Sunday, September 6, 2015

Trans Faces #17 Jake Graf; Brace Yourself for the Most Talked About Award Winning Director

By Sabrina Samone, TMP
Jake Graf

A couple of months ago I came across a brilliant short film, Brace. The film takes place in London and centers around two main characters. An intimate look into the lives of two people whose paths cross.

Naturally I wanted to know more about who was behind the film, the actors, writers, etc. I was pleasantly surprised to see an award winning trans filmmaker was behind the scenes. As many trans men in our community know, there are few representations of trans masculinity in the media. We are all familiar with Chaz Bono, and that's about as far as it goes when it comes to main stream acknowledgement of trans men. Fortunately now, there are a fresh crop of young male leaders stepping onto the scene in day time drama t.v., 'The Bold and the Beautiful', a possible cover of 'Men's Health Magazine'. Also in the music scene with artist like Lucas Silvera, Lil One, Katastrophe, and all these future leaders of trans masculinity can be found in one of the undisputed leading magazines of trans culture,  FTM Magazine. A magazine that is greatly responsible for placing the men in front of the line, as we are seeing this year.

One of the cover features for FTM Magazine is Jake Graf, an award winning trans producer, director, and writer. The producer of the films; X-Why, Cocktale , Brace and the newly completed Chance. He's  the first U.K. trans filmmaker featured in the British Council's pioneering film project FiveFilmsForFreedom.

I'm honored that I got the chance to chat with this amazing producer, and a new trans faces interview the readers of TMP have been asking more of. Now we go a musing and get to know this amazing film maker TMP sytle.



TMP: 1. In a July issue of the UK's Attitude Magazine, you stated that when you were growing up you didn't see masculine representation in media. Therefore, that led to an early, lonely existence for you. How difficult was that part of your life for you?

Jake Graf: I knew pretty much as soon as I was able to vocalize it, (around 3 years old) that I was a boy, and that something was seriously wrong. I knew that I was missing parts that the other boys had, and that forcing me into a dress at holidays and birthdays simply made me dread what should have been happy occasions. It was tough, as I'm sure it is for most of us. I had a kind, loving family, they just didn't have a clue what was going on, and their dismissiveness just made things harder, and more isolating for me. I ended up being a very lonely, lost, angry and resentful young man, for which no one is to blame. The awareness and education just wasn't there.

TMP: 2. When you had that moment of experiencing trans masculinity in the media for the first time, who was it, and how was that revelation for you?

J.G.: I guess it must have been 'Boys Don't Cry, and to be honest, I can't imagine a sadder, more jarring, more worrying first glimpse of the trans male experience on screen! I actually can't watch that film anymore. It's simply too heartbreaking.

TMP: 3. How important do you feel it is for our trans men to step forward into a more visible leadership role in trans society?

J.G.: I feel that it's absolutely vital that more trans men step out of the shadows, but again, it certainly depends on everyone's personal experience. I wouldn't ask anyone to reveal themselves, or put themselves out there unless it was the right thing for them, and was safe, and what they felt comfortable with. I personally was tired of the lack of representation, so I decided to do something about it. Someone recently told me that it was a bit cheesy, but my current life mantra is 'Be the change you want to see!'

TMP: 4. What steps have you taken that you are most proud of in your films; that have contributed to trans masculine visibility?

J.G.: I began writing my first short, XWHY, the minute I decided to start my transition. I wanted to
use my own experiences and physical changes to document the changes that were going on for the lead character. We shot over two years, and even though we had zero budget, it was fresh, unique, and got a good reception. That gave me confidence to carry on writing trans content. After that, I wrote Brace, which again illustrated what was going on for me at the time, but shot at a much higher level. Brace has done so well, as it came out at a time when the world was ready to see trans guys on screen, and we had huge support from the international festival circuit. Brace is now available online for everyone to see, but festivals are also still requesting it. It's been great, and I am very proud of all the team. They did an amazing job.

TMP: 5. Brace is an exceptional short film. We don't get to see the complexities of our community's actors dating on screen. How much of these struggles have you taken from your own life experiences?

J.G.: Brace is an incredibly personal story to me. I had a beautiful, understanding and wonderful girlfriend when I started my transition, who I dated for three years. Within about 6 months on T, I started to find myself strongly attracted to men for the first time ever. On top of everything else happening at the time, it was confusing, distracting,  and made me question pretty much everything that I felt I knew about myself...! I broke up with my girlfriend, which was heartbreaking all round, and dated a couple of guys, one that I remain very close to now. I think that now things have leveled out. I realize that hormones have had a massive impact on my sexuality, something which I would never have thought possible. I am now attracted to both men and women, and find strong, bright, kind and driven people incredibly sexy, regardless of gender.

TMP:  6. Is there a chance we could one day see Brace as a feature film or even a series?
From the Film Brace

J.G.:  I would love to expand on Brace! Most criticism that we've received has been that it's not longer, which can't be a bad thing. I would happily revisit, and I'm sure that all of the original cast would jump on board, it would just be a question of finding the funding to really do it justice. Money does tend to play a big factor when self funding film...!

TMP:  7. Your latest film, Chance, was one of five films selected to take part in the project #fivefilmsforfreedom, in association with the BFI, and the British Council to promote tolerance and understanding worldwide. How important do you feel that moment is for the greater trans community, and specifically filmmakers?

J.G.:  When Chance was selected for #fivefilmsforfreedom, we were all over the moon, although at the time no one really understood how far reaching it would be, as it was a brand new concept. We were one of five films that went out across 142 countries worldwide, and we had messages back from so far afield as Lebanon, Russia, and Turkey. It was really moving. To be chosen was amazing, and to be the trans filmmaker in the pack made it even more exciting. Encouragingly, that aspect wasn't pushed, as it wasn't relevant. I wasn't the token trans filmmaker, but just a filmmaker. Surely that the dream, right?

TMP: 8. You mentioned your first film had zero budget. What was the budget for Brace?

J.G.:  I recently met with a production company who estimated the budget for Brace at 50k, and they were floored when I told them it cost us 10k.

TMP: 9. We are faced worldwide, with a new spotlight on our community. Some are positive and sadly many are still negative. Share with us, if any, unique challenges faced by the trans community in the UK?

J.G.: The UK is always a bit behind the US with things like gay and trans rights movements, although
I couldn't say exactly why. As such, although things are catching up over here, there are a fewer trans actors, models, and activists in the UK than in the US. Also, there are fewer of us over here to find that representation. It was while briefly in New York 10 years ago, that Imet my first trans man, a great guy named Nicco, who really inspired me, and talked me through everything. He made me feel like it would all be okay, and I arrived back in London raring to go,to a scene where trans was still a totally foreign concept! It was another year before I bit the bullet, and I think that that slightly slower progress does hold the community here back somewhat. Otherwise, I can't think of any other challenges that are UK specific, although I may be wrong!

TMP: 10. I like to ask my guests here at TMP, if you could tell the world something about Jake Graff, and you knew everyone would hear, what would you like them to know about you?

J.G.:  I would like them to know that I feel very lucky to have an incredibly supportive mother who has unwaveringly been there for me from the minute that she understood what it meant to have a trans son, and amazing friends, who have always just seen me as one of them, and loved me despite all of the ups and downs. I credit them for the man that I am today, and can only thank them for that. I think if we all had that from a young age, the trans experience wouldn't be nearly so tough. It's because of all that that I am so adamant that I must leave the world a better place than when I came in, whatever it takes!


Representation of our community is still only a fraction of what the entertainment businesses produces. Yet many are stepping forward to change that and Jake Graf can count himself among those changers of the future.  He joins a small, but powerful growing list of trans filmmakers demanding their talents be noticed, not their gender, and bringing the issues of the varied trans experience to film. Brace is an example of the films portraying, about and created by trans filmmakers this year. Together they are showing the world what we as a community know; our stories have only begun to be told.


Brace the Film



To Follow and learn more of Jake Graf @ Up & Up Prod
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