Perpetual Change: “What’s The T?”

| Oct 20, 2014
Cecillio Acension

Cecilio Asuncion

What Paris is Burning was to drag balls, What’s The T? is to the transgender community. It is a documentary about the challenges, successes and lives of five well known trans women.

“To understand the ladies of What’s The T? is to love them,” said the film’s producer Cecilio Asuncion. Mr. Asuncion is the recipient of the 2012 Outstanding Filipino-American Award for LGBT advocacy.

The five women featured in the film are:

Cassandra Cass, who has appeared previously on The Tyra Banks Show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Transtasia; Nya Ampon, a dancer and performer at SanFrancisco’s AsiaSF venue; Rakash Armani, a former member of the underground ball scene House of St. Clair. She is also a nurse and works in a rehab facility; Mia Tu Mutch, a LGBT advocate known for her work with LYRIC and the San Francisco Youth Commission, and is also listed on the Trans 100 for 2014; and Vi Le, who is a student finishing her under graduate degree in biology. She is scheduled to appear in the upcoming Tryra Banks produced docu-series on VH1 entitled Transamerica.

The producer of What’s The T?, Cecilio Asuncion, who describes himself as an “out Gay Filipino director” moved to New York, and then relocated to San Francisco in 2006. He caught the production bug, as he calls it, when working as an assistant production designer in Manila. What’s The T? is his first film. TGForum is fortunate to be able to interview him about his work with this film, which is scheduled for release on DVD next month.

TGForum: What was your inspiration for making What’s The T? and what does the title mean?

Cassandra Cass

Cassandra Cass

Cecilio Asuncion: I remember seeing this young trans girl on the Anderson Cooper show and at that time and being Asian, I thought about how I didn’t see many Asian faces on TV and it was all because I wanted young people like her to see positive representations of the trans community. What’s The T? is vernacular used in the underground ball scene which pertains to “What’s the TRUTH?”

I wanted to do a documentary about strong trans women who are unapologetic with how they lead their lives and love living. I didn’t want to see another documentary displaying how sad the trans life is, while I am aware that that definitely exists. I feel that positive feel-good representation was lacking. That being said, these women who are now my dear friends, are representative of nobody but their own lives.

TGF: How did you go about choosing the five women involved?

CA: At first I did an online casting call but I felt that I was being fake by doing that. I decided to immerse myself in the trans community. I was coached by Tita Aida, a trans leader in San Francisco. I scouted at trans fundraisers, went to trans bars, trans restaurants. I met a lot of wonderful women and narrowed it down to the five ladies in the film. I think doing it the organic was much better and I learned a ton as well.

Nya Ampon

Nya Ampon

TGF: See if I have the progression of events correct. You started with releasing the film on Hulu, then did the film festival circuit. Now you are releasing the project as a DVD. Was that your plan all along?

CA: We started with a premiere in SF where all the proceeds of ticket sales went to Trans:Thrive, which is a non-profit drop off clinic in SF. We then did the festival rounds within the US and then internationally, such as Brazil, London, Germany, and in December, Copenhagen. We then got signed on Hulu, Indieflix, Amazon Prime and coming up on Comcast On Demand and now the DVD release. We are also going to be on the spotlight series for Section ii, which is the Netflix for lesbians. That’s a huge deal for me because well, to be the first one on the series by a gay director with a film on trans women, that I think is true equality.

Honestly, I just wanted to do a film. It was my passion project. I had to do something creative and all these awards and festivals just happened and I will always be grateful to the ladies in the film and the trans community. They gave me this wonderful gift which is the trust of allowing me to tell their story.


Rakash Armani

Rakash Armani

Mia Tu Mutch

Mia Tu Mutch

TGF: This is kind of a long question here, so please bear with me. When I first got involved in the trans community when I was living in Nashville, TN back in the 1990s, we were always kind of felt excluded, to a degree, by the larger gay/lesbian communities. Sort of like we were the fringe group. Things have definitely changed since then. I really think that the work of people such as yourself, Tyra Banks, RuPaul and folks in various other media, have made a huge difference. There’s still a way to go, but there far more acceptance than before. Care to comment on that?

CA: I do agree. I always came from a place of learning and secondly, I strongly feel that we within the LGBTQIA community should get to know each other and become friends (not just allies, but true friends) with one another instead of segregation.  That’s the only time I feel we can demand equality from the community-at-large when we all really get along under that umbrella.

TGF: Would you do another film like What’s The T?

Vi Le

Vi Le

CA: Absolutely. Not only on film but there are some other projects that I am working on with Michelle Meow who is a lesbian TV host here in SF and we are discussing a photo exhibit that will get the community together.

TGF: Any future plans you can share now?

CA: I am premiering my second documentary next week, which is called SAYAW. (It means dance in Filipino.) It is a dreamer’s documentary and dance just happens to be the vehicle I used to get that point across. I want to tell stories that are close to my heart and I think sharing the story of Philippine choreographer Jay Loyola can get the word around that Filipinos are more than just adobo and lumpia.

For more information on What’s The T? visit the film’s website.

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Category: Fun & Entertainment

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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