Jason Benjamin, Director
HBO: How did you first learn about Bindle & Keep?
Jason Benjamin: I read a story in The New York Times about the work Bindle & Keep was doing, and it was very compelling. The idea of bringing a suit to someone who had never had clothing that fit before and who had been struggling with their outward gender presentation sounded kind of magical. It was that moment that attracted me to the story and made me feel like there was a really cinematic element to it.
HBO: What prompted you to go with an observational presentation, rather than a question and answer format?
Jason Benjamin: I appreciate and respond to that style of documentary-making more than any other. So whenever possible, I try to have a light touch in terms of my involvement. I spent as much time as I possibly could with the subjects without the camera rolling. I think that went a long way in getting them to trust me.
Daniel Friedman and Rae Tutera, Tailors
HBO: How do you go about establishing a level of trust where people will speak openly about their identity struggles?
Daniel Friedman: It’s different for everybody. We ask, “Where do you get your clothes?” “Where do you shop?” “How do you like to wear your clothes?” “How do you feel about your bum?” Sometimes the questions are pointed. But all of our clients understand we want to put them in the strongest, best suit they could possibly wear. By understanding what our goal is, it makes it a much more safe place to open up about your body.
Rae Tutera: Once we got a reputation for that, a lot of the legwork was already done. People knew that they could trust us.
Melissa “Mel” Plaut and Everett Arthur, Clients
HBO: How did you become involved in the documentary?
Melissa “Mel” Plaut: I was reluctant, but for reasons that actually are sad. Like, “Oh, what if I participate in this thing and it messes with my job prospects?” And that’s just this Queer fear we have. In the end I said, “I don’t see many people like me represented in popular media.” I’m very happy that transgender issues and transgender people are getting a lot more visibility and media play, but those of us who are not binary on the spectrum of trans men or trans women, I haven’t seen that. I decided: I’ll be one of the people to represent that in the popular media.
HBO: As a client, what does it mean to find clothing that fits?
Everett Arthur: Being trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, I think it’s nice to level the playing field. I think we have a lot hurdles that cis gender people don’t really have to worry about. I’d been worried -- am I really a trans person or am I just non-binary? -- trying to figure out where I fit on the spectrum. But putting on the suit, I was like, yeah, this is actually affirming my gender identity. For me, the first time I put on the suit was the first time I saw myself and felt: This is me and I’m Everett.
HBO: What do you hope viewers take away from this documentary?
Jason Benjamin: The thing that I took away from the experience was that it’s futile to see gender as a simple binary, with male and female. But if we all see it as a spectrum, with each one of us in an individual place on the spectrum -- regardless of our sexual orientation -- that brings us all closer together as people. I really hope that parents and young people who see the film will find a way to be compassionate to others who are going through similar experiences.
Daniel Friedman: Despite what’s going on politically, I do hope that people see that our clients are real people. They’re human beings with human feelings, and everyone has the right to feel great about themselves. On top of that, I’d like to add that we hope that other companies in any capacity, in any field, see that this is actually a good thing to be doing.
[Producer] Jenni Konner: My fantasy is to take it wider, into schools. I think it’s a really educational but also really fun and optimistic story. It’s just full of understanding and acceptance, and that’s what we need right now.
Rae Tutera: I just hope that everyone who sees this, regardless of how they identify, but especially if they identify as Queer in any capacity, that this movie reminds everyone it’s their birthright to be themselves and to be loved unconditionally.