New release No Ordinary Man is no ordinary documentary. In it, directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt go about repairing some of the damage caused by media misrepresentation, as they reframe the life and legacy of American jazz musician Billy Tipton. In telling the story of trans cultural icon Tipton, who was assigned female at birth but lived his life as the man he was, and on his own terms, viewers will find their approach both appreciative and respectfully inquisitive in their framing device. The bulk of No Ordinary Man is spent interviewing leading trans activists, actors, and academics about what is known of Tipton’s experience, how the post-death discovery of his birth-assigned gender was twisted and sensationalized by a cis-centered media, and his lasting impact on the trans community.

Billy Tipton may have been assigned female at birth, but he lived most of his life with a male gender identity. Born in 1912, he began dressing as a man around 1933 and playing in all-male jazz bands, adopting the name Billy Lee Tipton. Within a few years, he had committed to living as a man in both his public and private life. He went to great lengths to keep his secret, at great risk, and sometimes to the detriment of his career. When he was offered a big break playing with Liberace, he declined, possibly out of fear for the wrong kind of scrutiny.

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