Female to male gender transition in Perth and WA: an exploration through documentary film production
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts
Jonathan W. Marshall
Using practice-led research methodologies, ten transgender men, who were at various stages of transition from female to male, were included in this study. The central research output is a feature-length documentary film called It's Not Just Me.
The film project seeks to share the extraordinary and the mundane with specific focus on four individuals who were undertaking testosterone treatment. The aim of this research was to contribute to a wider understanding of the intricacies of gender transition for the individual, and their relationship to their surroundings and to document their agency in a space of perpetual transition.
This research project was prompted by my interest in the way in which transgender men are shaped by, through and disrupt their psychological and physiological being within their established environments. Relationships between self and identity formation framed my primary research and it focuses on the notion of change as it relates to the transgender man’s experience of undergoing gender transition. Issues of individual self-identification/perception and social hetero-normativity as a performative statement were explored.
There were four groups of participants. Ten transgender men were interviewed in the overall study and four of these featured in the documentary film. There were 24 supplementary participants, for example family and friends, who also appeared in the documentary film. In addition, one psychiatrist was interviewed. Thirteen filmmaking technical collaborators also assisted in the making of the documentary artefact.
Methods of enquiry into and through (Frayling, 1993, p. 2) the art practice explored gender and identity formation. The research reviews the practice of filmmaking including investigating various techniques of documentary filmmaking from directing, writing, image capture and post-production. Main filmmaking theorists include Nichols and Aufderheide.
The two main findings of my research are that: first, masculinity is a multi-layered and transitional pursuit and is not a fixed concept for all men, but specifically transgender men, and secondly, film can serve as a vessel in which to understand trans-masculinity from a space of agency and ethical engagement.
This project adds to the extensive body of scholarship locating identity with emphasis to understanding masculinity and gender. It argues that human shifts are a constant process, with specific regard to understanding the transgender male’s transition experience in Perth, Western Australia where all transgender participants reside. The significance of the film and its meanings to the transgender community was profound. This in terms of visibility and the ability to share their personal journeys with an audience was an act of agency in action.
This film as an outcome potentially changes the face and visibility of the transgender man and brings their humanness and experiences to the fore in a positive and collective way. The indirect impact of this work is where its power lies. The film provides a voice to marginalised communities and is fundamentally activist cinema.
Access to this thesis is embargoed until August 2024. At the expiration of the embargo period, access to the full text will be restricted to current ECU staff and students by author's request.
Messer, J. W. (2019). Female to male gender transition in Perth and WA: an exploration through documentary film production. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2230