It Gets Messy in Here – A Review

12 Dec
If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. – Audre Lorde

The last couple of days have been a lesson in my own educational and societal privilege. In my day to day interactions with people on the planet, I’m generally privileged to interact with people who respect my gender and racial identity. Microaggressions happen but for the most part, I can choose to move through the world in ways that limit my contact with people who don’t support or respect my identities. That’s not the case for a lot of my queer and trans* kindred.

In the amazing documentary It Gets Messy In Here, Kai M. Green explores the day to day reality of just trying to use the bathroom for many trans* masculine people of color. In interviews with masculine of center women, non-binary folks, and trans* men, Green explores the gender policing that simply entering a bathroom can engender.

Interviewee Alice Y. Hom recounts using an airport bathroom in which she was approached by a white woman who assumed that Hom was a non-English speaking Asian man who’d ended up there by mistake. Hom makes sense of the incident by pointing out how racial and gender stereotypes colluded to create a misreading of her identity. It is not just her race, gender, or sexuality that evoke the reaction but the combination of those that produce a moment of gender distortion.

Green is adept at allowing the interviews to build echos and refrains. The different narratives speak to each other and commonalities emerge that help paint a picture of a systemic societal problem with genders that trouble a belief in a fixed biological binary. Through the stories of the folks on screen, the stories of the people they encountered become visible and tell a tale of social discomfort that is projected on the narrators. I was moved by the efforts of those targeted by this projection to ease the ill feelings of those who target them. Folks talked about seeking out private bathrooms where they wouldn’t be bothered and weighing the pros and cons of which gendered bathroom to negotiate. There was so much work involved in navigating a bodily process that a lot of people are able to take for granted. C. Riley Snorton even mentioned the desire to create a physical map for trans* and disabled folks that identified restrooms that were accessible and safe.

Participants discuss their own ever evolving understandings of their genders and how they often conflict with societal expectations. Green even turns the camera on themself, and discusses their complex and nuanced relationship to their gender and its shifts over time. The documentary explores the impact of time on perceptions of gender in another way by highlighting interviewees experiences with children. The open curiosity of kids around gender ambiguity is tempered by adult assumptions and beliefs.

It Gets Messy in Here invites viewers into the lived reality of people who have to navigate more than just a full bladder when heading to the restroom. It explores the often unspoken piss politics that create additional obstacles for folks to access a basic necessity. As Prentis Hemphill so eloquently states, “For the love of God, I just want to pee!”

To purchase a copy of the film, plan a screening or learn more about the filmmaker, contact Kai M. Green at

16 Responses to “It Gets Messy in Here – A Review”

  1. startledoctopus December 12, 2011 at 9:48 AM #

    This looks amazing! Who is person at the beginning on the stage? Zie looks awesome and I would like to look hir up on the intertoobz!

    • Kai December 14, 2011 at 1:52 PM #

      Thanks! That is D’Lo. He’s and AMAZING and Brilliant Performer.

  2. sheridf December 12, 2011 at 10:01 AM #

    This must be the CFC pedagogy quarter. Thank you for promoting It Gets Messy in Here. I think this film will engender necessary discussions about the ongoing practices of policing bodies and social spaces. I really liked the close-up and warm feeling of the interviews because I felt like I was able to do what I needed to be doing–hearing and listening. I have become more aware of the bathroom issue from attending NWSA, but I don’t always know how to talk with my young son when he insists that a close friend of ours is a boy and we explain that she is a grown woman. Whether he agrees with us or not is not the point, but I want him to grow up with the understanding that he should defend her right to access whatever facilities she feels are appropriate and recognize it as part of an overarching civil rights, human rights, and social justice mission.
    I will submit a request for the film for the Emory University library and suggest that my colleagues do the same at their institutions.

    • Kai December 14, 2011 at 1:53 PM #

      Thanks for this thoughtful response. I appreciate you.

  3. adventuresofawriter December 13, 2011 at 3:52 AM #

    Such an interesting video, and peek into a thought process that honestly, isn’t something I ever think about. It’s another layer to more on trans living that I was not knowledgable about prior.

    • Kai December 14, 2011 at 1:59 PM #

      Thanks for your feedback. It’s so appreciated.

  4. Adam December 13, 2011 at 4:18 PM #

    How can a “feminist” blog not recognize that it is misogynist to completely ignore the violent transphobia experienced by trans women (and trans women of color in particular) in public spaces by speaking exclusively with transmasculine people?

    • moyazb December 13, 2011 at 4:42 PM #

      I hear you Adam. I also think that the filmaker could best address why and how they chose to talk to the people they interviewed. I encourage you to contact them. I don’t know if it’s an omission or simply outside the scope of what the filmaker decided to take on. As a short with the expressed intent of speaking to the experiences of transmasculine people of color, I didn’t expect trans women of color to be included. I also think the experiences of trans women and transfeminine folks deserves its own conversation, particularly because of the type of trans hating violence you name.

      • Kai December 14, 2011 at 1:59 PM #


    • Kai December 14, 2011 at 1:58 PM #

      Hello Adam,
      Thank you for your response. I like Moya agree that the violent transphobia against transwomen and transwomen of color especially needs to be addressed and perhaps my film might open up space for those discussions to take place. I definitely work to create work that opens up space to talk and think about racialized and gendered violence, but of course one short film cannot tell the story. That’s why I look forward to being in conversation with other people who do work that extends, expands, and challenges my own.

  5. Hope December 23, 2011 at 3:47 PM #

    Is there a way that I can contact the film makers of this movie? I think this would be great to watch and discuss. There is a Lesbian of Color Symposium happening in March 2012 and gender presentation, gender expression, and gender identity are a major part of the workshops that are featured as well as a Masculine of Center ones. My email is listed below, I hope to hear from someone soon.


    • Kai January 13, 2012 at 11:06 AM #

      What’s your email, I don’t see it here. Please email me @

  6. femfussKeeonna December 23, 2011 at 10:43 PM #

    I meet you at NWSA a few weeks ago. I have been enjoying the CFC weekly posts! I did this project for a visual research methods class and I have decided to turn this project into a documentary. I wanted to share the trailer with you, please give me your opinion it would be greatly appreciated. The piece is about my niece and how violence that she witnessed as a child manifested itself in her adult life which has led her to the point of incarceration. The complete documentary will also discuss the current mass of incarceration of women and the lack of support from the criminal justice system. Hope to hear from you soon.


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