There’s a lot being said about trans youth these days. Many of the loudest voices are coming from the far right, promoting the advance of the over 500 anti-trans bills across state and national legislatures. Their hateful narratives depend on ignorance, on having never met a trans person, on fashioning a scarecrow onto which frightened voters can project all of their worst nightmares. Ultimately, they depend on silencing trans youth. For this reason, Carys Mullins, a gender-nonconforming teen filmmaker, created the documentary “You’re Loved”—providing a platform for trans youth to tell their own stories.
“This film is about transgender youth in America and what their experiences are like growing up, dealing with common things that even cisgender youth deal with,” Carys tells INTO. “Part of a common experience but through the lens of somebody who is also experiencing discrimination and stigma and going through all the plights that come with being a trans person in America right now.
“I really just asked these youths to share their stories, talk about how they overcame these challenges, and just really be authentic.”
At 19 years old, Carys directed and produced “You’re Loved,” and the documentary had its premiere at the Tampa Bay Transgender Film Festival on Trans Day of Visibility this past March. Being based in Florida, they witnessed the need for messages of love and hope to the trans community first-hand.
Of all the states working hard to make trans people invisible, Florida has emerged as the one of the most cruel. Its legislative attacks on access to LGBTQ+ education in the school, on drag performance and trans healthcare have all laid the blueprint for copycat bills across the country. Even as Governor Ron DeSantis has labeled Florida as the place “where woke goes to die,” Neo-Nazis in the state have proudly and openly seized on the anti-LGBTQ+ hysteria to recruit new members. Now, DeSantis plans to replicate his hate campaign on the national scale as a 2024 presidential candidate.
Carys’ response to these attacks on the trans community was simple: “You’re Loved.” The film’s title speaks directly to the trans and gender-nonconforming youth like themself who have to grow up in society that regularly debates their right to exist. But much of the film’s content speaks equally well to cisgender allies.
“We had to decide whether we were going to target this film towards audience members who specifically were in the LGBTQ community, who were transgender, or if who wanted to make it open-ended and let other people experience it,” says Carys. “I fought for it to be both ways. And that’s why, in the film, it’s not just transgender youth. They’re the main focus, but it’s also their friends and their family members as well as mental health professionals, to allow people who aren’t a part of the community to see themselves and be represented in there because you don’t wanna close off the film to other people. Because ‘you’re loved’ is a universal message.
“We want trans people to know that—they especially need to know that in times like this. So as these youth are sharing their stories, they’re also saying, ‘Look, we are resilient. You can do it too because we love you, and you are loved by this community. And it’s not just us. There are other people in the world: there are doctors fighting for you, politicians fighting for you, family members, friends.’ Kind of like a message of, ‘You’re loved, but you’re also not alone.’”
Although the film comes out of Florida, it has national scope. Three trans teens were featured in the documentary, representing Florida, Texas, and Illinois. “I wanted to get a broad range of stories,” Carys says, recalling the selection process. “I didn’t wanna say, ‘Hey, you have to have had a horrible experience. You could have the best experience possible—we just want your authentic truth.’
“But we did tell the youth, ‘You need to be open, and you need to be honest.’ We understand that it can be scary to share your story and that some people fear that coming out could put them at risk for harm or retribution. But we really looked for youth who were bold and ready to take a stand regardless of those potential repercussions.”
“I hope this book is able to give visibility to things that are imperfect, because queer people are themselves imperfect.”
Although Carys made “You’re Loved” to convey the experiences of trans youth to a general audience, the filmmaking journey was a learning process for them as well. “One of the youth interviewees, Topher Malone, … talked a lot about the experiences of people of color and how specifically trans women of color experienced just the craziest of things,” says Carys. “Disappearances that are not actually disappearances, missing persons, a lot of the crime and hate crime factors.
“I have always been more focused on the mental health side and haven’t really gotten into those kinds of statistics and stories. So just listening to Topher talk about that was really eye-opening for me and made me want to learn more about that.”
Following a successful premiere in spring, Carys is currently planning future screenings—both for virtual corporate training and local in-person events. Executive producer Humanity Rising has set up a donation page to help expand access to the film.
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While screening efforts are still ongoing, Carys has no shortage of advocacy work to keep them busy. They are the founder of Advocates for LGBTQ+ Equality, they have served on various LGBTQ+ committees, including PFLAG Pride Prom, and they are a regular volunteer at local Pride events. For the near future, they are about to start their third term with Equality Florida as a communications fellow, and they are preparing to launch a new podcast, “Students Who Protest.”
In the meantime, Carys’ advice for anyone looking to get involved in the fight for trans rights is to start from the ground up. “The main thing that you can do is look for your local organizations,” says Carys. “I know that if you live in a rural area, it might be more difficult, but … almost every organization worth their salt has online options for you.
“I always say you don’t have to solve world hunger in a day, right? If you just wanna start volunteering super easily, like my organization offers, you can write a blog and that will count—that is advocacy work because you’re sharing your story. You can do things in small doses and work your way towards bigger projects so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
“So I would say do what you can and you just have to take it day by day. Because advocacy work can be hard and it can be draining. So protect your mental health and protect your energy first, but just get involved locally and if you can’t get involved locally, there’s millions of things to do online.”