POV’s ‘From This Day Forward’ Gives Inside View of Family with Transgender Dad

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Filmmaker Sharon Shattuck answers all these questions in From This Day Forward, a deeply intimate, honest and inspiring feature documentary about her experiences as the daughter of a transitioned father and a mother who remain committed to their marriage.

The film has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) on the PBS documentary series POV (Point of View). It will be shown with Eric Rockey's award-winning short film Pink Boy, a portrait of a gender-nonconforming boy growing up in conservative rural Florida. 

The love story in From This Day Forward is simultaneously unusual and traditional.

Sharon tells the story from the beginning, which she marks as the moment her sister found a picture of their dad dressed in women's clothing. When they asked their mother, Marcia, "Why is Dad dressed like Grandma?" they didn't have to wait long for an answer. 

"Dad left the room," Sharon says, and a few minutes later, he returned dressed in woman's clothing. "I didn't understand what that meant," she recalls, though she would eventually come to realize that her father, who took on the name Trisha, was identifying as a woman.

This was to be the family's future. Several years into her rocky transition, during a morning drive to middle school, Trisha made it clear that she hadn't changed her mind. "Sharon," Trisha said, "whenever you get married I hope that you'll let me wear a dress when I walk you down the aisle."

"I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach," Sharon says, adding that she "didn't want that day to come." But her viewpoint would change. 

While many media depictions of transgender people focus on the dramatic and controversial nature of such experiences, this documentary spotlights a family that is in many ways very typical, and unexpectedly outgoing. 

Trisha, interviewed throughout the film, is low-key and affable as she recalls early days growing up in Denver "where the air was clear," though she also had a "definite sense that something's not quite right." Yet a courtship with Marcia eventually ensued, along with marriage, a life in Chicago and later Northern Michigan, children and a passionate pursuit of music and art. (Trisha is a multi-instrumentalist and painter.) Ultimately, Trisha could no longer conceal her feminine side, and its expression is often paired with wry self-deprecation. "I like pleats. They give me the hips I don't have."

The film includes home videos from Sharon's childhood and times before Trisha's transition, then moves on to Sharon's return to her parents' Midwestern home as she prepares for her own wedding. She is particularly interested in learning how her parents were able to stay together in the face of such substantial change.

The essential ingredient, she discovers, is commitment. While the couple initially decided to separate, they could not go through with a divorce due to the strength of their bond. Despite their deep commitment, however, there were times, Marcia says, when she "didn't know if I can stay in a relationship." There was also bitterness—"How can you betray our marriage and our family?"—and the couple sought outside help. "There were lots of arguments, tears and therapists." Yet the bond held. 

Marcia's unwavering compassion and tolerance also played a key role. She told Trisha to do "whatever you feel like you really need to do," even though she sometimes found the transition personally painful. "I married a man, not a woman," she says. In an interesting twist, Marcia asks Trisha, "What would you think if I were the one who transitioned? Would you be able to handle it?" Trisha's response: "Probably not."

Sharon also investigates the transformations she has gone through. She admits that for many years she "pretty much rejected my dad," adding that a "lot of the past is kind of unresolved." But change slowly comes, and as her wedding day approaches she finds that earlier apprehensions have faded, including discomfort with her father's choice of attire. "The dress doesn't bother me now," she says. 

Video from the wedding shows a traditional gathering of family and friends, with bride and father—and also father and mother—spinning across the dance floor. "Sometimes," Trisha says, "a woman just wants to dance with her husband." After surprising everyone with an unexpected outfit, Trisha says, "I felt good. It was the happiest day of my life so far," words echoed at countless family weddings. 

Sharon has powerful praise for her folks. "When my parents got married, I don't think they ever dreamed how difficult it would be for them to stay together. I don't know if I could do what my mom did." Marcia reminds her that life—and love—is always a work in progress. "We're still finding our own way." 

"Growing up with a transgender parent was challenging for my sister and me," says Sharon, "mostly because we cared so much what our friends and neighbors thought. But as we got older, we realized that in our small town, everyone knew about Trisha. Though some townsfolk shunned us (and still do to this day), our close friends didn't care—and that made all the difference.

"The fact that my parents remain married, even though my mom identifies as straight, makes Trisha's search for identity all the more complex. But to my parents, the larger political conversations about gender identity are less significant than what they truly care about—staying together. 

"Unfortunately there are many stories of transgender people that don't have happy endings. I think that it's important to hear these painful stories, because they galvanize society to push for change, for an end to discrimination. But I think it's equally important to hear stories of hope within the tapestry of transgender narratives. My wish is that my family's story inspires others to embrace the LGBTQ people in their lives with compassion, respect and love."

About the Filmmaker:

Sharon Shattuck, Director, Producer

Sharon Shattuck is an Emmy®-nominated filmmaker and animator. She is the co-creator of The New York Times Op-Docs series Animated Life, which tells stories of scientific discovery using stringent journalism and paper puppets. Animated Life: Pangea was nominated for a 2016 Emmy Award. She has animated several award-winning films, including the Emmy-nominated feature The City Dark, which aired on POV in 2012; Love Between the Covers (2015); The Search for General Tso (2014); and the short films Truck Farm and The Melungeons. Her video and animation work has appeared in The New York Times, Slate and ProPublica and on PBS and Radiolab. She has degrees in environmental science and journalism. From This Day Forward is Sharon's feature-length directorial debut.

About the Film Subjects:

Marcia Shattuck, M.D., is a (semi-retired) pathologist who spent 33 years in hospital laboratories and now has time to pursue her passionate interest in health and wellness. She is a devoted mother and spouse who loves to cook, practice yoga and go for long walks and bike rides on the trails in Northern Michigan. She is immensely proud of her daughter Sharon and the wonderful film she created.

Trisha Shattuck (www.shattuckart.comspends most days offsetting her carbon footprint, oil painting, pursuing equine endeavors and preparing and eating vegan food. She's skeptical of most screen-related distractions and prefers personal relationships in the here and now. Trisha's major accomplishment was transitioning from male to female while raising daughters and keeping her marriage intact with her spouse, Marcia.

From This Day Forward is a co-production of Project Dad LLC, Fork Films and Artemis Rising Foundation in association with American Documentary | POV.

Credits:
Executive Producers: Abigail E. Disney, Regina K. Scully
Producers: Martha Shane, Sharon Shattuck
Director: Sharon Shattuck
Editor: Frederick Shanahan
Co-Producer: Ian Cheney
Associate Producers: Brooke Brewer, Margaret Brunyansky
Original Score: Chris Bathgate
Director of Photography, Motion Graphics: Sharon Shattuck

Running Time: 73:00        
POV Total Running Time (with Pink Boy): 86:46


About Pink Boy:

Pink Boy is an intimate portrait of a young transgender child in rural Florida at the moment of transition. Butch lesbian BJ successfully avoided wearing dresses her entire life. Then she and her partner, Sherrie, adopted Jeffrey, who, to their shock, started to dance in gowns and perform for his parents. As Jeffrey, now 6, increasingly wishes to dress up in public, BJ must navigate where it is safe for him, from school to a rodeo in Georgia to the ultimate holiday for a "pink boy," Halloween. Since filming ended, Jeffrey has transitioned and now identifies as a girl, Jessie, full-time.

In 2015, Pink Boy won a Grand Jury Prize in the Shorts Competition of DOC NYC, Best Documentary Short at the Palm Springs International ShortFest and Audience Award for Best Short at the Nantucket Film Festival.

TRAILER for Pink Boy: http://www.pbs.org/pov/pinkboy/


Pink Boy credits: Director, Editor: Eric Rockey; Camera, Sound: Eric Rockey and Oscar Frasser; Music: T. Griffin; Story Consultants: Deanna Kamiel, Jonathan Oppenheim and Jeremiah Zagar. Running Time: 10 min.

About the Filmmaker:
Eric Rockey's work straddles the worlds of technology and film. A Microsoft veteran who now works at tech startup FiftyThree, he graduated from the New School's Documentary Certificate and Media Studies master's programs. His first short, Vulture Culture, premiered at DOC NYC in 2011. He was also the designer and developer for the interactive documentary and Webby Award winner What Killed Kevin? directed by Beverly Peterson, in 2014. Pink Boy is his second short.

POV Series Credits: 
Executive Producers: Justine Nagan, Chris White 
Vice President, Content Strategy: Eliza Licht
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Coordinating Producer: Nikki Heyman

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