During this Pride month, many different factions within our community are celebrating their identity and showing their Pride. While some members are fighting to add their color to our Pride flag, there is a minority group within our community that often goes unnoticed – our LGBTQ family with disabilities. This Pride season, filmmaker Suzanne Guacci turns the spotlight on LGBTQ people with disabilities in her groundbreaking film, T11 Incomplete, tackling a subject matter and characters that are marginalized by society. The film was made with the decision to not only hire disabled actors and actors from the LGBTQ community – but also to employ a behind-the-scenes crew who are also members of those same groups. Suzanne, as part of both communities, wants to set the example for Hollywood in hopes that other filmmakers will follow suit to create a truly more diverse and inclusive movie-making process in front of and behind the camera.
T11 Incomplete is a story with disability at its center. The term “T11 Incomplete” refers to the point of severing on the spine that causes paraplegia but being an “incomplete” paraplegic means that the patient still has some feeling, they are not completely numb. The film is a love story sparked by the bond created by a down and out caregiver and her young, female patient. As the film unfolds, we see that everyone has to deal with a debilitating challenge of their own. It is not your run-of-the-mill, feel-good love story. It is gritty, raw, and entirely beautiful. The film was a recipient of the distinguished Ravenal Feature Film Grant and has appeared at multiple festivals worldwide with its premiere at Outfest.
Suzanne, who wrote and directed the film, lost her leg in the line of duty as a New York State Trooper. Inspired by her own experience and post-accident challenges, she created Aspire Productions to tell the stories about the LGBTQ and disabled communities. Her films have been screened at festivals all over the world including Frameline, Outfest, and BFI. She is a pioneer for a marginalized group within our community, with hopes that those with disabilities will be included in our talks about equality and representation.
The theme of the film centers on disability, but not in the obvious way. Every character seems so flawed in their own way…it’s how they handle those flaws that make them different. Overcoming life’s challenges was a major theme, and the lengths that people are willing to go to in order to survive. Sometimes those lengths hurt other people. How do we forgive those people who have hurt us and move on?
Right, each character is dealing with his or her own share of forgiving either themselves or others or both, and, of course, it is really the only way to move forward in life. And that mirrors today where we, as a nation, and, more importantly, as communities within our nation with such political and racial divides, must learn to forgive. It’s hard but we are all human. We are imperfect creatures, living and working beside imperfect creatures and so, without the ability to forgive, we will be stuck and harboring anger. But if we are going to move in a positive direction as human beings, it is essential we do it because there is power in it. In letting it go and turning it over to a higher power to be our vindicator.
Being disabled and being part of the LGBTQ community can be isolating. I can’t imagine having to deal with both at the same time. Many of us have felt isolated during COVID – what advice do you have for someone from either community on dealing with their feelings of isolation?
COVID was a lonely time for sure and it is easy to feel isolated in this great big world with billions of people. For me, my faith is what has gotten me through the loneliest and most difficult times of my life. So I say lean into faith. And put down your phone, shut the computer, and get in touch with the life around you. Nature is a powerful antidote to loneliness I have found.
I loved how you took your time with the film. Many shots had no dialogue at all but were a beautiful part of the storytelling.
Everything was scripted and storyboarded. Darin Quan besides being a fantastic DP, is a great artist and we planned each and every shot and he storyboarded everything. We went into production very prepared.
How were you able to effectively transition from your role as the writer to the director? You had to look at the material with fresh eyes from a director’s point of view.
That is true but when I write, I write to direct so it’s already in my head in some regard. Additionally, I was in lab with NYWIFT (NY Women in Film and Television) before we filmed and I was able to really examine the script from a director’s point of view during that time which helped tremendously – uncovering things that I hadn’t realized upon writing. Which was fantastic.
Age was not an obstacle for the main characters falling in love. Do you think the idea of ageism has gotten better in the LGBTQ community?
I don’t know if it has. Ageism exists across the board and as I age, I see it and feel it more myself so I don’t know.
I loved how the central relationship came out of intimacy, not from a place of sex. There’s an assumption that women can enter into a same-sex relationship easier than men, even if they don’t identify as gay. What are your thoughts?
I don’t know. Connection is everything but in order for a woman to cross that line, and be with another woman, there needs to be an openness to the idea of that which not every woman has so I don’t think intimacy is enough. I have had intimate relationships that have not led to sex because the woman just couldn’t allow herself to go there.
What was your own coming out story?
I was sort of out to my immediate family and friends after my first same-sex kiss when I was in my 20’s. It rocked my world and I knew from then on but I didn’t formally come out to my extended family until I lost my leg 10 years later and was in the hospital. My girlfriend at the time, my now wife, was at my bedside and everyone was like, “who is this person?” Ha!
Did you deal with homophobia while working as a Trooper?
I wasn’t out when I was on the job, just to one of my partners because he became a really close friend, and ultimately my daughter’s godfather, but the choice not to share it was simply because I wanted to keep my personal life to myself. The men and women I worked with were great people and looking back on it now, I don’t think anything would have changed if I had come out to them but it just didn’t feel right at the time and I wasn’t ready to do it.
How did you get into the field of being of Trooper?
I had gone to college and left there not knowing what I wanted to do. I acted for many years but couldn’t pay my rent so I took some police exams because I wanted to be like Jaqueline Smith on Charlies Angels and I was called for the NY State Police and I thought it would be a great way to serve humanity while I was finding my own way.
I can’t imagine the mental and physical transition you had to make from your accident. What got you through?
My faith. My wife. My kids. My family. My friends. My fellow Troopers and the loving public who wrote me letters and sent pictures and books to help my healing. And seeing other people who suffered limb loss living their lives and having full lives. I remember a man named Stew came to my hospital bedside. He was an amputee and he had just played a round of golf and he came to tell me and show me that life will be fun and full again. He was right! Just takes time.
Some people choose to succumb to life’s tragedies and some choose to overcome – what words of encouragement do you have for someone dealing with a major tragedy?
Stir up your faith because it’s a lifeline when things we don’t understand, don’t deserve, and don’t make sense strike us. Faith won’t change the circumstances but it will provide comfort. It did for me.
Can you describe your feelings the first time you were intimate with someone after your accident?
It was with my wife because she has been with me through it all, from being an abled-bodied State Trooper to a disabled director, and it was different for sure and nerve-wracking and emotional but we both realize that our body is just the vehicle we travel the earth in. We are bound by something much deeper. A dear friend of mine who was a physical therapist, Phil Kreuter (who was in my documentary My Really Cool Legs! and sadly passed a few years ago) would say, “we are all just temporarily able-bodied.” He was so right.
How did you transition into filmmaking?
I was an actor for about 10 years before I became a Trooper. I did regional theater, off-off broadway, dinner theater, and indie films in New York. And so after my accident, I started writing and decided to go behind the camera. Took classes and took the plunge into filmmaking.
I’m definitely more confident as a writer and director than I was the first time. I think my vision is more clear each time I work. I have no patience for bullshit anymore. I’m ten years older and I realized I only want upfront and honest people surrounding me. So when I find them, I try to work with them again and again if I can. When you are in the trenches you want to enjoy the people around you!
What would you tell yourself just starting out in filmmaking?
Be patient because it takes time to grow as a human and filmmaker.
We talk a lot about minority representation in film from an ethnic and LGBTQ point of view. Why is disabled representation often not part of the conversation?
I think people are not sure how to approach it. Disability is different. It looks different. It sounds different and it makes people uncomfortable at times but the only way to rid us of this stigma is to continue to show it, to normalize it and that takes time.
You have strived to place disabled people in front of and behind the camera. It is an amazing mission. From a business standpoint, that isn’t always the best choice budget-wise as certain allowances need to be made. How would you support your choices to someone who doesn’t understand?
My goal is always to support the story in the best way possible in whatever form that takes. In this particular project, that is what we needed to do to make the film feel whole and authentic, and complete. The next project may require something else. The story is what drives everything.
We have had the conversation of “does gay need to play gay?” Does a disabled person need to play a disabled person? We have seen so many Hollywood actors receive awards for playing disabled. What would you like to tell Hollywood?
It is a tricky thing but it’s important to add color to the palate with all kinds of representation. It doesn’t have to be so on the nose because I am a believer that an actor is an “actor.” That’s what they do. They act! They’ve studied and trained. And so no, I don’t think every gay role needs to be played by a gay individual or a disabled role by a disabled individual because then it diminishes the actor. I think there is room for everything and everyone and it is important to be as inclusive as possible while still serving your story. It most certainly can be done. And done well!
How would you deal with a situation in which your film centering around a disabled or LGBTQ character would be made by a major studio but only if you had to cast a non-disabled/straight leading actor?
I would be thrilled to have a major studio behind one of our films for sure because our film would be widely seen and again, a good actor makes a story better but I would certainly find ways to be inclusive outside of that particular role.
I loved seeing Katy Sullivan in the film, she is such a great actress, ally, and activist. As a bilateral transfemoral amputee, her disability was not showcased in the film, you wouldn’t even know. How can we convince Hollywood to start casting disabled actors in regular roles?
I’d show them. I’d say watch Katy. Here she is. It can be done.
How can the LGBTQ community build better bridges with our disabled community?
We live in a very divided world and even within groups there is still division which is crazy but I guess invite them in. Think of them. Everyone likes to be invited.
What is your message to your fellow LGBTQ entertainment industry peers this Pride?
So glad to be back!! Enjoy Pride. Support indie films!
Can your next film center around a husky, gay, Latinx journalist who ate too many COVID carbs?
What project are you working on next?
I have a few scripts ready to go but I would love to produce a film that’s based on true events of my life called Go Left. It’s a lesbian coming-of-age story about a high school basketball player who learns to accept herself amid a school tragedy. Great roles and a solid script. Putting it out there to the universe!
T11 Incomplete is currently streaming on a number of platforms, including AppleTV.
For more information about Suzanne and her films, head to https://aspirefilmproductions.com/
Stay tuned for our Metrosource Minis Podcast chat with Suzanne with more behind-the-scenes stories, coming soon.
Last modified: June 11, 2021