SAINT JOHN • Anthony Shonaman identifies as a straight feminine man.
But he said it was a long journey to being able to put what he was feeling into words – and through a now internationally-recognized film.
"It makes me feel complete," the Saint John filmmaker said, concerning the release of his film, The Bearded Princess. It was posted on his 22nd birthday on Dec. 22, to his YouTube channel, TheVlogTheory.
He said the film was a way to voice the thoughts that were swirling in his mind and toss them out into the universe.
"Dealing with stuff inside your own mind. It's hard. It's very hard."
When he released the short film to his YouTube channel, he said he lost 10 to 15 of his approximately 2,590 followers he said, but has received lots of love from family, close friends and positive reactions from Facebook and Instagram. He even heard from men in his life that he hadn't talked to for years, saying how proud they were of him.
He also submitted the film to six film festivals across Canada and in France upon its release.
Little did Shonaman know that several days later, he would receive an email that left him in tears. He was one of the winners of the Documentaries & LGBTQIA+ category of the Paris Play Film Festival.
"Just to see, you know, that these judges, whoever they are, over there, they thought I was good enough to be selected ... Just to be recognized like that, it was an overwhelming sense of emotion."
The 25-minute film summarizes Shonaman's journey, from age 4 or 5 to now. He said when he was young he would feel left out as other girls went through puberty without him, and got to play with dolls and paint their nails. But he couldn't ever put that feeling – that he wanted to be a girl – into words, even in high school.
The film shows that as he grew older, he started playing with Snapchat filters that would make him look more feminine. He bought fake breasts and makeup. He started Instagram accounts where he shared feminine aesthetic photos that made him happy. He grew his hair out and put it into a ponytail. He got a pink iPhone and accessories. He said he had a lot of supportive conversations with the "incredible women" in his life as well.
Although he wishes he was born a girl, Shonaman said that transitioning to a woman isn't for him. He said he likes his beard and wants to be a father someday.
"I wish I had been born a girl but I'm not. I love my beard. I'm a guy. I know that. I accept that. And I hope to take small steps to get to where I need to be."
Now that he's older, he said he's able to put these thoughts and feelings into words, as a filmmaker.
"My hope is to impact those who are struggling, maybe just like me, who wanted to be a girl or maybe someone who really wants to transition, or just anyone who's struggling, I want them to know it's OK. It's OK to be different."
He said he hopes the film instills self-confidence in the women around him and let the men around him know that it's OK to express themselves.
"If I can just change one person at a time, if I can help save one life, then I know I've done what I was born to do."
Shonaman has also started a Fiercely Feminine campaign on fundraising site, GoFundMe, that will go toward the Canadian Women's Foundation.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L'initiative de journalisme local est financée par le gouvernement du Canada.
Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal