No Ordinary Man isn’t so much a documentary of musician Billy Tipton but a major contribution to the history of trans-masculinity.
For me, the most important moment in the film came when activist Jamison Green meets Billy Tipton Jr. It’s during this meeting that Green tells the musician’s son that nobody is alone in going through this. For a long time, Tipton Jr. thought he was the only one with such a history. But again, he grew up at a time when most people didn’t know what it meant to be transgender. The documentary gives a new perspective to Tipton Jr. How he looks at his dad in the 1990s is different than today.
Billy Tipton is an iconic hero for many transgender people. He made his transition when he was 19 years old and was able to live a stealth life until he was outed after he died at the age of 74. Don’t forget that Tipton was living in an era where it wasn’t safe to be transgender. That he made it into his 70s without ANYONE finding out his a testament to his own ability at keeping this secret.
The media approach in the early 1990s was that Tipton was a woman passing as a man. That he did this in order to have a music career. There are aspects of the media–for better or worse–that look to sensationalize things. To see Billy get misgendered on talk shows is frustrating. Of course, this goes for the early 1990s time period.
I love the approach that co-directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt take in directing the film. It’s part documentary and part holding casting auditions to portray Billy Tipton in a film. This audition approach is easily one of the strongest parts of the film. We have trans-masculine actors sharing their own stories and what Tipton meant to their own history.
A capsule review was requested by the publicist for the TIFF screening. My full review will come at a later date. As a transgender woman myself, I’ll simply close by saying that we need to see MORE of these stories. It’s the on-screen representation that tells us that we aren’t alone.
DIRECTORS: Aisling Chin-Yee & Chase Joynt
SCREENWRITERS: Amos Mac & Aisling Chin-Yee
FEATURING: Kate Bornstein, Zachary Drucker, Jamison Green, Amos Mac, Thomas Page McBee, Stephan Pennington, Scott Turner Schofield, C. Riley Snorton, Susan Stryker, Marquise Vilsón, Billy Tipton Jr., with Alex Blue Davis, Holden Bernstein, Emmett Preciado, Ellis David Perry, Zelda Vinciguerra, Ryan Cassata, Carter Ray, Hennesy, Skylar Marshall, Morgan Sullivan, Tyler DiChiara