I sat down with Emmett J. Lundberg, the creator and protagonist of Brothers, a web series following the lives of four trans men, and his producer Sheyam Ghieth, to talk about the process and the effect of creating the first show centered around trans men.
Emmett and Sheyam launched the pilot in June of 2014 on YouTube. A year later, Amazon offered to distribute the series on their site. It has been a success thus far and they are currently raising funds in order to get a second season up and running.
Getting picked up by Amazon is a big deal. What do you think that says about the need for content like this?
Emmett: We didn’t anticipate what was going to happen. I had known that my experience had not been reflected, as far as I knew, on screen — and we looked. There are a few characters here and there and, of course, there is Boys Don’t Cry, which is obviously so tragic.
Sheyam: ... and not played by a trans male.
Emmett: So I decided that I should write this and we should do this because... why not? So, when we first launched people really grabbed onto it because there wasn’t anything else.
What have the responses been, both positive and negative, towards the show?
Sheyam: The positive responses are myriad. The landscape completely changed from when we started. I remember when we were shooting the pilot and we were walking into delis asking if we could shoot in them, and people would ask us what our show was about, and we’d have to discern or weigh how much we wanted to say it was about trans men. Now, in New York City, at least, it is completely different, even in the last two years. I think that is a huge step forward. People now at least know what we are talking about if we say it’s about a group of trans guys.
Emmett: And there is more interest in that world. But more specifically, the response from other trans men has just been incredible. For example, there are guys who say they have been able to show it to people in their lives and that’s helped them through whatever process they were in, in communicating this. Some also say it’s helpful to see different characters that are at different stages; not everyone is on hormones, not everyone is having forgery, or wants to have surgery. There are different steps and they are all valid. As far as the negative response goes...
Sheyam: We don’t consider them, and we try not to read them because they are transphobic and are basically trolling. But we do have people reaching out to us on a positive and personal level and that’s what makes it worth it.
One of the first scenes in your pilot is of your character injecting testosterone. How has that been received?
Emmet: We just filmed me actually injecting my shot for the day. It is such a big part of my existence that of course it had to be in the pilot. I had to show that it ongoing and that is just something I do in order to be who I am.
Sheyam: this story has stayed with me since we put out the pilot. Someone wrote in saying, “I know you didn’t intend this but, I have been trying to have a child for a while now and I have to inject myself weekly with hormones. This is something that I never thought I had in common with you or with somebody who is trans, but look at us now.”
How did this group of trans guys get together? Had you all known each other before?
Emmett: We put out a social media call. We didn’t get many responses, and we still don’t get that many.
Did you get a lot of straight cis men responding?
Emmett: It happens all the time, but our priority has always been casting trans people.
Sheyam: Yes, and we were like, “Can you read?” There are not enough roles and enough opportunities for trans people, so we do whatever we can do to help that, in front of the camera, behind it. It’s important for us to have representation in all aspects. And not just trans, but also women, people of color, and non-binary people. This is our show, and this is the media landscape we would like to see, so we have to start by changing it, and we can change it. And I think people forget that they can do that. Decide what you want to support, and then do it.
Not to mention it makes the work more authentic when people who experience these narratives get to represent them as well.
Emmett: I think authenticity is key. That is why and how people resonate with a true feeling which goes beyond being trans, and that is what our aim has been.
Sheyam: Especially because we are not just trying to tell a “coming out as trans” story. We are not trying to tell a basic trans 101 story and jump on that bandwagon. It goes beyond that.
It seems there is the pitfall of projects turning into a trans 101 class or a tragedy, like, Boys Don’t Cry, which you mentioned earlier.
Emmett: I was super young when I first saw Boys Don’t Cry, and I feel like I’m still working through the trauma of what that represented to me because that was the only trans story I saw till I was in my twenties. And we want to show that you can live a happy life as trans person, and that you can date people and fall in love and have it be great.
Dating is a prevalent theme in the show. How are you portraying the dating scene?
Emmett: There is definitely some inspiration from my real life, but a lot of it a pulled from the community and what people have voiced. My character dates cis-men and it is considered this weird thing because a lot of people in the community don’t talk about that and there are a lot of gay trans men. A lot of people are uncomfortable with that, even within the community, and I find it to be a strange phenomenon, so I wanted to explore it in the show.
Sheyam: The way I see it is, as many types of people there are in the world are the many different ways you can be and date.
Emmett: And I get where the resistance comes within the community because we do need to stay stronger together but we also need allies.
Images courtesy of Emmett J. Lundberg.
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