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The SF Transgender Film Festival celebrates 25 years of defiant gender rebels

Still from Roberto Fatal and XAV S-F’s short film “Chaac and Yum,” which depicts an erotic connection between Mayan deities | Courtesy the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival

This year, the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) falls on Sunday, Nov. 20. It is, by and large, a somber occasion intended to acknowledge lives lost to violence: One gun-safety group estimated that the murder rate among trans Americans—in particular, trans women of color—has doubled in four years.

But while TDOR is meant to illustrate how dangerous it can be to be trans or gender-nonconforming, a slew of trans-curated cultural events in the lead-up to next weekend demonstrates the joy, beauty and resilience of that community through film, dance and live performance.

Kicking off this weekend is the 25th anniversary of the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival, the oldest such event in the country. This year, it’s a hybrid event with two screenings at the Roxie Theater in the Mission on Nov. 10 and 11, followed by digital offerings that run until Nov. 20. With shorts that grapple with parenthood, Mayan deities and the difficulty of finding a public bathroom, the festival also falls immediately after an election in which transgender Americans found themselves targeted and criminalized.

“From our founding, we’ve been a politicized festival,” said artistic director Shawna Virago. “We try to be aware of this moment in America and the fact that in this year over 100 anti-trans bills have been introduced in state legislatures around the country. This is going on everywhere.”

True to its long lineage, the festival combines recent work about contemporary people with reappraisals of trans icons and various gender rebels—in particular, The Beauty President, a look at Joan Jett Blakk, the drag activist who ran for president in 1992.

“I was thrilled we got this submission,” Virago said. “I remember that campaign very well, and I do believe that Joan Jett Black was an important culture figure, putting her body on the line physically. For a Black, queer, gender-fabulous person to show up at the Democratic National Convention and demand airtime was extraordinary.”

Artist and self-described "brujx" Edgar Fabián Frías is a co-curator of THEYFRIEND. | Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Next, THEYFRIEND, the first arts festival in the world that uplifts and celebrates nonbinary (or “enby”) performers, returns Wednesday to Saturday, Nov. 16-19. Founded by artist Kevin “Vin” Seaman, this year’s multiday event at Oasis, El Rio, Brava Theater for the Arts and other venues represents a significant expansion over 2021’s shorter run.

Co-curated with artists Edgar Fabián Frías and KB Boyce, THEYFRIEND consists 20-plus nonbinary performers at several showcases and a happy hour (Nov. 13-19), with video performances, live music and more.

Sean Dorsey Dance is acclaimed for the ensemble's unusual partnerings and elaborate costume work. | Photo by Lydia Daniller

Lastly, trans choreographer Sean Dorsey’s newest work of dance and storytelling, The Lost Art of Dreaming, comes to Z Space for four shows (Nov. 18-20). A meditation on pleasure and the hope for a better future performed by five trans- or queer-identified dancers, it leans heavily into the magnificent costuming and occasionally transgressive partnering that have brought awards and acclaim to Sean Dorsey Dance for years.

Almost 60 years after the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot launched the modern struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation, San Francisco didn’t become a haven for gender-nonconforming people just by accident. It took hard work and vision—and these festivals and performances are there to show how it’s done. Or, as Virago put it, “These are the moments that are responsible for the things we take for granted.”

25th San Francisco Transgender Film Festival

Nov. 10-20 | Free-$50
Online and at the Roxie Theatre
3117 16th St.


Nov. 16-19 | Free-$25
Various venues

The Lost Art of Dreaming

Nov. 18-20 | Free-$50
Z Space
450 Florida St.

Astrid Kane can be reached at