Transgender – Protecting Human Rights

A woman plays pool.

Transgender or gender non-conforming people are one of the most at-risk and disadvantaged groups in society.  Alarmingly, most Transgender people have experienced discrimination, harassment and even violence because their gender identity or gender expression is different from their birth-assigned sex.

Danica Rain, woman, mother, yoga enthusiast, transgender rights advocate.
Danica Rain – woman, mother, yoga enthusiast and Transgender rights advocate. 

Danica Rain is by far the emotional heart of our documentary Balls.  She was so courageous to share her life journey with us; everything from the separation from her wife and daughter, to living homeless, to being drug addicted and to all the mental and physical abuse she has had to endure while transitioning gender.  

Woman with daughter in park sit on a yoga mat.
Danica sits with her daughter in a park. 

There was many a time during our interview with her that the “fourth wall” of the “subjective” camera was broken.  We cried with Danica as she revealed and relived her most violent and heart wrenching memories. Though Danica has suffered a lot of pain and heartache, her story ends on a very positive note.  Like a fairytale princess, she is in a committed relationship with a devoted man that has swept her off her feet.  Not only has she reconnected with her daughter but she has also fully transitioned.    

At the time of filming, Danica was researching and preparing to have her confirmation surgery realized.  Though we were not able to document it, that dream finally came true late last year in Bangkok, Thailand.  

Danica is warm and beautiful person who not only transitioned her gender but also evolved her sexuality.  Once a heterosexual man, she is now a straight identified woman.  The transgender experience, in all its fluidity, continues to show us that love, life, sex and sexuality are not rigid and inflexible truths.  There is hope for humanity yet.  Thank you Danica.

A nurse performs a testicular test on a man on the street. 

As much as the Balls documentary was a testicular “tell-all”, everything from testicular cancer to testicular art and everything in between, this doc was also an exploration of masculinity and it’s ever-changing face.  The new masculinity for this new millennium is a softer beast that has a vulnerable side and is not afraid to show it.  Whether you have two, one or no testicles at all, “having balls is just being sure about yourself and also being kind and generous to the people in your path and the people in your life”. (Carey Gray)

Explore more stories of Gender Confirmation with Farra N. Hyte and Angel from our series Drag Heals.  

Sperm Banking

banking sperm

Peter Bovolaneas chose to look into sperm banking on the advice of his doctors.  As a two-time testicular cancer survivor who knew he wanted a family from a young age, he was thankful the option of sperm banking was available and offered to him before his treatment.  

Peter Bovolaneas sperm banking

Peter has also been a spokesperson for Testicular Cancer Canada and is currently a mentor and spokesperson for Young Adults Cancer Canada.  Peter feels compelled to share his survivor story publicly in order to help bring awareness to the disease and to encourage early detection. He is determined to show young people that even though cancer may “suck”, you should always live your life to its fullest, no matter what your medical history or prognosis might look like. Peter’s enthusiasm and zest for life is unparalleled.  

Watch Peter’s story in our documentary series Balls.
Testicular cancer is a very treatable disease if caught early.  And it doesn’t mean that someone who wants to be a father can’t have that option if they are able to bank sperm prior to treatment.

Egg storage for IVF
Egg storage for IVF

Early diagnoses is particularly challenging when it comes to this particular cancer because it mostly effects male teenagers and young men, who are typically very guarded when it comes to talking about health and their private parts.  To help trigger this conversation, as we have done in our documentary Balls, Testicular Cancer Canada uses comedy to address the disease and to create a healthy dialogue for men.  Young men tend to respond to humor.
Check out these hilarious and attention “grabbing” (pun intended) public service announcements from Testicular Cancer Canada:

I can’t stress enough how important it is to target young men and to get them to check their testicles for irregularities on a regular basis, like most women do for breast exams.  Men need to take ownership of their testicular health.  Just check ‘em, cause nobody else will; not a cop, nor a mechanic and certainly not your mom.  The PSAs above really drive the point home.  They make you giggle, but they also make you think.
It should be noted that chemotherapy, radiation therapy and subsequent cancer surgeries can effect sperm production and sperm health. That said, if you have any inkling that you might want to have children, you should consider sperm banking ASAP.

Because Peter wants to have kids, he decided to bank his sperm before each orchiectomy (the surgical removal of one or both testicles).  Peter and Adolfo (his fiancé) will be getting married this fall and hope to be fathers in the very near future.  Their wedding is going to be a “Big Fat Greek/ Italian Wedding” with a huge guest list and a food menu what will go on for days!  Peter’s only sadness around the approaching wedding date is that his father recently passed away from cancer and will not be there.  Cancer sucks.

Adolfo and Peter sperm banking
For more information about testicular cancer, check out the Testicular Cancer Canada website, and remember to check ‘em, especially if you are young man between the ages of 15-35.

Learn how to do a self-check with Johnny Rapid in this video.

STUDlebrity – rise of the social celebrity

Studlebrity rise of the social celebrity Topher Dimaggio

What is a STUDlebrity?

Being famous for being famous is a phenomenon so ubiquitous that it’s almost no longer shocking. Ever since Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian showed up on the Hollywood scene as celebrities known almost exclusively for being rich socialites, thousands more are trying to gain notoriety despite having apparently very few skills–and they’re doing it using social media.

Canadian documentary filmmaker Charlie David explores the phenomenon of the chiseled gay males that are known as a STUDlebrity – guys who seem to make a career out of having impressive audiences on social media. We had the chance to meet Charlie David to discuss his new documentary Studlebrity, and his own personal beliefs about social media.

Q: Most recently you’ve been behind the scenes in director roles. What were your onscreen jobs in the past?

I’ve done on camera work since I was a teenager. In terms of openly gay roles, I was in Dante’s Cove–the first gay series on the first gay network in the U.S, Here TV. I also hosted a travel show on a queer network called Bump!. I’ve moved towards directing over the past 5 years, but I still act. I just appeared in a movie called Paternity Leave about a gay couple who get pregnant!

Q: It sounds like portraying gay characters in the media has been your passion. Did you have any gay actor or director role models growing up?

I didn’t. I grew up in small town Saskatchewan in the 80’s and 90’s when there weren’t as many LGBTQ people represented in the media. At the time, being gay was so closely associated with the fear of HIV that the thought of coming out was scary. It’s part of why being involved in these shows has been so rewarding. We’re trying to grow diversity in the types of stories we’re telling so young people have more examples of successful, healthy gay people. At this point, though, I think being gay is so widely accepted that it’s not a “big deal” in mainstream media anymore. Because of recent political developments, I feel like suddenly the floodgates are opening and so much of the stigma that used to exist has gone by the wayside.

Q: What compelled you to create Studlebrity?

I was curious about this whole “social media star” phenomenon. Technology is part and parcel of our lives now, and we can’t really escape it without ostracizing ourselves. In the old world, studios produced all the content for audiences. Now, we’re the producers and the consumers of content. It’s a new paradigm that we have to figure out, and what gear in that machine we want to represent. Technology is advancing more quickly than we are, and we have to play a bit of catch up when it comes to understanding our relationship with it. It’s a terribly exciting time.

Q: Some of the subjects in your film seem to turn their social media activity into a lucrative living. Is it truly a sustainable career?

It’s a profitable career for very few people. A lot of aspiring actors try to build up their brand using social media to get acting jobs, but it’s not a surefire way to make money.

Q: At one point in the film, there’s some suggestion that these gay “studs” are possibly helping younger gay youth come out. Would you say the subjects in the film could be considered positive role models?

Being able to see other happy, successful, openly gay men living their lives can be empowering to young people who are afraid to come out. Certainly, having more gays represented in the media, and on social media, is a good thing, although I can’t conclusively says every STUDlebrity is a great role models for teenagers. I personally don’t think the elements of gay life depicted in this film are all that attractive or positive, but it’s the truth, it’s happening. My job is to expose this phenomenon, to look at it and examine it, but not tell you what I think about studlebrities – that’s up to the individual.

Q: Your film explores the darker side of the Studlebrity…

Right, including the addiction to validation via social media which is pretty harmful. I think seeking validation is a natural human instinct, but it’s one we should be wary of. If your endorphins get going from seeing likes or comments, that’s a very precarious place.

Social media also unfortunately enables people to compare themselves to these highly curated images of other people’s lives. For vulnerable young people especially, these social media stars give power to that negative little voice that resides in us that sometimes says “you’ll never be that fit” or “you’ll never be that popular”.

Q: A psychologist, Doctor Laurie Betito, makes an appearance in the film and warns against some of these social media “dangers”. What are some important pieces of advice she’s given?

She certainly warns against posting nude photos, or photos in compromising positions and states of undress. Putting yourself out there in a way that could potentially taint future relationships, especially professional ones is a real risk. I personally think we can dial down the overt sexuality seen in social media. It cheapens us.

Q: What’s the best way to approach social media?

I think we need to curate who we follow in the same way we all curate what we choose to post. Follow people that give you a sense of joy and inspiration, not those that make you feel inadequate.

Q: What do you want the viewer of Studlebrity to come away with?

The best thing I can hope for is that people talk about it. You can dislike it or get angry about it or agree with it, but I feel I’ve accomplished my goal if it incites a conversation and even a bit of self reflection. If the audience can look at their social profiles and ask themselves “is this representation of myself something I feel good about?” then I feel the film has served a purpose.

Q: What films can we expect to see in the near future?

I have a sevearl new documentaries coming out. There’s Balls, which is about testicular health and how, as men, we relate to our balls from many different standpoints.

We’ll also be launching PolyLove soon which explores polyamory and non-monogamy.  I just keep following my curiosity! 

Studlebrity ou On aime les belles gueules

Entrevue: Charlie David

Être célèbre pour être célèbre est un phénomène de société tellement omniprésent que ce n’est plus scandaleux du tout. Depuis l’entrée hollywoodienne de Paris Hilton et Kim Kardashian, connues seulement pour être mondaines et riches, des milliers d’autres tentent d’acquérir une certaine notoriété en utilisant les médias sociaux et ce, malgré une dose minime de talent.

Le documentariste canadien Charlie David explore le phénomène des homosexuels au corps musclé qu’on surnomme les studlebrities, ces hommes qui semblent s’être créée une carrière par le seul fait d’avoir amassé un nombre impressionnant d’amateurs sur les médias sociaux. Nous avons eu la chance de rencontrer Charlie David et de discuter de son nouveau documentaire Studlebrity et de ses opinions à propos des médias sociaux.

Plus récemment, on vous retrouve derrière la caméra en tant que réalisateur. Quels ont été quelques-uns de vos rôles à l’écran?

J’ai travaillé en tant qu’acteur de puis mon adolescence. En terme de rôles ouvertement gais, j’ai joué dans Dante’s Cove qui était la première série gaie sur Here TV, première chaîne gaie aux États-Unis. J’ai aussi animé une émission de voyage sur une station queer appelée Bump!. Je me suis orienté vers la réalisation dans les cinq dernières années, mais je joue encore la comédie. Je viens d’apparaître dans un film intitulé Paternity Leave à propos d’une couple homosexuel qui attend un enfant!

On dirait qu’interpréter des personnages homosexuels dans les médias est une de vos passions. Étant jeune, y avait-il des acteurs ou réalisateurs homosexuels qui vous servaient de modèle?

Il n’y en avait pas. J’ai grandi dans une petite ville de Saskatchewan dans les années 80 et 90 et il n’y avait pas autant de gens LGBTQ représentés dans les médias. À l’époque, être gay était si étroitement associé à la peur du VIH que l’idée de s’afficher publiquement était effrayant. C’est en grande partie pour cette raison qu’être impliqué dans ces émissions s’est avéré être si gratifiant. Nous tentons de diversifier le genre d’histoires que nous racontons pour que les jeunes aient plus d’exemples de personnes homosexuelles qui réussissent dans la vie et sont en santé. Je pense aussi qu’être gai est accepté à un point tel que ce n’est plus la mer à boire dans les médias grand public. Grâce aux récents événements politiques, j’ai l’impression que tout d’un coup les vannes sont ouvertes et que beaucoup des préjugés qui existaient ont été enfin délaissés.

Qu’est-ce qui vous a inspiré à créer Studlebrity?

J’étais vraiment intrigué par cet espèce de phénomène de « vedette des médias sociaux ». La technologie fait maintenant part entière de nos vies et il est pratiquement impossible de l’éviter sans pour autant s’ostraciser. Auparavant, les studios produisaient tout le contenu disponible à l’audience alors que de nos jours, nous sommes à la fois les producteurs et les consommateurs du contenu. C’est un nouveau paradigme que nous devons définir, tout comme le rôle que nous voulons y jouer. La technologie avance plus rapidement que nous le faisons et nous devons rattraper ce retard pour comprendre la relation que nous entretenons avec elle. C’est une période extrêmement passionnante.

Quelques-uns des sujets de votre film semble réussir à avoir leur présence sociale en une occupation lucrative. Est-ce vraiment une carrière durable?

C’est une carrière rentable pour très peu de gens. Beaucoup d’acteurs en herbe essaient de cultiver leur identité d’artiste en se servant des médias sociaux pour obtenir des rôles, mais ça n’est pas une façon automatique de faire de l’argent.

À un moment durant le film, la suggestion est émise que ces beaux mecs gais aident possiblement la jeunesse gaie à s’afficher. Diriez-vous que les sujets du film peuvent être considérés comme des sont des modèles positifs?

De pouvoir voir d’autres hommes à la fois ouvertement gais, heureux et accomplis peut être très motivant pour les jeunes qui veulent annoncer leur homosexualité. Il est certain qu’avoir une visibilité médiatique plus grande pour les homosexuels est une bonne chose, mais je ne peux affirmer que toutes les studlebrities soient de bons modèles pour les adolescents. Personnellement, je ne pense pas que tous les éléments de la vie gaie présentés dans le film soient très attrayants ou positifs, mais c’est la vérité, ça arrive. Mon travail est d’exposer ce phénomène, de l’observer et de l’examiner, mais pas de vous dire ce que je pense des studlebrities – la tâche revient à chacun.

Votre film explore le côté sombre de la Studlebrity…

Exactement, incluant la dépendance très néfaste à la validation à travers les médias sociaux. Je pense que rechercher de la validation est un instinct humain naturel, il faut parfois s’en méfier. Si vos endorphines s’emballent à voir des « j’aime » ou des commentaires, c’est très précaire comme situation.

Les médias sociaux permettent aux gens de se comparer avec des images savamment étudiées de la vie d’autres personnes. Pour des jeunes vulnérables, ces vedettes des médias sociaux donnent du pouvoir à la petite voix négative à l’intérieur de nous qui parfois nous dit « tu ne seras jamais aussi en forme » ou « tu ne seras jamais aussi populaire ».

La psychologue Dr. Laurie Betito fait une apparition dans le film et met en garde contre les dangers des médias sociaux. Quels sont quelques-uns des conseils importants qu’elles a donnés?

Elle met en garde contre le fait d’afficher des photos nues ou prises des positions compromettantes. S’exposer de cette façon peut potentiellement entacher des relations futures, celles professionnelles sont particulièrement à risque. Je pense qu’il est possible de diminuer le niveau de sexualité flagrante dans les médias sociaux. Ça nous discrédite.

Quelle est la meilleure façon d’approcher les médias sociaux?

Je pense qu’on doit porter la même attention aux gens que nous choisissons de suivre qu’à celle dont on fait preuve en choisissant ce qu’on affiche. Suivez des gens qui vous apportent de la joie et vous inspirent, et non ceux qui vous font sentir inadéquats.

Qu’aimeriez-vous que l’audience de Studlebrity retire du film?
Ce que je peux espérer de mieux est que les gens en parlent. Vous pouvez ne pas aimer, en être vexé, ou à l’inverse être d’accord, mais je pense que j’aurai atteint mon but si le film provoque une discussion et peut-être même une réflection interne. Selon moi, si les membres de l’audience regardent leurs profils sociaux et se demandent si cette représentation de leur personne est quelque chose qui les fait se sentir bien ou pas, le film aura servi à quelque chose.

Quels films peut-on attendre dans un futur proche?

J’ai un nouveau documentaire qui prendra l’affiche intitulé Balls. C’est à propos de la santé testiculaire et des différentes facettes de la relation qu’ont les hommes envers leurs couilles.


Written by Mikela Jay for