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The Believers

2006
Distributed by Frameline, 145 Ninth St., Suite 300, San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-703-8650
Produced by Beth Burkhart and Nicole Miller
Directed by Todd Holland
DVD, color, 80 min.
College - Adult
African American Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, Gender Studies, Music, Religious Studies


Reviewed by Patricia B. McGee, Coordinator of Media Services, Volpe Library & Media Center, Tennessee Technological University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 6/18/2007

The Believers is a fascinating and sympathetic exploration of the very complex relationships between the members of the Transcendence Gospel Choir, a choir of transgendered men and women, and their struggle to accept themselves and to understand their place in Christianity. While to most gender may seem to be a fairly straightforward construct, for the choir members gender has caused them great pain and confusion as a they feel the nature of their gender does not match up with their sexual physicality.

Ashley Moore, a transsexual woman and a sound engineer, came to her pastor at the City of Refuge, a San Francisco congregation of the United Church of Christ, and proposed starting the gospel choir. When the members of the choir first gathered together, they brought a lot of collateral issues with them—housing, drugs, emotional instability, hormonal changes to vocal ranges, as well as significant issues concerning their spirituality and faith. According to Yvonne Evans, their director, ‘they couldn’t sing, and they couldn’t hold a note.” As months passed, a community developed with trust and compassion. Miss Major declared that the choir had become a “place where I don’t have to explain who I am, testify to what it is, how I got here and what is the actual definition.”

Choir members are a diverse group from many backgrounds and experiences. Many have had severe conflicts over their sexuality, and endured feelings of worthlessness, isolation and pain, as well as actual physical danger. Miss Major was a participant in the original Stonewall Rebellion and has an incredibly close relationship with her son. Bobbie Jean Baker, a former prostitute, recovering crack addict, and ex-convict, revisited her home and the street where she worked in Memphis. While her family continues to think of Bobbie as Robert Jr., the love they feel is palpable.

Transcendence Gospel Choir has become a powerful ambassador for the gay, lesbian and transgender community. In 2003 the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, a coalition of some 6600 Christian churches, invited the choir to perform and testify at their annual meeting. The Synod passed two resolutions, one affirming transgender ministry and the second denouncing violence directed at the transgendered. Shortly after this seminal event, the group‘s CD Whosoever Believes won the 2004 Outmusic award for “Outstanding New Recording-Chorus or Choir.” The Believers is an intimate look at a segment of society who is either scorned or about whom many are simply ignorant. This revealing and enlightening documentary should go a long way toward ameliorating this situation.