sex worker in a major game? That’s weak. And in terms of actual explicit representation, there’s unfortunately almost nothing, even in the “good” games.
Are there companies in the gaming and tech worlds that are especially good to trans people? Especially bad?
I don’t want to get sued here, and neither did any of our interviewees. Some people we interviewed did relate positive experiences but weren’t willing to share the identity of their employer.
Any advice for trans geeks who are having a tough time?
Come find me online and we’ll talk. I’m serious. Look for the rest of us; we’re waiting for you. Like all communities, some of us are jerks, but I promise with all my heart that there are people out there who will love you for who you are.
Any advice to gaming/tech companies that want to be better about trans inclusion?
First off, start making it a priority to hire trans people. Stop making cheap transmisogynist jokes. Even if they weren’t structurally violent, they’d still be as tired and boring as jokes get. Add trans characters to games, make it explicit, and focus test those characters with actual trans people. The gaming industry needs to take a long, hard look at the way it handles gender in general; it’s shooting itself in the foot and losing a lot of ground to indie developers when it comes to large potential audiences.
What gives you hope in this project?
Me, personally? I’m in it for the hope! I have hope for trans people, for trans women in particular, for trans representation, for being able to tell our own stories without being played by cis actors in drag. I have hope for trans fiction, non-fiction, music, art, theatre. This project is just one of what I hope will be many non-exotifying explorations into our lives and our work. It just happens to be one I’m close to and have the privilege of contributing to.
Where can our readers find you?
You can find me personally at riotrite.tumblr.com, with the important caveat that my political and social views don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else on the team.
More to the point, you can find updates and teasers primarily on Twitter at @TransGeekMovie, on Facebook under TransGeek Movie, and our website (which currently needs a little renovation) transgeekmovie.net. We also have a (fully funded!) Kickstarter page with a good deal of information on it.