No Ordinary Man

An in-depth look at the life of musician and trans culture icon Billy Tipton.
Available on CBC Gem

No Ordinary Man

documentary Channel

Billy Tipton came of age in the 1930s and 40s, playing saxophone and piano near his home in Kansas City and touring across the American midwest. Tipton was one of many musicians who brought Duke Ellington’s swinging style to small-town supper clubs. In the 1950s, Tipton settled down in Spokane, Washington where he started a family. When he died in 1989, the story of his life was rewritten by tabloids and talk shows as a tale of deception – a legacy of contested meaning which endures to this day.

For thirty years, Tipton’s life has been framed as that of an ambitious woman passing as a man in pursuit of a career in music. In No Ordinary Man, Tipton’s story is reimagined by trans writers and performed by trans people. Details from his life are juxtaposed with the experiences of transmasculine actors as they audition for the role of Billy. We learn intimate details about Tipton through his son, Billy Jr., and watch as he opens up to an alternative perspective on his father as a thriving and successful transgender person.

Complicated, beautiful and historically unrivalled, this groundbreaking film shows what is possible when a community collaborates to honour the legacy of an unlikely hero.