By Becs Richards
Before I saw Here With You, I had never seen a film that followed a romantic relationship between two trans people.
As a trans person who has dated quite a few other trans people, I know that trans-on-trans (or T4T) romance is totally a thing. Yet, so often in media, our lives are chronicled by death, violence, exposure, or rejection. And yes, of course, these things can be a part of our realities, something that is particularly dependent upon the intersections of identity such as race, class, immigration status, gender expression, etc. But our lives are also more than our trauma. As Miss Major, a leader in the trans community and mother to many trans folks says, “We’re still f-ing here!” –– and I think that some of what we are doing while we are here is really beautiful, and hot.
I chatted with Morgan Sullivan, the producer and writer of Here With You, a short film about a budding relationship between two queer people that is premiering at Seattle Queer Film Festival on Oct. 14. We talked about the inspiration behind making the film, working with an entirely trans cast and crew, and next steps for the project.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Becs Richards: How do you describe yourself and your work? What are you passionate about?
Morgan Sullivan: I am Morgan Sullivan. I am a NYC-based trans actor and filmmaker. I made my film, because I was finding myself becoming frustrated with the roles that I was being called in for. I felt like it can be pretty limiting to be out as a trans actor because sometimes people see that [identity] first before you as a person. There aren’t that many roles that are written for trans people beyond the first year or two of transitioning. When we are reduced to just our transition it is really dehumanizing and not getting the whole story –– so how are people supposed to understand us, if they don’t see us as all parts of who we are, not just this one part?
The real inspiration behind why I wanted to make the film was because I am in a very happy, healthy relationship with my partner who is a trans girl. She is amazing. The coolest person I have ever met. I just hadn’t seen anything like that. I hadn’t seen any cute, sweet, happy romantic stories of trans people ever. It is aways some cis person being ashamed and some traumatic thing happening to a trans person and their family hating them. I wanted to provide a possibility that we are capable of being in healthy, happy, cute relationships and we are awesome and cool and hot and cute. These things do and can exist for us. I hadn’t seen a story about two trans people together in a relationship, so I wanted to also have that which is like very prominent in the [trans] community ––
BR: Oh, my God, seriously.
MS: Most of my friends that are trans also have trans partners. That was just something that wasn’t shown at all so I wanted to have those two things together. And then somewhere along the line I ended up hiring entirely trans people. … Literally every single person that worked on the film is trans. That just created such a wonderful environment to be in, because I am used to being the only trans actor on set most of the time, which has its challenges. It was so nice to have this community of people creating this project together. Everyone was swapping stories, talking about their names, talking about surgery –– things that we don’t usually get to talk about on set. To know that everybody that was behind the camera and watching this happen was trans made it so much more of a safe place to actually just focus on acting and what I needed to do.
BR: I watched the film. I love it. It feels good to be represented like this!
MS: Yeah! There is nothing like it! When I was making it, I didn’t really think what the feedback was going to be. It was mostly just me and [director] Nona Schamus talking and collaborating very closely. The response from other people in the community has just been super wonderful. I have so many people coming up to me saying, “Oh my gosh this is just like my first date with my partner,” or, “I can’t wait to have a cute sweet relationship like that.” People are just so happy to see themselves represented in this way.
BR: In Here With You, y’all are capturing this T4T reality that is not talked about in mainstream media but is so magic.
MS: I personally love dating other trans people, because I feel like they get me. I feel like there is a lot that I don’t have to explain and I know that I can trust them to see me as who I am. It is nice to have somebody who totally understand what you are going through and you just don’t need to explain everything.
BR: When I was watching the film, I was thinking about how the love between the two characters felt so natural, and I think it was was due in part to the success of the process itself, of creating the film.
MS: Thank you! A lot of that is really due to Nona Schamus’s directing. I wanted you to feel the heat of the summer –– a slow, sticky, summer kind of feeling. By them being such a great director we were able to fall into those intimate, more quiet moments.
BR: What’s next for you?
MS: We got into New Fest, a queer film festival in New York. It is going to be our New York premiere! I am super excited. Also, right now I am taking this short and developing it into a pilot for a series. So it is going to be a bigger project.
BR: What did you learn from this process?
MS: That making your own work is empowering. Trans people creating their own work and being able to get our stories out there is super-important.
Here With You will be one of the short films screening on Oct. 14 at NorthWest Film Forum. It is a part of Seattle Queer Film Festival’s Trans Evolution shorts, which begin at 7:15 p.m.