Ryan Cassata is one of the subjects at the heart of “Songs For Alexis,” a beautiful docu-love story about a teenage trans male musician (Cassata) and his girlfriend, Alexis. Directed by Elvira Lind, the film just had its world premiere at Hot Docs, where Ryan was in attendance. And he’s shared his experiences here on /bent.
When Elvira Lind first came to me with the idea for her documentary film she had mentioned that she wanted to make a movie about a female to male (FTM) transgender teen. I fit into that category but deep down inside I knew that I wasn’t the best person to be filmed for a transgender themed documentary. Why? Because I was done with my personal transition. I had gotten my top surgery and I wasn’t interested in taking testosterone. Plus, my family was on board with my identity. Things were smooth sailing and quite boring when it came to my transition. However, Elvira liked me and my guitar and she decided to film me and my wild family anyway. When all hell broke loose in a small Northern Californian town, the concept of the documentary changed. It went from being about a transitioning teenager to a story of two teenagers fighting to keep their love alive.
It was a tragic time and I was so afraid…of being harassed, of being without my love, and of being killed. Sadly, that fear still sticks with me. Last night at the premiere I relived the night that the police took Alexis away from me when her Dad threatened to kill me. The only reason he wanted me dead was because of my transgender identity. On the big screen, I was doubling locking the doors and crying hysterically while I was booking my flight to New York where I wouldn’t be arrested nor killed. In the theatre seat I was thinking: That’s what it’s like being transgender in this world. Constant fear, every single day. You never know who is going to be judgmental or who is going to attack you. It could happen at any moment, anytime, any place. There’s no definite safety, ever.
I was so in love and that love fueled me. I didn’t want my trans* identity or my age to affect my relationship. At 18 years old, I became a knight on a conquest to keep my love alive. The documentary “Songs For Alexis” turned into just that, a 5 foot tall teenager with absolutely no muscle mass fighting with his whole heart to be with the girl he adored.
My favorite scene in the movie is when Alexis and me are sitting in a park in Manhattan smoking cigarettes. A homeless man, named Marco, comes up to us and asks “Are you two in love?” probably because our love was so blatant to everyone around us. Then he said something that still inspires me to this day “If you find love, run with it, like Jane and Tarzan in the jungle.” I knew that I had to do anything and everything in my power to chase after the love, to not let it die, and to make it work out no matter what obstacles were thrown in my path. The movie follows my quest as I’m sobbing in airports, writing sad love songs, and driving across America in a battle against the entire world for my “Oh, Alexis.”
“Songs For Alexis” is both educational and inspirational. It’s a heartbreaking, yet true account of what it’s like to be young and in love when the odds just aren’t in your favor. I hope it inspires everyone who watches to be like Jane and Tarzan in the jungle, to never let anything stop you from chasing after the one you love to the moon — and to always, always, always follow love.