New short film ‘Choice’ explores one family’s transgender experience

New short film Choice is set to have its premiere at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival.

The project has been a labor of love for local actor Sharnya Thomson Yates who wrote the script based upon her own experience being the parent of a transgender child.

The choice the title refers to is not the choice of a child about gender transition, but the choice parents have to make in how they respond the to revelation that their child is transgender.

“I was sitting in my living room in Margaret River one day when it suddenly occurred to me that I needed to write a story that might help other families to make better choices. Our family had recently experienced a challenging and life changing few years during the period our daughter was coming out as transgender. There had been a lot of emotional turmoil, mental health issues and scary times for us all and not one of us was left unchanged,” Thomson Yates said.

While her own experience was solely in front of the camera, she took on new roles of being a screenwriter, co-producer and co-director for the project which has been several years in the making.

While the story draws on her own family’s experiences, it also was influence and inspired by many other families stories that Thompson Yates came across while doing her research. The stark statistics about transgender mental health and suicide ideation also informed the scriptwriting process.

“It was important that someone who is transgender and around the teenage character’s age had some input during the writing stage, so I am grateful to my daughter for her guidance when reviewing the script. While the story is broadly inspired by some of my family’s life events, it is based on the researched experiences of a number of Australian families that have a young person with lived experience of being transgender.” she said.

The journey from page to screen has been a long one taking several years, as she set off to independently raise funds for the project.

“It’s been like a year and a half, two years. I would say since writing the script, and then talking to people and then raising the money.” Thomson Yates explained,  “I just wanted to do it privately. So I raised the money by myself basically, through the Australian Cultural Fund and doing presentations for clubs like the Rotary Club of Margaret River, and the Lions Club, and contacting people and stuff. So it’s been a it’s been quite a long journey.”

Along the way she amassed a creative team to create the short film. The predominately female creative team includes co-director Claire Leach, and co-producer Carol McKee. While Thomson Yates was acting in the film she skilled-up and also became the writer, co-producer and co-director. She tell us that directing was something she particularly enjoyed.

“It was a challenge at first, because my daughter has the lead role in the film, and that wasn’t going to be the case until right at the end of the casting process for us.”

The team were adamant that they would cast an actor with the lived experience of being transgender, but struggled to find a suitable performer of the right age, then Thomson Yates’ daughter Saffron Bell asked if she could be considered. At the end of the process her audition tape was the best one the team had seen.

“I then had to direct her, which was quite an experience.” Thomson Yates shared, “Because you know, being a family member, it’s it’s challenging, but at the same time because we both lived some of what we were covering in the film, it was really enjoyable, and we could really work off each other.”

“Saffy, my daughter had to put herself in a position, which was really uncomfortable for her as playing a role for transgender teenager just coming out when she was a bit further along in the transition. She had to kind of go back to an uncomfortable place within herself, and so having me there to kind of pull her out of that at the end, and kind of give her a safe space was I think it was kind of how it was meant to be.”

Thomson Yates has some advice for parents who find themselves suddenly confronted by a child sharing that they are transgender.

“I would say now, having gone through that myself, and having had it be such a surprise to us, in a way, we didn’t really see it coming. I would say, definitely take that moment, and don’t be reactive.

“It’s so normal for many parents to jump in and think it’s a phase with kids, especially if they’ve been through other phases, maybe they’ve gone through a gothic stage or some other stage beforehand.

For Thomas Yates and her family the journey began when her child asked to change their name.

“For us, we had to stand back and go, ‘Okay, so what does this mean?’ I did a lot of research, and I spoke to Saffy a little bit more in-depth about it and then slowly, it became very obvious that this is, this is actually who she is, she’s never been the other person.

“Seeing the change in her, it was spectacular, I actually had a child that smiled and was loving life a bit more. So I would say to any parent out there, just regardless of what your beliefs are, or the way you’ve been raised – just really think about this is this is intensely hard for these kids to come out for you. Yes, you deserve the moment to process that, but take that moment.”

While there is intense media coverage and political debate about transgender issues, Thomson Yates hopes that by sharing families actual stories more people will come to understand the real life experiences of transgender youth.

“I would say that a lot of people do react negatively, because they just don’t know anything about it. And they think ‘Oh, this is this is a phase.’ ‘Oh, there’s a mental illness’. Let’s face it, it’s not.”

See Choice when it screens alongside the amazing documentary Rebel Dykes on July 4th and 10th. Book tickets now. 

Graeme Watson

Do you need some support?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counselling are available from:

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DISCHARGED: 9364 6909 / / [email protected]
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