Published on January 9th, 2012 | by Wild Gender0
Sex, Gender and Toni Newman: New Film
“Gender? What is gender?,” said an audacious Toni Newman from her Los Angeles abode. “What is sex even?”
Newman was speaking to Wild Gender of her memoir, I Rise, The Transformation of Toni Newman, which was recently nominated for a Lambada Literary award and recognized by the Advocate as one of the best overlooked books of 2011.
And judging from the recent publicity of the book’s screenplay (the seventh chapter of I Rise has been turned into the script for a feature film) the book itself hasn’t been too widely overlooked. The screenplay called “The Erotic Professionals,” has garnered interest from actor/model Alton Demore, who will serve as one of the producers. And notable hollywood cinematographer, Keith Holland, who has already signed on as director.
According to Newman, the movie will detail her “escapade as a mistress and escort.” She describes it as very sexual, with bodies, leather, and a Quentin Tarantino-esque exploration into the life of a transgender woman of color living as a sex worker.
“But it’s also about the confusion of labels,” said Newman. “We’re trying to let people know there is no label. You are what you are. Let it be. That’s what we want to do here. We want people to see this movie and say, ‘oh my god, that was crazy! But wait a minute what are you? Am I truly straight? Are we trisexual? What are these labels anyway?’”
Shirking the label, former-escort Newman, is now perusing her law degree. She is a happy, successful woman with a vibrant career on the west coast. Her goal is to do ‘trans law.’ And she will get there, she says, because she wants it.
Newman hopes that attention from I Rise will help towards the visibility of black and latino transgender women like herself.
“Eighty percent of us don’t work a professional job. When it’s daytime, you don’t see us. Most of us aren’t working at banks. We’re not at Starbucks, we’re not at the bookstore. So you don’t see us,” she said. “You see us at the clubs. I, myself, didn’t want the judgement. I didn’t leave my apartment while I was first transitioning. I get it. But listen, we can’t do this forever.”
Newman wants to advocate for education.
“Black and latino gay and lesbians have made a strong pull. It’s not a big deal to be a lesbian in Harlem right now. But the transgender person is still being bashed and murdered and killed. We’re dying by high numbers. We get beat up in high numbers,” she said. “The gays are existing. They’ve gained some acceptance. I don’t know how we can get there besides to educate ourselves. Maybe the people will not be so surprised and offended when they start to see us at the bank, or in school.”
“Whites can do it. But black and latins, that’s it,” she said, referring to her own young adulthood. “My father was not going to have it. He was a great man. A loving father. But when this came up, he was not nice. He was my best friend all my life. But when I started to be myself, he’d be like ‘what the fuck is going on here? Do you have lip gloss on?’ I haven’t seen my family 15 years.”
According to Newman, over 30 young trans women of color who’ve been kicked out have called her, asking if they could move in.
“I always say, I love you, baby, but I’m not a shelter,” she said. Instead, she connects them with resources for homeless trans folk in their area.
“See,” Newman offered, “We need to get ourselves together. These young women need more options than the corner. Today, I volunteered at a painting project. I talked to 300 people. Nobody cared that I’m a transgender person. I didn’t have one problem. I really believe that if we can break down some of these barriers. We’ll get rid of the ‘ugh, she’s so scary,’ label. Now when somebody says, ‘I have gender identity disorder.’ The black and latino community says, ‘what does that mean? Are you bipolar. Are you on Prozac?’ No, I’m just a transgender woman doing movies, writing books, and living my life.”