Like many people, Nyala Moon first became enamored with cinema through watching Turner Classic Movies with her family during childhood. A native New Yorker from Harlem, Moon would absorb what she learned from family members’ specific preferences: Grandma adored Hitchcock, granddad loved Westerns and John Wayne (“super problematic,” she laughs).
Despite her family being “low-key cinephiles,” Moon initially set out on what she considers a “traditional” educational route that completely excluded the prospect of undergraduate film studies. “My parents and grandparents were like, ‘You’re trans. The last thing that you need to do is something risky!’”
Abiding by their advice, she went to business school at Baruch College, then studied law. Only once Moon saw Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight by herself at AMC Kips Bay during her senior year did she get the “kick in the ass” needed to venture back on a cinematic career path.
Following undergrad, Moon spent some time directing shoestring projects that don’t quite hold up in her eyes (save for the YouTube comedy web series Bad Ally, which she is “still really proud of”). Realizing that she “didn’t know anything about filmmaking besides having a story to tell,” Moon enrolled in City College’s “extremely hands-on” two-year MFA program and graduated into the pandemic in 2020. She was then selected as one of Hillman Grad’s inaugural TV writing fellows in 2021, where she wrote a 60-minute pilot about teenage trans girls (“actually inspired by a friend of mine”) who went to prison for robbing prospective johns while pretending to be vice cops. While the fellowship encouraged dramatic projects, Moon continued to feel compelled to tell trans stories with concerted levity: “I want to explore how fun being trans is—how ordinary yet extraordinary.”
After experiencing an unpleasant collaboration with a “film bro DP” on her City College thesis film, Moon vowed to never rescind creative control again. (“I am very much from the Chantal Akerman school of filmmaking where I want to direct, write and act in my film, and I want you to leave me alone.”) The next film she made, the 13-minute How Not to Date While Trans, stars Moon as Andie, a trans woman who monologues via tongue-in-cheek fourth-wall breaks about NYC dating struggles. Mining from references like Fleabag and She’s Gotta Have It, the film premiered in 2022 and was selected as a part of Frameline’s 2023 Voices Shorts Program.
Released this year, her latest short, the internet-saturated and ever-memeable Dilating for Maximum Results was born out of an urge “to step more into wacky, irreverent comedy.” Dilating also stars Moon, this time as a trans woman who wants to hook up IRL with an online lover but must first get back into the habit of post-op vaginal dilating to prepare for penetrative sex. “A lot of times, trans women are oversexualized—which can of course be empowering,” says Moon, but she wanted to diverge and make something uniquely “cute, quirky, fun and whimsical” about trans women’s sex lives. (“Plus, dilating actually does suck a lot.”)
Moon is now working on her first feature, a “mockumentary about a detransitioned person in an ex-LGBT religious group who uses social media to spread their message.” The main character meets a trans woman who looks just like he did before detransitioning. “I want to explore the fluidity of gender identity,” says Moon. “Being trans is not a perfect experience. There are moments of weakness and you definitely question yourself.” She hopes to shoot some of the film’s “bare-bones” social media segments in September.
Reflecting on how a scarcity of trans media shaped her current practice, Moon notes that she “had such a thirst for trans content” as a transitioning teen that she “even watched [The] Jerry Springer [Show], which I have a love-hate relationship with”. Though growing up with this narrative dearth proved alienating, it also pushed Moon to the point in her career where she “can tell honest trans stories for my sisters, trans brothers and niblings.” As for cis allies, Moon’s standpoint is the following: “Artistically, I want to be your trans best friend.” —Natalia Keogan/Image: self-portrait