An anonymously made film about four trans women, Queens At Heart (1967) survives today due to the efforts of the UCLA film archive. It’s an exploitative documentary that’s too sensitive towards its subject to be categorized as a kind of mondo film but that impetus still exists. The value of Queens At Heart is largely due to its historical significance as a document of trans culture in a pre-Stonewall age.
Misty, Sonja, Vicky and Simone speak as candidly as possible with Jay Martin whose attitudes and language represent the epitome of transphobia today. In the mid sixties though Martin’s attitudes were generally those of most of the population. Keeping that in mind the courage of these four women becomes overwhelming. There are times when Vicky, during her interview, looks directly to the camera when the viewer can’t help but be in awe at what these few frames of film represent.
Early in Queens At Heart there’s a montage of footage shot at a drag ball set to some swinging jazz music. In this montage is a rapid series of shots of trans women walking up to the lens of the camera. This thirty seconds of film is poetry, rhapsodic poetry. The intent at the time was inevitably to shock heterosexual gender conforming viewers with how casually these women would flout the conventions of their mainstream culture. But watching this clip today is something totally different. There’s a euphoria here, a celebration of a community that was unfortunately forced to exist in secret.