Making Masculine, my first feature-length documentary has been one of the most challenging, frustrating and life-changing experiences I have had to date. But there is so much more to the story than what you will ever see on screen.
The film explores the construct of masculinity, how these ideas affect society as a whole, and how it can affect the gay community in the form of femmephobia. In the film, we hear personal stories of people that have had encounters with femmephobia and how they overcame to find pride in themselves.
Going in to pre-production for this film, I thought that I had a firm grasp on what the subject matter would be, but life certainly has a way of kicking you in the teeth and forcing you to check yourself at the door.
I have been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people that have changed my life forever. The first of whom is Justin Gerhard.
The first interview that I shot for this film was Justin's. I woke up on an absolutely freezing and all too early Chicago morning, nervously drank some coffee, changed my outfit about half a dozen times, and took off for the airport. Justin met me at Toronto Pearson, and as soon as he saw me, he flew across the room and gave me a hug that quite literally knocked my hat off. It was as if we had known each other for about a thousand years. Instantly, I knew that he would become someone that would have a deep impact on my life, and I thought to myself, "don't cry, Nick... it's too early for him to think that you are emotionally unhinged".
After showing me and my second shooter, Eric, around Toronto and suggesting some bomb coffee, it was time to sit down and get personal. The three of us sat in his living room to discuss my vision for the project. We talked about everything from the color palette to the subject matter. This thousand-year-long friendship really began to blossom. Justin told us about his childhood, growing up gay in the prairies of Saskatchewan, and coming to terms with himself and his sexuality.
One thing that I learned, and still one of the things that I found most fascinating, was Justin's love for wearing high-heeled shoes. He told me how he wanted to make it a point to challenge the construct of masculinity. You see, dear reader, people tend to look at this man that has appeared on the cover of several harlequin novels as a rugged cowboy or a sexy captain and assume that he is some heteronormative representation of what a man "should be".
Eric and I exchanged a look that seemed to say, "Yup. Here we go... Our lives are about to change" and, boy, did they.
It was time for dinner. We decided to go out to eat to celebrate Justin's birthday, and the beginning of what was sure to become a wonderful friendship. Before we left, Justin's face lit up and he exclaimed, "I'm going to wear my heels!"
While we were walking to dinner, there was a man talking to his friend on the sidewalk while we waited to cross the street. "I don't want to go there," he said about some bar, "there's a bunch of faggots there." Before any of us had time to react, the man looked at us and immediately apologized. "I didn't mean you guys, I just meant like... stupid people." I kindly told the guy that he was making the situation worse, and that he just needed to leave it at "I'm sorry" and not ever use that word again. We crossed the street, and there was nothing but the sound of city traffic, the clicking of Justin's heels, and the whistling of the steam coming out of Eric's ears. I asked him if he was okay, and he told me that he knew that homophobia was real, but it was not until he was walking along side two gay men that his eyes were this open to it.
Eric is very much an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, which is why I asked him to join my team when I decided to make this documentary. I knew that making this film would be a learning process for me in many ways, and I wanted to share that experience with him, but his education came at him on a whole other level.
After that experience, Eric was very quiet for the rest of the trip. Pensive. The next morning was our interview with Justin. We got to the space, and set up our gear. Justin danced around in the background while he waited for Eric and I to do our own kind of technical filmmaker dance. Eventually, we turned on the camera, I called "action" and our lives began to shift.
Eric and I watched Justin with amazement. Eric gritted his jaw, I cried while trying to stay silent so I didn't ruin the audio. Finally, this incredible man stares straight into the camera and says, "You need to be here... Stand tall, stand loud, stand proud, baby" and let out the most charming laugh. That was it. I got up out of my chair and hugged him as that was the only way I could say "thank you."
As I sat in the Toronto Pearson airport waiting to fly back to the Windy City, I was so overcome with a feeling of gratitude and inspiration that I just broke down and cried right there in the lounge.
It was very difficult for me to go back to my every day life because I knew that there was this very important thing that I was now a part of. I knew that this story was so much bigger than myself, and I knew that I had to share it. And the hustle began. The tracks had been laid. The cornerstone had been placed firmly in the ground. We were off! It was real.
As soon as my plane landed, I left O'Hare, walked straight downtown, and I bought myself a pair of heels. Thank you for inspiring me, Justin.
It quickly became very necessary that I blow off some steam. I took my happy little high-heeled butt to Boystown, a wonderful gayborhood on the north side of Chicago, to grab a drink. While there, I met the most fabulously campy drag queen, Dakota, after she complimented my shoes. Reader friend, if you know me at all, you know that once I start talking, I don't shut up. So, clearly I had to tell the tale of the time I met Justin Gerhard and how he changed my life forever. After going on and on about my project, Dakota says "I want to be in this!"
A few weeks later, Dakota was in front of my camera, telling me about the world of drag. She told me about how as a young boy, religion was a large part of love and life. It certainly was not an easy coming-out process, but Dakota is the epitome of "loud and proud" and being around her, you can't help but smile.
Her story is very important to the narrative of the film, and every time I sit down to edit her scenes, I can't help but laugh and cry simultaneously.
I still have a couple more scenes to shoot, but this film is rapidly coming to a close. I wanted to be sure to document these momentous times before I dive in head-first into the editing process.
Many people that I come across seem to have something to say in relation to this project, and it is causing my film to evolve every day. It is about so much more than just "preference". This is a story of discrimination. It is a story of hierarchy. It is a narrative that we are all too familiar with in the gay community, and its claws are hooked in our society as a whole. It is very important to me that people be educated on this subject matter, because education is the key to acceptance. Acceptance of yourself, and acceptance of others. I sincerely cannot wait for all of you to see this project.
Stand tall, stand loud, stand proud.