The Whistle is a one-hour documentary that came out in 2019. It’s been screened at 25 film festivals and took home a few awards for its efforts. It follows the director StormMiguel Florez, a 45-year-old trans man, who returns to Albuquerque in search of the origin of “the whistle.” Spoiler Alert, in the first 10 minutes the viewer discovers that the whistle is in fact a secret code, a specific sound to alert other lesbians to their presence.
While the documentary may be titled The Whistle, the whistle itself is actually a very small component to the film. Much like gay men asking “are you a friend of Dorothy” or “how many Judy Garland albums do you have” in the 1950s, the whistle was a signal, a call to find other queer women in Albuquerque during the 1970s and ’80s. The whistle is simply the premise that introduces you to this group of women and the history they are here to share.
Some may recognize this type of communication as code-switching. The practice of changing your language to communicate based on who you are around. Teenagers frequently do it around their parents, but it’s most often found amongst minority communities such as the LGBTQ and people of color. The women of The Whistle explain in-depth the terms of the times while they unfold the story of growing up queer covertly. Some tales are heartbreaking, and others hopeful, but all worth telling.
Interestingly enough at no point in the documentary does it cover StormMiguel’s transition from self-proclaimed dyke to a man. It purely focuses on his experiences as a female-identified lesbian during the 1980s. At that point in time, the lesbian community didn’t have all the terminology that we do today. StormMiguel was always trans, they just didn’t know it in high school because the language had yet to catch up.
Then vs. Now
Today in the early 2020s queer youth are coming out in record numbers. There are more rights, advocacy groups, and acceptance than ever before. While we still have a long way to go in terms of equality these days it’s easier to take for granted how far we’ve come. The Whistle is a look back at where we’ve been and it’s important to acknowledge that history.