Life hasn’t changed much for Brooke Guinan since the documentary Woman on Fire premiered at DOC NYC last November. Guinan, 29, who is the FDNY’s first transgender firefighter, has had her life story seen by audiences all across the country and on Monday, June 5, her story will be brought to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a screening hosted by Brooklyn Pride. She admits that the experience of being the subject of a documentary has been surreal, but she has not let it get to her head.
“I’m still who I am and I’m still just living my life and doing what I do,” Guinan said. “I still go to work and I still have to clean my house. I still have to do all the mundane things in life.”
While being the protagonist of an award-winning documentary has not catapulted Guinan into the spotlight, an increasing number of people have gotten to know her through the film and are seeing her how Julie Sokolow, the director of Woman on Fire, sees her: as a model of courage and strength.
Sokolow was first drawn to Guinan after seeing an image of her promoting an awareness campaign for the LGBTQ advocacy group Vocal Organization for International Courage and Equality (V.O.I.C.E.) in 2014. In this now-viral photo, she posed proudly with her hands on her hips, decked out in her firefighter gear and a white t-shirt that read ‘So Trans So What.’ The image “blew her mind,” and Sokolow recalled thinking, “Wow, she looks like the future and I want to live in that future.”
Sokolow liked the idea of traditionally white, male-dominated fields like firefighting and policing becoming as diverse as the populations they serve. But what also intrigued her was how traditional ideas and diversity could coexist, something exemplified in Guinan’s relationship with her father, who, in addition to also being a firefighter, is a devout Christian and Republican. Months of shadowing Guinan resulted in a film that Sokolow described as “an intimate character portrait” of her, her family and her profession.
“It’s about the sort of old school macho idea of what a firefighter is supposed to be and the sort of new school of women and LGBTQ people getting on the job [with] Guinan spearheading this effort to recruit and make the job more accessible to LGBTQ people,” Sokolow said.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”I think its about the love of a family, finding romantic love and learning to love yourself,” Guinan said. “I think the film really is about love, acceptance, humanity and finding your strength through difficult times.”[/perfectpullquote]
Guinan herself describes Woman on Fire as “a story about love in various forms. “I think its about the love of a family, finding romantic love and learning to love yourself,” Guinan said. “I think the film really is about love, acceptance, humanity and finding your strength through difficult times.”
Whether they were drawn in by the prospect of learning more about the changing faces of the FDNY or the elements of love and acceptance, Woman on Fire has resonated with its audiences, winning the Best LGBTQ Film award at the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi in 2016. Sokolow hopes that the film has a similar effect on the audience at the BAM on Monday.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”If people don’t have the opportunity in their day-to-day lives to interact with trans people, this is an opportunity to get to know Guinan really deeply and, hopefully, have an admiration for her that will translate to a greater empathy and understanding for different people of society.”[/perfectpullquote]
“I hope that people will watch Guinan’s intimate, relatable, entertaining, sad, funny and deep story, feel a kinship with her and her family and be kinder to the LGBTQ people they encounter in their own lives,” she said. “If people don’t have the opportunity in their day-to-day lives to interact with trans people, this is an opportunity to get to know Guinan really deeply and, hopefully, have an admiration for her that will translate to a greater empathy and understanding for different people of society.”
Guinan, who currently serves as the FDNY’s LGBTQ outreach coordinator, only hopes that the film creates conversation. She said, “I hope that people see the film and that it creates conversation and dialogue, and that people are able to learn and grow and come together from that conversation.”
Although she does not view herself as a role model, but rather “a person who is living her life, just trying to do some good if she can,” she also added, “If there are people who are having that difficult time or going through rough things, maybe they can at least connect with my story, or maybe it can inspire people or just help them to know that they’re not alone.”
Woman on Fire will be screened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for free on Monday, June 5 at 7:30pm. Reserve tickets here.
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