The Secret Story Of A Trans Journalist Embedded With The Taliban

The new documentary “Transition,” which premiered this past weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival, tells the secret story of a trans journalist embedded with the Taliban.

A still from Transition. ‘We wanted to approach everything from a nonjudgemental point of view. We hope to have some social impact with this.’ Photograph: Tribeca film festival

In 2021, Jordan Bryon took major steps to physically realize his identity as a transgender man, opposed by a society that often looked upon him with hostility and a government that neither understood nor respected him. As he started hormone injections in preparation for gender-affirming surgery, he soon found himself embroiled in a political firestorm over his basic right to exist. His precarious position has grown all too familiar as barbaric anti-trans laws spring up around the United States like invasive weeds, but Bryon isn’t American. He hails from a small town in Australia, and he undertook the sensitive, undeniable work of transitioning while working as a journalist in Afghanistan just as the Taliban – a group not known for their policies of tolerance – seized control of the country.

“[I was] making this transition without any idea of where it was going, or how to plan for it,” Bryon tells the Guardian over Zoom. “And yeah, it was just too hard, doing it myself. I couldn’t continue living and doing all the shooting at the same time, and then, the Taliban took over. I gave up and stopped, then these guys convinced me to keep going.”

The guys in question are Bryon’s co-director Monica Villamizar and her crew, collaborators on the new documentary Transition, which premiered this past weekend at the Tribeca film festival. Bryon had embedded with the Taliban for an assignment from the New York Times, all the while keeping a separate video diary of his personal path through those fraught and formative days, when he met fellow reporter Villamizar. (“I heard about Jordan long before meeting him,” she says.) She convinced him to redirect course and mission-drift into a more intimate, subjective view of the topic he’d come to cover. Bryon’s own rocky path cuts an entryway into a complex portrayal of the Taliban, a reactionary terrorist organization nonetheless capable of individual acts of empathy toward a determined assimilationist. Transition wedges itself inside the tension between the body and the state, between the need to be seen and the fear that demanding as much could pose a life-threatening risk.

Villamizar wanted to place enough focus on “Jordan’s day-to-day – living, working, being himself” to humanize his extraordinary circumstances, but his movements inevitably led back to hazardous territory. With the help of local contact Teddy, Bryon had ingratiated himself with the local officers to the point of sitting in on their meetings and amicably breaking bread in off hours, their mostly cordial manner something of a surprise to him. An obvious paradox presents itself: how and why did an organization reviled worldwide for its doctrine of repression open their door to a trans man? As Bryon explains: “The Taliban is not one homogeneous organization. There might be some Talibs open to media, who welcomed the opportunity to retell the narrative of the Taliban … They can also be very hostile. We were lucky, the only reason we got the access to this Taliban unit is because the commander is more of a savvy guy, not even media-savvy, but in general. He wanted to re-tell the Taliban’s narrative, show this particular unit in a different way.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. “Barbaric anti-trans laws…” “the sensitive, undeniable work of transitioning. . .” Well,
    at least we can be in no doubt where your sympathies lie in relation to the damaging and dangerous gender-bending fad.
    Try being real journalists and research the huge amount of harm being done to the health and lives of thousands of children and young adults by the practitioners and profiteers involved in this 2 billion dollar a year industry. This link should help:
    https://jbilek.substack.com/p/who-is-behind-the-trans-agenda

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