Saying goodbye can be difficult. Saying goodbye can also be a great first short art film.
Canadian, Berlin-based artist and musician Skyler Braeden Fox’s Hello Titty, a charming and playfully kinky auf wiedersehen to his breasts, and to his former female iteration, is one of those arty vids that comes out of nowhere and loudly announces the arrival of a new talent. Having already screened at festivals in Krakow, Amsterdam, Leipzig and London, and a prize winner at Toronto’s annual Feminist Porn Awards, Hello Titty is a film about trans identity that feels like anything but a typical (and certainly not typically abject) “identity art” piece.
The set-up is simple. Deciding to finally undergo “top surgery” (i.e., the removal of his breasts), Fox wanted to create a work that would both celebrate his “tits,” as he calls them, and all the fun he’s had with them, while also celebrating a further step in his gender transition: his new presentation of self and that self’s inherent fluidity. What unfolds is a sideshow-style peek into a ratty caravan where Fox himself (and, of course, Fox playing a version of himself), has invited visitors to observe his “last chance tit show.” The guests, a frolicsome bunch of Berlin weirdos, do much, much more than simply observe, and Fox’s tit show evolves into a joyful orgy. Fun for everyone!
From small-town Ontario to polymorphous Berlin is a long haul. Meeting with Fox in his kiez, a rough but increasingly man-bun infested corner of Neukölln, we chatted about making a first film, his role as the film’s star and the boundaries between autobiography and fiction, and how Hello Titty is part of a next wave of art by and about trans life.
R.M. Vaughan: Hello Titty is your first film, so that raises a first question: what was the impetus behind Hello Titty?
Skyler Braeden Fox: It was really important to me to make this film, because, to be honest, I spent many years trying to sort out the decision to have top surgery. It was a long personal process, and I was going back and forth about it. For me, Hello Titty is a kind of closure that I gave myself. And I had never made a film before. I am not part of the filmmaking community, other than as a performer in friends’ films. I’d never thought about working with film before. So, deciding to have the top surgery, I felt it was also time for me to make something super special, do something I had not done before, and to honour my body before I let go of my tits. So, I wrote a script, I had a casting call, I contacted all my friends who work with film…and off we went.
RMV: Hello Titty is in many ways about ownership, especially ownership of one’s body, even as one decides to alter that body by removing parts of it. In the film, once the sex play and the S&M games begin, the action speaks of multiple levels of ownership, of both power over self and power to submit oneself. This is unusual for films about self-determination, which typically present body changes as unilateral acts.
SBF: There is a lot of calculation around ownership and how it shifts in the film, and it’s all planned, all in the script, the shifts and back and forth, the role reversals. But, ultimately, it is my body, so of course I own it. On the other hand, on the screen, I didn’t feel like a “performer,” like I usually do with my music works, because I’m more of another person on stage. Everyday Skyler is not as confident as the Skyler in Hello Titty. I made myself into this cute and charming character, a more open and playful person on screen, in order to play out the idea of owning my body and, at the same time, giving up my body, sexually and for the viewer, too. In the film I have this goofy look on my face, and that’s not me most of the time.
RMV: The film has a surprising sweetness. I was not expecting that.
SBF: Someone described it to me as a “feel-good community film,” and, despite all the porn-like scenes and the S&M, it really is—the tone is not serious at all.
RMV: How important is it in this moment of increased trans visibility to show audiences works that are not exclusively about trauma, films that can be silly as well?
SBF: I hadn’t thought about that, because I hadn’t ever thought about making a “trauma” identity film in the first place. Hello Titty is about empowering trans bodies, it’s not about a guy who has to hide his tits while he waits for surgery, or who has to go through some psychiatric system before he can have top surgery. The trans guy in Hello Titty, who is me and not me, had tits, enjoyed them, and wants to show them off with pride before they are gone. There’s a lot of art out there about trans guys who have to hide, especially their breasts, and I really wanted to make a film about not hiding, and with plenty of tits!
RMV: Are you surprised by how well your first film has done?
SBF: Maybe I see it from afar, or don’t give myself enough credit, but all I see is that, yeah, it’s a queer film and queer people like it…but I guess I didn’t think that anybody else would get it, because it is so personal, but maybe that’s actually the key.
RMV: What’s next for you?
SBF: Right now I am editing a documentary I made about virginity, or virginities. For years, I’ve been thinking about “losing my virginity” with a cis-gendered guy, by which I mean flesh-on-flesh, penetrative sex, a flesh penis into my vagina. I’ve had lots of sex with cis-gendered guys, but not that specific act. So, I thought, that specific act that everybody calls “losing your virginity,” well, I have not done that, so am I a “virgin”? And I decided to document this as an event, and then share it with different people, who are all talking about their own kinds of virginities. And then…well, you’ll have to wait and see what happens!