Oct. 16--Tony Ferraiolo remembers a day long ago, in fifth grade, when his teacher asked each member of the class to tell what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Ferraiolo, a girl at the time, said, "I want to be a boy."
"I was teased from that moment on," Ferraiolo recalls. The bullying became so intense that Ferraiolo also became a bully as a means of self-protection. Then the cutting began, then the drugs and alcohol, then the suicidal thoughts.
"For years I did not feel human. I knew I wasn't a girl," Ferraiolo says in a phone interview. "Back then nobody said transgender. ... There was no word for who I was and how I felt. The only word was 'freak'."
At age 41, Ferraiolo began transitioning into a male. Today, he's happy and is an advocate for transgender youth in New Haven.
Ferraiolo's journey is the subject of "A Self-Made Man," a documentary by Lori Petchers. It will be shown Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Margaret Mead Film Festival in New York, an all-documentary fest focusing on cultures and subcultures.
The film tells Ferraiolo's life story -- he grew up in North Branford and graduated from North Branford High in 1981 -- and shows him going about his daily life and counseling youths in New Haven.
Petcher, 53, grew up in Fairfield. She said she had never known a transgender person before making the movie. She was recruited into the project by the mother of a transgender teen who admired a short film she made. Petcher said she learned a lot by making the film.
"Gender is an idea a person has of themselves. ... I always had put everybody into their male and female boxes," Petchers says. "The human condition is much more complex than anyone give us credit for or society allows us to be."
Petcher has two grown sons. She said making the movie also gave her a perspective on the difference in kids' and parents' perceptions.
"As a parent, you fight it for a while. You don't want this to be. But kids know who they are. ... It is their truth," she says.
Ferraiolo says his father took a while to come around, but is fully supportive now.
"He's my biggest fan," Ferraiolo says. "We get along better now than we ever did."
Ferraiolo also praises his boss at his full-time job as a manufacturing manager in Branford.
"I transitioned on the job. He said to people, 'You've got to respect this guy.' I was able to keep my job. I am so grateful for that."
Even though Ferraiolo says that he was unhappy for the greater part of his 50 years, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"You're a blueprint of everything that ever happened to you. I believe I was supposed to transition at that age.Everything that ever happened to me, good and bad, created Tony. ... I can't look back and wish it had never happened. I firmly believe in that."
"A SELF-MADE MAN," 56 minutes, will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street in New York. Admission is $12. Tickets can be bought on-site or by calling 212-769-5200. Details: http://www.amnh.org/explore/margaret-mead-film-festival.
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