The Truth Behind the Transgender Taboo

Director of acclaimed film Roxanne, Paul Frankl focuses his lens on the transgender community and sheds light on the challenges it faces

Roxanne, the short film about a transgender Soho sex worker that has been accepted in a dozen international film festivals, will receive its UK premiere on Saturday June 27, the penultimate day of the 2015 Pride in London festival.  Forget what you might be picturing in your mind’s eye: the film’s director, Paul Frankl, has turned cliché and convention on its head to tell a story that you haven’t seen before.

What was your inspiration for the film?

When I was 18 [Frankl is 27] I used to go out in Soho and I met a transgender sex worker: she looked beautiful, wore furs, drank champagne and appeared to be having the best time. She was fascinating, but I thought there was more going with her than just being fabulous all the time. Then, when I started writing scripts at uni, about five years ago, Roxanne was pretty much the first one I wrote.

Why has it taken so long to get the film made?

I wanted to wait until I could get enough money to make it look great! I worked in film production for a while after uni, made a couple of shorts. So I approached Absolut, who I knew market to the LGBT audience, and said, ‘I really want to make this film, will you give me half the money and I’ll get the rest from Kickstarter.’

Were there other hurdles to overcome?

There aren’t many actual trans actors in the UK. So I approached some charities who work with transgender sex workers, made a flyer for Facebook groups and nightclubs, and found eight trans people with some performance background. Miss Cairo, who plays Roxanne, was the clear standout at the auditions. She makes a living performing on the drag-burlesque scene. She doesn't like to be defined as male or female – she spends a lot of time as a woman, and some time as a man. So she can look like a guy or a woman, and we touch on that in the story without making it obvious. We are told we need to be one thing or the other all the time, but what we're saying is you don't have to.

Have you achieved what you first conceived of all those years ago?

Generally in film, trans people and sex workers are depicted as drug addicts or they die or they're out of control. I wanted to make a film about a transgender sex worker that wasn't about her being a sex worker, or being transgender. It's a relationship story, and I was conscious to not depict her being defined by her gender or her job. I think I’ve done that.

How does it feel to have worldwide screenings and a London premiere?

It’s great. My goal is to tell stories of people who are put into boxes by the media and portrayed as stereotypes, simply as human beings. It's a more powerful way to relate to people and understand them, to see a person with their own relationships and dreams and hang-ups, without defining them as they have been traditionally. People have really responded to the film, and I’m now writing the feature-length version; I’ve got a producer on board, too. Hopefully it will happen.