There’s still time to catch the New York premiere of the groundbreaking documentary “No Ordinary Man,” which features Marquise Vilsón, a GMHC board member, in an ensemble cast of trans artists who reimagine the story of jazz musician and trans icon Billy Tipton.
But act fast. “No Ordinary Man” is playing at the IFC Theater in Manhattan only through Aug. 5. Tickets for the film and details on additional screenings are available at noordinaryman.oscilloscope.net.
Vilsón joins a cast of leading trans voices who celebrate Tipton as a musician and forefather, living his life on his own terms. “How would I summarize Billy Tipton? He was a trans masculine jazz musician. Pretty simple,” the New York actor says in the film.
But claiming that identity was not so simple for the jazz man. Tipton, a piano player, toured with his band, The Billy Tipton Trio, and worked as a session musician in the 1930s through 1950s, while marrying, adopting three children and living for years as a family man. After Tipton’s death in 1989 at age 74, the entertainment media seized on the revelation that he had been assigned female at birth and misrepresented him as an ambitious woman who “passed” as a man to further his career as a jazz musician.
In the documentary, Vilsón considers Tipton’s experience and his own in a society that remains unfamiliar with and unaccepting of transmasculine men on their own terms.
Vilson is one of the first transmasculine actors of color to be out publicly as both a performer and activist. He wowed viewers and critics in a break-out television role on “Law & Order: SVU” in 2018, guest-starring in an acclaimed episode addressing challenges faced by transgender military service members. He is also a longtime leader in New York’s underground ballroom scene, and a member of the House of Balenciaga. The ballroom community has recognized Vilsón as a Transman ICON, among his numerous other awards.
Depictions of trans masculinity in media remain scarce, and “No Ordinary Man” adds a foundational new story to the growing body of work. Faced with sparse archival materials, co-directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt imaginatively conceive Tipton’s life through conversations with Vilsón and other artists, who weave Tipton’s transmasculine experience with their own.
The cast includes actor Scott Turner Schofield; TV and film writers Amos Mac and Thomas Page McBee; and writers and intellectuals Susan Stryker and C. Riley Snorton.
Photo: Marquise Vilsón in still from “No Ordinary Man.”