I Filmed My Gender Transition Over 3 Years With My Daughter

  • Jade Phoenix came out as a trans woman just as her daughter was turning 1. 
  • Phoenix decided to document on film her transition and her daughter’s reaction to it.
  • The doc, “How to Make a Rainbow,” chronicles the mother-daughter relationship amid the major change.

My favorite part about raising children is how they enter this world as dreamers; they remind us about life’s infinite possibilities and how to dream anew for ourselves.

Early on in my parenthood journey, I sensed that unique, fun, and enlightening relationship between a parent and child, so much so that I decided to film the early years of my daughter’s life as it crossed with the early years of my gender transition. 

After nearly three years of documented transitions of home, gender, childhood, and parenthood, we had a short documentary called “How to Make a Rainbow.”

I became a parent at 30 with my then-girlfriend

When my daughter, Alaizah, was born in 2012, I figured my life at that point was more or less a settled matter. At the time, I was living with my girlfriend, and Alaizah was our first child. It was as if everything was aligning to create the default “American dream” — I was a cisgender man living out the perfect heteronormative nuclear-familial life. But with Alaizah’s arrival, I was on the cusp of a whole new chapter for myself.

By the time she turned 1, her mother and I had split up. We agreed to be coparents instead of romantic partners, and though my heart was broken, it had also broken open. During this time and amid the immense responsibility that comes with becoming a parent, I began exploring my queer identity.

I immersed myself in the queer community for the first time in my life. I learned not only a lot about parenting but also that I’m a transgender woman.

I realized I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture this moment between Alaizah and me on film

At the start of my transition, in 2014, transgender narratives and stories were not frequently told in media, and the few stories that were told were often rooted in narratives of trauma and pain — not joy, happiness, and love. As a writer, poet, storyteller, and now father becoming mother, I knew I had to take the leap.

So between 2015 and 2018, Alaizah and I allowed our friend Ryan Maxey — an independent documentary filmmaker, award-winning director, and fellow creative storyteller — access to some of the most vulnerable transitional moments of our lives. 

I wanted not only to show the complex, specific nature of a parent and child relationship as we journeyed through my transition but also to take an intentional step toward changing the narratives around trans identity and tell a story of trans motherhood.

“How to Make a Rainbow” documents those three years as we navigated questions of motherhood and childhood. Our film debuted at Aspen Shortsfest in April 2019.

At the heart of our story is the challenge of a father becoming a mother in real time

While on camera, I learned how to talk about my transition and what it meant to be a woman with Alaizah, who was just starting kindergarten and beginning to shape her worldview. We had many conversations about what to call me and what it meant for me to transition.

One of the more-difficult conversations we had on camera was about my biological family and how they took the news of my transition. I had been raised in a conservative evangelical home. I had to share with Alaizah why her grandparents had a hard time seeing me as a woman and a mother. I can’t say for sure that she understood the nuances of all these complex emotional situations at the time, but I do know that in sharing these conversations with her, I was stepping into my own practice of motherhood and giving her the opportunity to practice empathy with a loved one. 

My favorite moment while filming was when we went to Alaizah’s school and read some children’s books about trans identity to her kindergarten class. Some of the film’s funniest and most poignant moments come from this scene, as the innocent nature of childhood and their ability to learn and adapt were on full display. I was truly surprised at how easily Alaizah and her classmates were able to grasp the concepts of gender and transition. 

The film proves children can be accepting and understanding, while adults still have a hard time coming to grips with my trans identity 

In setting out to fill the world with more positive-trans narratives, ultimately, I was reminded of all the possibilities we have to find joy in this world and how we are responsible for creating and cultivating that joy in our own lives. We are never too old to dream, and I am more than grateful my daughter came along when she did to remind me of this truth. 

While reflecting on making our film and the 10 years of parenthood that have passed since, I am grateful to have documented such a unique and special time in our lives. 

It also serves as a reminder to celebrate the relationships, connections, and opportunities we have been blessed with. Sharing our story with audiences across the country has been an amazing experience, and hopefully, our film can continue to be an agent of change, hope, and joy.

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