In case you haven't heard, I am sharing a recent misfortune with BFI Flare film festival where the film was scheduled to premier in March.
On Feb 27th, after having no resolution via private email with the festival, I posted a message on my Facebook page. Below that post is the festival's response, followed by a letter of support from Dr. Getsy, and lastly my letter stating what I would like to see happen.
Feb 27th, 2014
The London lgbt film festival has mis-gendered me in their printed materials for my film on Kate Bornstein. They used the name "Samantha", which, beside feeling humiliated due to trans issues, I have never been called that name in all my 38 years. My parents never even called me that! Someone on their staff made the choice to use that name despite the fact that I only use Sam on all submission materials and film materials of any kind. I understand that they don't "get it" -- that it's actually painful and unkind. But they need to. Seeking thoughts and how to convey to them why it is not acceptable.
Feb 28th, 2014
We unreservedly apologise for the mistake which, though it may sound unlikely, was due to over eager proofing by someone from the BFI team in the very final stages of creating our programme guide. Let me explain.
As you rightly said, you submitted all of your work under the name Sam. The programmers and programme staff are all very aware you are Sam and have been communicating with you as Sam throughout our dialogue.
We wrote copy about you as Sam. We listed you as Sam when creating the programme. However, and very unfortunately, someone outside of the programme team consulted another source in the final proofing stages, where you are listed as 'Samantha'. This was then changed, with best intentions, but without proper internal discussion.
As stated above, this is very disappointing for us all. We take pride in the fact that our trans programming has really come of age in the last half a decade; that we have gender neutral loos; that we have just changed the name of our festival from L&G to BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival to reflect our diverse audiences.
We are disappointed. Our trans programmer Jason Barker is mortified. And we know this has been embarrassing for you. The mistake has now been rectified on the Festival website and we are putting internal measures in place to avoid similar errors in future.
We hope you can accept our apology.
With sincere regards, Tricia Tuttle Deputy Head of Festivals, BFI
Feb 28th, 2014
An open letter to the BFI on behalf of Sam Feder 28 February 2014
Dear Tricia Tuttle, Deputy Head of Festivals:
It has come to my attention (and indeed, it’s already gone viral) that a serious situation has arisen with the publicity materials for the BFI Flare Film Festival and the listing of Sam Feder’s credits for the film _Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger_. While I acknowledge the apology that has been made to Feder, I felt it incumbent on me to add my voice to those who call for a decisive correction to the problem in the printed materials.
I am a historian, and I think of things in relation to the histories they can and will create. Quite frankly, this is a disastrous mistake that will, if uncorrected, be taken up in historical narratives. There has been a decades long struggle by transgender activists and communities to combat their uncritical assimilation and erasure by otherwise well-meaning movements and organizations based around sexuality. While there has been a productive and dynamic relationship between transfolk and gays and lesbians, their concerns differ in significant ways. A vocal and widespread transgender politics and transgender scholarship both emerged out of the realization that the issues transfolk faced were being disregarded or caricatured by their allies in gay, lesbian, and queer social movements. A trans politics, history, and community was called forth from these debates about visibility and survival. In addition to widespread prejudice in mainstream culture, that is, transfolk also had to fight misconceptions and condescension from their allies in queer politics and scholarship. Your current situation not only invokes this history, it is participating in it.
Kate Bornstein is one of the most impactful of the leaders of the movement for trans rights and politics, and it is against the backdrop of this history that the BFI’s actions take on amplified importance. It seems remarkable to me that the BFI has not recognized that — especially with this biographical film about Bornstein — to make such a significant error as incorrectly printing the name and gender of its director is disastrous. Such a mistake about any individual is a major problem, but to do so in relation to the history-making event of this film is egregious.
Let me be frank: as a historian, I can say without a doubt that this mistake will become part of the narrative of trans history and the story of the prejudice against trans lives. Regardless of whether the mistake was honest or clerical, the decision to slight the demand to rectify the improper naming because of the cost of printing your materials will be seen as a concrete instance of prejudice and grudging tolerance of trans films in your festival and, more broadly, in the BFI. (And, let’s not forget, it is printed materials rather than online posts and websites that enter the archives and last the longest.)
In short, if not fully addressed, this will come back to haunt the festival and the BFI. While it may seem minor to some of your interlocutors and able to be overlooked, it is this “detail” which will take on mythic proportions. I understand you must be under many pressures internal and external, ethical and financial, but I urge you to address the situation.
Sincerely yours, David J. Getsy, Ph.D. Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History and Chair, Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Dear BFI Flare & Tricia Tuttle,
My name is Sam Feder. I am trans and I prefer gender-neutral pronouns: they/their/them. If that’s too awkward feel free to use he/him/his. Those are awkward for me but I will meet you half way. We are all still learning.
Upon hearing that my film, "Kate Bornstein Is A Queer & Pleasant Danger", was accepted into the BFI Flare festival, I was elated. To be part of such a storied and important LGBT festival was a true honor for both me and Kate Bornstein. As you know, Kate is an unparalleled figure within queer theory and the everyday lives of trans, bi, questioning, queer, lesbian and gay people worldwide. It is safe to say her lectures, books, performances, and tweets have saved many lives. So it was with great disappointment when I learned I was improperly named and mis-gendered on the BFI Flare website and printed materials. When I discussed this mistake with friends the situation quickly went viral, as you can imagine - such a huge issue will erupt as an effect of mis-gendering someone at an ostensibly LGBT safe event.
I used social media to inquire what the festival organizers were going to do to correct mis-gendering me. It was then that a deeper disappointment hit. Tricia Tuttle let us know that no steps would be taken to address the mistake on the printed materials. While I, and those involved in the film, acknowledge the apology and the fact that the festival will look at what happened to ensure it will not happen again, it is unfortunately not enough. Being mis-named, mis-gendered and mis-identified impacts me professionally. The only name associated with my work is and has only been Sam Feder. Other programmers refer to your festival and they will follow suit. Audience members who don’t know me will meet me for the first time with the incorrect name and assume the incorrect gender.
But of course, this is not just about me, my gender, my career, or, the film. It is about how we within our community deal with each other's right to self-determination.
I encourage BFI Flare to be the leaders that you are by taking full responsibility for the error, by:
1. printing corrective flyers for the program—a standard fix at film festivals for this level of error. I ask to approve them before they are printed. 2. printing a sticker with the name Sam Feder to place over the wrong name in the program.
Some colleagues of mine have suggested I pull the film. Instead I want to work with BFI Flare. Together we have an opportunity to do right by the community by printing a corrective flyer for the program to insert into the page where my film appears. To be clear it is important that the insert contains my correct name, Sam Feder, a message from the festival detailing their commitment to self-determination, and resources for trans legal, medical, and social support in the area. Again, I ask to approve this before it goes it print. These actions will show you understand the gravity of the error. With these actions your apology will have meaning. As present your apology means nothing to me. For the public, funders and audience to take seriously that you want the festival to be "inclusive" and "welcoming to all audiences" the festival must make at least the most basic of amends when an error had been made. I believe in BFI Flare and know that together we can turn this around.
I look forward to working with you to correct the mistake and remind the community that you don’t believe the T is silent.