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'Joychild' Documentary Demonstrates 'Willingness To Try & Listen' To Kids Exploring Their Own Gender Identity

A still from Aurora Brachman's short documentary 'Joychild'.
Aurora Brachman
A still from Aurora Brachman's short documentary 'Joychild.'

Filmmaker Aurora Brachman is drawn to stories about intimacy and relationships between families and communities. Her most recent short documentary Joychild explores that dynamic within a play group called Rainbow Families.

Shot on 16-millimeter film in black and white, the film shares a story of an eight-year-old recalling a memory with their mother of when they came out as transgender. Joychild makes this conversation into an intimate, poetic portrait exploring both the positives of growing up gender expansive as well as the hesitancy and fear.

“I knew that I wanted to make a film about gender expansive children and specifically, gender expansive children in the context of like a loving relationship with their parent and what it can look like for a child to explore themselves when they have that kind of love and support from a parent,” says Brachman.

The film also came out of her personal experience with her longtime romantic partner coming out as trans — an announcement that she says surprised her. Brachman says making this film was in part a way for her to connect with the trans experience and have a better dialogue with her partner.

“Through coming to know these parents and these children, and the way that they have navigated their coming out experiences taught me a lot about how I could be a better partner,” she says.

Brachman says finding subjects for the documentary was difficult. Young kids, like anyone exploring their own gender identity, evolve in the words and ways they define themselves. Parents told Brachman they were worried about the effects of cementing those expressions into a film if they were to change later in life. A fear, she says, she understood.

Eventually, Brachman found a parent and child in the Rainbow Families group who were willing to participate in the film.

“They really wanted to express their story and they wanted to be sort of like a resource for other children who might be going through something similar and feeling similarly to them,” she says.

Parent painting their child's face for Halloween in 'Joychild'.
Aurora Brachman
Parent painting their child's face for Halloween in 'Joychild'.

Brachman hopes that young trans people feel seen by this film. And for people who may not have a personal connection to a trans person, she says she hopes this offers them a chance to grow in their understanding of the experience.

While gender and personal identity can be difficult issues, Brachman says the film shows how even an 8-year-old child can have an innate understanding of who they are.

“Even if not all children are able to express themselves as eloquently as the child in this film, they all deserve the same kind of respect and the same patience and willingness to try and listen and understand,” she says.

Brachman says in making the film, she was reminded why she works in documentary instead of scripted narrative.

“You get to be so pleasantly surprised by how much more beautiful and rich, and interesting the real world is than anything that I could ever script. And so, I love that I just got to follow these kids’ own intuition and their own drives,” she says.

Joychild is available to stream through the Milwaukee Film Festival’s Teen Screen Shorts: Self/Image program through May 20 and will be available through The New Yorker as part of their Documentary Video Series in June.

Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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