Short Film Showcase: Growing Up Transgender and Mormon

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Eri Hayward was born as a boy in Utah and raised in the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Filmmaker Torben Bernhard shot this poignant short, Transmormon, just before Eri flew to Thailand for sexual reassignment surgery. In the piece, she and her family talk about the long and often painful journey it took to recognize and embrace her transgender identity and the role their faith played along the way. “Being LDS was our life,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons I didn’t find out about what being trans was until I was an adult.” I spoke with Torben and Eri about the making of the film.

When did you first hear of Eri’s story?

Torben: I first heard about Eri through a collaboration with KUER 90.1 in Salt Lake City. They suggested I read a blog interview that had been conducted with her where she discussed her Mormon upbringing, evolving faith, and impending sex-reassignment surgery. When we found out that she would be leaving to Bangkok in a matter of days, we reached out to the Hayward family and were filming with them within the week.

How long did you shoot with her and her family?

Torben: Altogether, we filmed for under a week. However, the editing took roughly six months, partially because our production team all had day jobs and we created the project from our own finances.

Can you share any particularly moving or memorable feedback after the film was released?

Eri: After the video went out there was [a] huge outpouring of support. Messages, emails, Facebook friends. It was a really great experience for myself, my family, and my boyfriend. He was probably the most skeptical of it all, but once the love and support started pouring in he was pleasantly surprised. I have not been able to keep up and reply to all the messages and comments, but I do appreciate them so much!

Torben: I’ve received messages from around the world. Many people have reached out to pass kind messages onto the Hayward family and to thank us for producing the film. I’ve received personal emails from trans individuals who let me know they used the film with their own families to ease the coming out process. The support has been overwhelming. We never imagined our short documentary would one day reach such a large audience.

Has Eri’s relationship with the Church of Latter Day Saints changed over the past year?

Eri: Yes, things have changed a lot. I am no longer a member of the church, but things did not happen in the way that some might think. I met many times with my bishop at the time, who was unbelievably supportive and understanding. Surgery came and went. They informed me that as a woman I could not hold the priesthood (already knew and preferred that), and that I could not go to the temple (already was aware of that too). The main issue that I had to face was that I was a woman living with my boyfriend unmarried. Through a lot of discussion I realized that my priorities had changed, and after a formal meeting with my bishop it was decided that I would no longer be a member, and I was excommunicated. I am so much happier now, but there are no feelings of hurt or anger. It was really a great experience, where I felt a lot of love and understanding from my leaders.

What are you both working on next?

Eri: Well, I am not really doing anything special. Just living and exploring the wonderful life I have. I am trying to help people and share my experiences through panels, presenting, and such. I hope that someday it [will] become easy for people to be themselves and to support others in doing the same.

Torben: Transmormon has enabled me to work full-time in documentary. I’ve helped in various capacities on a number of films in the past year and am always on the hunt for new stories to tell. Most recently, I am editing a film covering the heroin epidemic in Utah. This short documentary completely changed the trajectory of my career, and I will forever be grateful to the Hayward family.

Short Film Showcase

The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the web and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic’s mission of inspiring people to care about the planet. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of the National Geographic Society. Know of a great short film that should be part of our Showcase?

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Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Rachel Link curates content for National Geographic's Short Film Showcase. Each week she features films from talented creators that span a range of topics. She hopes that this work will inspire viewers to explore the world around them and encourages filmmakers to keep pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling.