'We Are Tenacious' — Trans and queer ranchers in new documentary

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Sunday October 15, 2023
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J Stanley holds a young alpaca in 'We Are Tenacious' (photo: Silent Crow Arts)
J Stanley holds a young alpaca in 'We Are Tenacious' (photo: Silent Crow Arts)

"We are putting on an environmental film festival that keeps alive the independent spirit that launched the green movement," stated Chris Metzler, the Director of Programming for SFIndieFest's Green Film Festival, October 12-22 streaming on demand and screening in person at the Roxie Theater (Oct. 13-19).

With 50+ features and shorts from around the world that focus on green and environmental issues in both fun and revealing ways, festival organizers "hope audiences can begin to engage with sustainable solutions to the problems facing the planet."

Their one LGBTQ offering, "We Are Tenacious" (Silent Crow Arts) is a major attraction. Billed in its press release as a classic story of American perseverance, it features transgender Alpaca rancher Penny Logue and her dedicated band of queer ranchers. They battle fierce weather, impossible finances, far-right militia, and their own inner struggles as they pursue true liberation. It also serves as a microcosm of the country's current bitter political and cultural polarization. It's not a feel-good movie, but it's a necessary one.

Penny Logue in 'We Are Tenacious'  

Welcoming, at first
Logue is the founder of the 40-acre Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, located in a conservative Custer (as in General Custer) County, Colorado near the small town of Westcliffe, population 5000 (year-round), average age 63, and overwhelmingly white.

Responding to society's queer hostility and violence and under former President Trump's government persecution of transgender people, she created Tenacious as a safe haven for transgender and non-binary people, providing housing, employment, and a chance for happiness.

They adopted a herd of alpaca. They supported themselves by making yarn from the alpaca, working for neighboring ranches, and providing recycling services at the local landfill.

The film interviews the various members who together have formed a community, their own queer family. They sought a place where no one could harm or judge them. They sought to be an anarchist commune for LGBTQ people. Tenacious's view was to start with kindness and figure it out from there, including the challenges of co-habiting with fragile, wounded residents.

A solar-powered geodesic dome was their prime living space, though there were trailers which provided additional space. They were powered primarily by wind and solar energy. Living on a ranch is hard work. It takes tenacity.

The local townspeople had largely been welcoming and supportive, with their general philosophy being as long as you're not trespassing on my land, you can do whatever you want. Also, the unicorn's (so named by the citizens) desire to help people made it more difficult for the townsfolk to see them as a threat or weird.

Threats of violence
However, that all changed on July 4, 2020 while on errands in Westcliffe (in a county which Trump won by almost 70% in 2020) they got caught in the crowds and encountered a group protesting the COVID cancellation of the town's Fourth of July parade. Their march consisted of carrying a Confederate flag, banners for the Three Percenters (an alt-right militia group), white supremacy slogans, and every person was armed. The Unicorns got out of town quickly.

Target practice at Tenacious Unicorn Ranch in 'We Are Tenacious' (photo: Silent Crow Arts)  

Logue went on social media with the line, 'Wow, Nazis on parade in Westcliffe.' From that tweet there grew a hatred that has never ended, resulting in harassment and threats of violence to the ranch. Even the sympathetic editor of one of the local newspapers, "The West Mountain Tribute," commented that town residents wearing a gun open view, don't just say, "Don't mess with me," but more ominously, "I am a threat."

When armed intruders were discovered on the ranch to establish dominance, for protection, the residents began carrying firearms and wore bulletproof vests while patrolling the ranch, even posting 24-hour guards at their property's furthest ends.

From their social media posts, they received a huge amount of support, much of it financial, so they could purchase security cameras and build a fence. They were determined to remain there, believing communities survive by sticking together and that queers should reclaim country spaces from cis-white strongholds.

Ideology vs. militias
But the stress of no longer feeling safe and the possibility of attack, with little backing from the sheriff's department, led to internal dissension, with some residents leaving, including co-owner and business partner Bonnie Nelson. This chaos led to a financial meltdown, such that the remaining residents were evicted from their property and to date they haven't secured another permanent location.

Transgender documentarian Ash Kreis, who directed the film, in the production notes asked,
"How do we fit into this larger notion of community, especially in an environment that is traditionally conservative?"

Sadly, the answer appears to be they don't, that the divisiveness in our culture concerning the trans experience, invades even what was supposed to be a refuge. Residing in a remote location, this trans commune couldn't escape the transphobic perniciousness running rampant throughout our nation.

The ideology of these vigilante/militia groups inevitably collided with the anti-racist, gender-inclusive, egalitarian, ecological bent of the ranchers. Strangely, both groups share a frontier libertarian ethos, including gun-rights advocacy, but from opposite sides of the political spectrum. It's as if they inhabit two different worlds. The film leaves audiences wondering if the gap can ever be bridged.

The saving grace in an otherwise depressing story is the almost uber-cuteness of the alpacas. We guarantee you will fall in love with these animals, as their docility and loyalty will steal your hearts. If only human beings could get along as well as the alpacas do with each other.

Logue is the tragic figure here, that with all her farm training (she grew up on one) and her determination to create a safety net for queer people, she couldn't overcome the interior disintegration of the residents caving in under the outside pressures coupled with these overwhelming divisive sociopolitical forces, threatening their very existence.

We witness the dream colliding with stark reality, the destruction of a noble experiment and we are all the poorer for a vision deferred. Don't miss this engrossing, devastating documentary and remain tenacious anyway.

'We Are Tenacious' screens at the Roxie Theater, 3116 16th St. Oct 17, 6:15pm, and streams through October 22. www.sfgreenfest2023 www.tenaciousfilm.com

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