Framing Agnes, A Look Into Trans Identity I Didn’t Know I Needed

“Framing Agnes didn’t try and show their lives through a gossamer curtain to soften the blow or make them unnecessarily traumatic. Instead, they let the featured stories speak for themselves”

Check out our review of Framing Agnes!

It might surprise some, but Canada has a bustling production industry. Our colleagues to the south often overshadow it, but we manage to tell stories that reach out of the screens and leave a mark on their audiences. One such film is ‘Framing Agnes’ by Canadian filmmaker Chase Joynt.

Production still of Framing Agnes
Production still of Framing Agnes

Framing Agnes is a Sundance Next Innovator & Audience Award: Next winning documentary co-written by Chase Joynt and Morgan M. Page. It follows the journey of a young trans woman named Agnes, who lies her way into the ULCA gender health research studies to get access to gender-affirming care. But the story doesn’t solely focus on her ‘one of a kind’ experience; no, it tells the story of other trans people and their experiences with navigating life and trans identity in the 1950s.

I have to be honest; I’m not the biggest fan of documentaries. As a trans femme person of colour, I live through this daily, seeking escapism over everything. But when my friends at Touchwood PR sent me an invite to review Framing Agnes before its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs, I couldn’t say no.

Having seen all the Trans 101 required material, I went into Framing Agnes expecting honesty, emotions and a dash of trauma. Still, nothing prepared me for what happened in the ensuing 75 mins. 

The cast was bursting with talent, with Zackary Drucker (Transparent), Angelica Ross (Pose), Jen Richards (Her Story), Silas Howard (A Kid Like Jake), Max Wolf Valerio (The Testosterone Files) and Stephan Ira all making appearances throughout, so I didn’t expect it to be bad but still. To hear the words of my elders flow through my trans siblings? It took me by surprise.

Framing Agnes didn’t try and show their lives through a gossamer curtain to soften the blow. Or make them unnecessarily traumatic in a way that leaves you uncomfortable. Instead, they let the featured stories speak for themselves, and I can’t express how much that meant. Despite the decades between the people portrayed by the cast and me, I could see the threads of shared experiences connecting us through the years. In Stephan Ira’s Jimmy, I saw my refusal to willingly go along with the demands cisnormative society places on trans people. His witty and honestly ridiculous answers to the invasive questions brought levity to an otherwise uncomfortably familiar scene.

Framing Agnes poster featuring Stephan Ira (Jimmy)
Framing Agnes poster featuring Stephan Ira (Jimmy)

Angelica Ross’ Georgina highlighted the stark differences between lived experiences of Trans people of colour, specifically Black trans women in this case and white trans folks. The denial of our truth and our womanhood because we’re inherently seen as more masculine was too real. But it was necessary to highlight because those experiences Georgina went through as a Black trans woman in the 50s still happen to Black trans women and women aligned folks today. 

Angelica Ross as Georgina in Framing Agnes 2022
Angelica Ross (Georgina) in Framing Agnes 2022

“Cis women come in all shapes, sizes and tones, and so you have cis women with deep voices. You have cis women with broad shoulders, cis women who are six feet tall or more. Cis women with Adam’s apples, but when you’re talking about trans women. Then when we come together, it’s sort of an addition up to what will get us clocked. And we can’t have an Adam’s apple, a six-foot and a baritone all in the same group all we’re all gonna get clocked.”

Angelica Ross, Framing Agnes 2022

While speaking as herself, that quote from Angelica stuck with me because she’s right. Cis women can be taller and have features that are more “masculine,” but on trans women, it’s basically like outing yourself. Which, as a trans femme person who’s 6’3 and has a baritone, I constantly do; my existence as myself is inherently clockable. So to see that discussion in Framing Agnes put forth this way was validating in a way I didn’t know I needed.

Honestly, I could write another 600 words telling you why you should watch the documentary, but I think what I’ve said so far already makes a solid case. The film will be premiering at Hot Docs 2022 on May 1st. So if you’re in Toronto, I highly recommend watching it in person (masked up, of course); if not, you can stream it online. The links to both the tickets and streams can be found here, so check out Framing Agnes and let us know what you thought of the film!

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