Bringing a person’s existence to life is a tough thing even in the best of circumstances. When you are talking about telling the tale of a trans male jazz musician working in the United States in the 1940s and 50s then it is a big ask. But Canadian directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt are up to the task presenting the story of Billy Tipton’s life in an intimate and respectful way.
American musician Billy Tipton died in 1989. With his death his secret was revealed. Billy was a trans man. This was a secret Billy kept from everyone including his wife and son. Shamefully, instead of feeling sorry that Billy felt he had to keep this a secret, after his death a scandal ensued.
Combined with the typical style of a biographical documentary is the cool flair of also showing the auditions for actors to play Billy Tipton. Very interesting wrinkle. Adds depth and perspective to the already very touching story. Knowing how his story has affected/influenced today’s trans community.
This film is a more even measured and true picture of Billy. More so than the television programs about him and even of the authorized biography which tended to portray him as manipulative. Judging what they did not understand. Not seeing that Billy was a man and wanted to be in jazz bands and be a husband and father.
In showing that Billy Tipton was a man and seen by one by those closest to him, the doc pulls the curtains back on the horrible representation in the media, film and television of trans people. Not even to speak of how the public in general views and reacts to trans people. Interviews with his former wife and son show they hold no anger towards Billy. They don’t feel fooled and totally see him as a man. If they can, why can’t the rest of us?
A long overdue ode to a man who lived his life as best as he could given the time and circumstances.