Filmmaker Connor O’Keefe – A Cinematic Exploration of Transness

Photos courtesy of Connor O'Keefe
Photos courtesy of Connor O'Keefe

Connor O’Keefe is a 24-year-old filmmaker who grew up in Minneapolis and is currently studying in California. His short documentary, Imagine a Body, is on the film festival circuit this year and will be available to watch online via the New Yorker in June. It’s an honest exploration of the transmasc experience, focusing on the spiritual side of transness: the personal growth, the community support, the mind-body connection. We connected with him to speak about his experience as a trans man, and how that has influenced his work.

How did you first get into film?

I love the way that filmmaking is a little bit of every other medium. And that’s how I got started with it—I was a YouTube kid, so for me, filmmaking started as a conversation. It was a collaboration. It was me making videos online when I was 12, talking about my transness, and then having a conversation with somebody else who is trans. That’s what filmmaking started as for me: a one-to-one conversation. As I’m starting to learn more about film as a medium and a discipline, it’s different from online video, but they’re coming together. I’m going to make this and then someone will watch it and hopefully we can have a conversation about it. That’s always been the core for me.

There is a lot of nature imagery in this film. Why trees, why the forest? What significance does that have?

When I first envisioned the film, I wanted to create the experience of sitting in an open field, surrounded by trans men, hearing their experiences, their stories, and really replicate my experience of group therapy as a young person, of connecting with other queer people. I had these ideas I wanted to explore; I knew imagery of nature, of trees specifically, I love the idea that wood can bend, that there’s fluidity there, so that was the starting point.

One of the things I want to challenge is our constant medicalization of transness. I wanted to provide a resource for people who wanted to be taking certain medical steps while also questioning the way that we look at the medical side of transness. So, how can I take testosterone and look at it more spiritually, like how do you grow as a person, what do you learn about yourself that isn’t just your physical body changing? Locating the dialogue in this natural space hopefully can take the viewer out of the experience that a trans person is sitting in a doctor’s office somewhere, injecting hormones. It’s much richer and more interesting, frankly, than that.

How have your experiences as a trans man shaped your views on the mind-body connection?

Being trans is a very central part of my experience and how I view the world. I feel like transness is articulated as this way of getting out of the body, or getting away from the body, which might be true for a lot of people, but for me, my transness was much more about coming into my body and really about getting comfortable in that space; and as my body changed, learning to accept that change. That was the feeling I wanted to explore, and interview other guys to see if they had similar experiences or different experiences. 

Part of taking hormones is the added awareness. It’s not just that I’m experiencing puberty because my body is aging and growing, it’s that I’m experiencing puberty and I’m an active participant in that. So that added awareness got me into my body. And I think there is a lot of wisdom to that experience that I think everybody, trans or not, can learn from. There is wisdom in asking how we really check into our bodies, how we listen to our bodies, and for me, and I think for a lot of the guys I talked to, hormones taught us a lot about that.

What do you hope the audience takes from this film?

If you can remember one thing somebody said [in the film] that is connecting with you in some way, or conflicting with you in some way, that is a success for me—because you’re thinking about it. And hopefully you’re able to hear the reflections of all these different guys and connect a little bit with something in yourself. Or, if you’re not trans or queer, think about a trans or queer person that you love, and how that may or may not relate to their experience. It is more of a conversation starter than a conversation with a period. There’s a colon or comma there, and that is the hope, that this will be a process of expansion.

To learn more about Connor O’Keefe, check out ConnorLeeOk.us, and catch Imagine a Body when it drops on the New Yorker Documentary Video Series at NewYorker.com.

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