Documentary at Kingston Canadian Film Festival highlights history of trans icon Billy Tipton

The Journal talks trans equality with directors Chin-Yee and Joynt

Image supplied by: Screenshot from ‘No Ordinary Man’
Directors Chin-Yee and Joynt honour Tipton’s legacy and trans identity.

Billy Tipton’s reputation as a talented jazz musician was altered by the media when he died in 1989. Now, co-directors Chin-Yee and Joynt are setting the record straight.

NO ORDINARY MAN: The Billy Tipton Documentary focuses on the life of late jazz musician Billy Tipton, an impactful and iconic figure in trans history. Co-directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt uniquely capture the story of Tipton’s life as a transmasculine musician in the 20th century, while opening a dialogue about the impact of Tipton’s story within the trans community.

“As trans creators and people interested in music and history, we have all become accustomed to one particular version of Tipton’s story. So, as a team, we were really excited to tell the underexplored and untold story about Tipton’s life, and more importantly, the lives of those who[m] he potentially impacted,” co-director Joynt said in an interview with The Journal.

The documentary is slated to premiere on March 1 at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, which kicks off on Feb. 26.

No Ordinary Man discusses the negative impact the media had on Tipton’s legacy after his death in 1989. A great deal of judgement, disrespect, and scrutiny arose when his gender identity became highly publicized. This documentary excels in setting history right as it shows the real story behind the life of Billy Tipton rather than the hateful claims about Tipton’s gender identity made by many media outlets in the 20th century.

“For so long, the details of Tipton’s life in particular were controlled by talk and tabloid media. Our project is an example of what can happen when you tell a story from a trans perspective,” Joynt said.

The film features a group of diverse voices, such as actor and activist Marquise Vilsón, who guides viewers through the history of Billy Tipton while discussing various experiences that often come with identifying as transgender in a predominantly cisgender environment.

This discourse allows for a critical evaluation of how Western society’s perception of the trans community has evolved and progressed in some ways over time, as well as how it has remained unchanged in the 21st century.

No Ordinary Man creates an opportunity for multiple trans voices to be heard and provides a modern outlook on the significance and impact of Tipton’s story through a collection of diverse thoughts and personal stories.

“Billy Tipton’s story becomes a vehicle for people’s interpretations and voices and experiences, so it was a way to look at this historical figure but also to be able to frame it in a contemporary lens. And he’s not here to talk about himself, there is no diary or record of how he identified, so it’s us looking at who Billy is from multiple points of view,” co-director Chin-Yee stated.

This documentary also highlights the importance of including trans perspectives in conversations about topics like art and history. The film is an excellent example of why it’s necessary to be inclusive both behind the camera and in front of it.

“We believe that stories should feature and focus on those most impacted by the narrative choices, so it feels unethical and careless to tell a story about Tipton’s history without trans people,” Joynt said.

By welcoming a diverse and inclusive range of viewpoints and forms of representation, No Ordinary Man fights against the heteronormative and often transphobic mould of Western society.

“We feel strongly that collaboration is the future, and that’s cis people and trans people collaborating together to tell stories and always working intersectionally to be paying attention to how race, class, and gender impact how we tell stories and who we tell stories about,” said Joynt.

This documentary has the potential to educate viewers on trans history or to possibly inspire them to embrace their own unique sense of self, just as Tipton and the featured speakers have chosen to.

“I hope they experience the film, they learn something, it inspires discussion. But whatever your entry point to Billy’s story, to trans history, to what’s going on today, I hope that it has some kind of resonance,” Chin-Yee said.


documentary, Kingston Canadian Film Fest, Trans, transgender

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