A new documentary screening at the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival is celebrating the transgender musical genius Glenn Copeland, who also identifies professionally as Beverly Glenn-Copeland.
Directed by Posy Dixon, Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story traces Copeland’s journey from a Black Quaker household in Philadelphia to Canada, where he broke barriers at McGill University and launched his music career.
As the film shows, Copeland’s groundbreaking 1986 electronic album, Keyboard Fantasies, was unappreciated at the time of its release. But its rediscovery by a Japanese collector sparked a renaissance for the career of Copeland, who is now in his 70s, and a newfound appreciation for the transgender trailblazer.
Below, Dixon discusses the documentary and the experience of following Copeland through his journey of touring and inspiring a young generation of LGBTQ+ people to follow their dreams. Stream it today at Outfest’s digital festival.
The Advocate: Tell us why you wanted to make a documentary about Glenn Copeland.
Posy Dixon: It started with a love affair with the record Keyboard Fantasies — once I heard it I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I tracked down Glenn online, and as soon as we started conversing, I realized he had this profound message to share with the world, and I guess I liked the idea of helping to get it out there.
How did the opportunity to do so come to happen?
We talked on Skype for over a year — initially discussing the possibility of making a short film about Glenn playing Keyboard Fantasies live for the first time. However, I couldn’t find anyone to help fund the project. Then happily, in summer 2018, I had a commercial project cancel last-minute and they paid me a fee. Free money! So with a few days’ notice, I got on a plane to Nova Scotia and went to meet Glenn.
When I got back from Canada I had this nine-hour-long interview, and I’d met Glenn’s incredible band. There were so many rich stories and I had no idea how I could do anything justice in short-film format. I talked it through with my producer Liv and she was like, “Come on, this is the one, let’s do it” — so we did.
What did you learn about LGBTQ+ history through telling Copeland’s story?
I spent a lot of time with materials from various Canadian LGCBTI+ archives — and then was lucky enough to interview some generous Canadian queer elders about their experiences in the 1960s and early ’70s.
One of the learnings was a better understanding of how brutally queer people were persecuted in the 1960s. I had this narrative in my mind about the 1960s being an era of enlightenment, free love, and peace and all, whereas the reality was far from that.
Through these oral histories, I came to understand how significant it was that Glenn was living at university in the early ’60s as an out lesbian Black woman. What bravery that took. How Glenn lived at such a young age whilst isolated from any kind of supportive community.
Copeland’s career experienced an unexpected resurgence when Keyboard Fantasies was discovered by a Japanese collector. Why do you believe Copeland is only now finding fame in his 70s?
I’d like to follow Glenn’s lead on this — it’s simply his time. The universe has realized there’s a whole generation of people knocking around right now who could really do with the warm embrace of Glenn’s music. We’re here and ready to listen.
He was ahead of his time in music; how did he change music?
Music is such a vast incomprehensible global entity enveloped in time and space, I’m afraid I don’t feel remotely qualified to answer this question.
What were some of the challenges of fitting such an extraordinary life into one hour?
Throughout the filmmaking process, I held on to this idea of the music leading the story. So each chapter of the film is led by Glenn’s musical evolution, placed into the context of time and space. We were in the really fortunate position of not having a deadline, as the film was funded through crowdfunding and an arts grant. So the editor, Tim, and I worked on the edit on and off over five months. Slowly shaping and reshaping the story until it felt right.
It was moving to see how young people bonded with Copeland on his tour. What can a new generation of LGBTQ+ people learn from Copeland?
The interactions between Glenn and his audience are so deep and sweet it brings tears to my eyes every time I see him play. So much weeping.
I don’t want to dictate what others can learn from Glenn. For me personally, it’s about surrounding yourself with the people and practices that make you feel special. That and drinking lots of apple juice.
What has Copeland learned from the young people he tours with and plays for?
Everything from intersectional politics to Missy Elliott’s oeuvre. Witnessing Glenn and his band tour together was such a joy and testament to the power and pleasure inherent in intergenerational learning.
Transgender people still struggle for basic rights and dignity. What do you hope viewers who may not support trans rights take away from this film?
I’d say that I’m like a 75 percent on the cisgender scale, so I don’t want to speak on behalf of trans communities. However, from my perspective, I’d hope for an understanding that being trans isn’t about swopping genders, it’s finding your way to your true gender — in whatever form that might be. And that when that happens peace and happiness prevail for everyone involved. Also important is that being trans is just one strand of the multiplex of identities that make up a person and that being trans can manifest in so many different ways. So keep your ears, hearts, and minds open wide.
COVID-19 has impacted Copeland’s renaissance. How is he doing, and how can fans support him in this difficult time for musicians?
Glenn has a wealth of new music ready to share with us, so you can support him by buying his new record, Transmissions, The Music of Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Additionally, for those who can afford, Glenn has a Patreon where you can contribute towards a reliable income for a magical human who, luckily for us, is still receiving and writing music every day.
Watch the Keyboard Fantasies trailer below, and catch it at Outfest’s digital festival today.