Turkey’s biggest gay lifestyle magazine GZone interviewed Jake Graf for their January 2016 issue. He is one of the most handsome trans men in the world, also a filmmaker, actor and activist. Jake took part in one of the most-anticipated films of 2015-2016 upcoming “Danish Girl” and also has written, produced and acted in some short films like XWHY, BRACE and CHANCE… Don’t forget to watch BRACE short film of Jake Graf’s, at the end of this post.
(Words: Murat Renay-Photos: Paul Grace)
Let’s get to know this pioneering young man:
*Hello Jake. What were you doing before this job?
Whilst I would love it to be the case that I am able to work full time on my films, I also have a day job, working with children! I teach French, and tutor them in various subjects, and have done this work for 18 years now. I absolutely adore children, and find that the work I do during the day leaves me feeling much more creative for the evenings and weekends, when I write and shoot the movies.
*What is the biggest “turning point” of your life?
The last year has been amazing, with two award winning films screening across the world, magazine covers, and so much positivity and trans male visibility, that I would say this year has certainly been a turning point, but the real “turning point’ was 8 years ago, when I decided that I had no option but to begin my transition, and found the courage to tell my mother, and begin the process. It has been a long journey, but I believe it has all led to where I am now. Had I not transitioned, I don’t know where I would be now, but it wouldn’t have been anywhere good. In fact, I may not have been here at all.
*How did you enter the movie business? And as a trans man, did you find it challenging to make your way in to this area?
I wrote my first screenplay for my short film XWHY, as I began my transition. I had always enjoyed writing, and wanted to use my own transition to document the physical changes felt and seen by the fictional character in the film. I had been scared to put myself out there creatively until this point, but I thought to myself that if I had the courage to transition, I certainly had the courage to make a film! When it was well received(we premiered at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and were nominated for the Iris Prize), I realised that I might have a talent for it, and just carried on and wrote ‘Brace’!
I don’t think being trans has held me back, but then I don’t know any other way, so I can’t really comment. I think hard work, a little talent, and lots of commitment works whether you are trans, gay, or otherwise!
*Do you think movies are promising to the trans community?
I think movies can give hope where before there might have been none. I grew up never seeing myself on screen, and that can be a very lonely and isolating experience, and one that I hope to remedy. I think that it is very important that trans characters and their stories become more visible and prominent, because for a young trans person sitting in their bedroom somewhere lost and scared, seeing themselves represented on screen, and being given that hope that they are not alone in this world can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
*Your new projects, will they be short films or you aim to make long movies as blockbusters or festival-art films?
The latest film, Dawn, which features a trans female lead, is another short film, which we hope will be as well received as Brace and Chance at the festivals. I love making shorts, but everyone is now telling me that I must make the move to features, and we already have a screenplay ready, so watch this space!
*Do you write the storyline of “X-Why” as referring to trans people’s lives or your life especially?
Most of the films and material that I write is personal to me, and XWHY was very reflective of my own experience at the time of writing. I had a lovely girlfriend, who I adored, but who identified very much as a lesbian. Of course, as I started to feel like more of a man, it became important to me that the woman I was dating was attracted to men. Sadly, we just didn’t work anymore, and broke up, which often happens when one partner transitions. We are still friends, and I will always be grateful to her for helping me through a very difficult time, it just wasn’t meant to be!
*Referring to “Brace”, a trans individual’s being gay is a bold move among LGBTI-themed films. Do you think it’s risky to make a movie with this context or is it a new discovery for LGBTI movies?
Brace again was a very personal story to me. After a year or so on testosterone, I became very attracted to men, for the first time in my life, and I wanted to tell that story. I have had hundreds of trans men contacting me to thank me for representing them on screen, as gay trans men are often overlooked. To be honest, I think it actually helped the film, as it appealed to gay men, and trans men! I think that for a lot of trans people, attractions widen after transition. That was certainly my experience, and it seems that more and more trans folk are open to dating a broader range of people, regardless of gender.
* “Brace” is a story about two characters who cannot fit in, and also they are not a good match for each other. Have you ever experienced such story in your real life?
Many times! I think that as trans people, we are all looking for understanding, for someone to simply accept us, irrespective of our trans status, but just because you have being trans in common, does not by any means guarantee that you will work. I recently dated a trans woman for the first time, and much as we got on, and I thought she was absolutely beautiful, there were so many issues tied in with our own insecurities about being transgender, that we just didn’t work.
* Referring to “Chance”, the short film is gay-themed but also saying something about ethnic discrimination. Ethnic and sexual orientation discrimination, how do these two terms resemble each other in your opinion?
Chance is the film that was the farthest from my own experience, and as a result proved the hardest to write. I have never experienced true racial discrimination, but have seen much homophobic and transphobic abuse levelled at me, and to be honest I think discrimination and abuse, whatever kind, do the same kind of damage. I wanted very much to show this strong, proud Muslim man, who, contrary to the white, British character, had embraced his sexuality, and was prepared to put himself in danger to simply be true to himself.
*Even it’s a short movie, how does it feel to direct and act at the same time. Is it more exhausting or more efficient for the project?
Directing and acting at the same time is very hard. I tried it for my short film, Cocktale, back in 2009, but to be honest I very much like to be directed when I’m acting, and have someone else thinking about the best shot or camera angle! I also love writing and then directing, as getting something from my head onto the screen is incredibly rewarding. Next year, I am writing a web series called Spectrum East, and then will be stepping back, and simply playing one of the male leads, and I am very much looking forward to letting go of the control!
*What do you think of Laverne Cox’s acting? Do you like it?
I think Laverne Cox in Orange Is The New Black is great, although very much under used. Her storylines in season 3 have been much more interesting and relevant, and I like that the writers are trusting her more to tell these stories. Altogether, I would trust her much more as a spokesperson for the trans movement than someone like Caitlyn Jenner, who really has no clue about queer politics, nor how important her role is within the community.
*You have a leading role in trans activism. How did “What’s it like being transgender?” project come up?
I had long wanted to do a Youtube video, as I spent many years watching other young trans guys’ films online, but I didn’t want to do one that was just about me! I really wanted to show a more diverse perspective, and also make something positive and upbeat. I chose the cast carefully, as all were friends, and great speakers, and I knew that each would resonate with someone different. We have now had over 250K online views, and are already working on the next one, so clearly we must have done something right!
*Your body is admired and desired by both gay men and women. What’s the secret of your fitness and form?
That’s very kind! It’s important for me to feel as comfortable in my own body as possible, and I have always admired an athletic, muscular body on a man. I work out 5 days a week, try and watch what I eat, and after years of drinking far too much, now drink only on special occasions! I know that it’s not for everyone, but it makes me feel happier in my body, and after nearly 3 decades of not liking what I saw in the mirror, I think it’s worth it!
*What do you think of Turkish trans men and women? Do you know about their life style and living? What do you suggest to encourage Turkish trans people and also all the trans people in the world?
I must admit that I do not know many Turkish trans people, but I believe that the country is relatively accepting of it, allowing people to transition since 1988? That is more than we have had, as homosexuality was illegal until 1982 in the UK! I can imagine that, like anywhere, it depends on which part of the country you are from, how accepting and liberal your family and friends are, and how visible you allow yourself to be. I would say to anyone who feels that they are trans: Be yourself, listen to what you know to be true within yourself, and, as far as you can do so safely, embrace who you are. My biggest regret is that I didn’t transition earlier in my life, as I feel that I wasted many years. It won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be overnight, but I’ve never looked back, and can only say that once you are honest with yourself, it can only get better.
Watch BRACE down below, written by Jake Graf: