Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

Queerguru’s buff Andrew Hebden reviews I AM THE TIGRESS @BFI FLare



Tischa Thomas, female bodybuilder, webcam model, and dominatrix is extraordinary. And that’s a problem. Extraordinary results really only come from extraordinary effort. The documentary ‘I am the Tigress’ shows that often people’s fascination with her results doesn’t equate to respecting the efforts that she made to get there, some of which are heartbreaking. 

Despite being a heterosexual woman Thomas’s documentary, by Philipp Fussenegger and Dino Osmanoviç has acquired pride of place in an LGBTQ+ film festival. Her story is one that the community recognizes. As an Amazonian black woman with a mighty pair of pecs, biceps, and triceps people often interpret her presentation as that of a transwoman. Men yell abuse at her on the streets and challenge her to fight. She struggles to find a date that exists outside of the fetish world. Her income rests on the vagaries of sex work, or the adjacent world of muscle worship and domination if she doesn’t make the top three in her bodybuilding contests.

I first saw Thomas at the New York Sports Club in Harlem where for 5 years she put me to shame with her physical achievement. It was noticeable how much respect she was given by male bodybuilders. But, as the documentary captures, this respect evaporates with every step she takes further away from the gym exit. Thomas is fully aware that her choice of profession comes with that sacrifice.

So why does she do it? Thomas shows this by sharing her vision board. Her past self was 300 pounds and unhappy. She took responsibility, forgave herself, and accepted her mistakes. She decided to be her own creation, to demand better for herself and her future. Her current situation is not sugar-coated, though. We see her working on her submissive clients, we glimpse the simmering belligerence that steroid use has a pattern of provoking. This is not a makeover or a glow-up. It is a grind that, at age 48, gets older as she does. 

In a candid camera style, Thomas is followed to the gym, on the street, in her home, and with her grandchildren. She has an unusual relationship with her roommate, a former male bodybuilder, who she resents for ‘cock blocking’ her as men often assume he is her husband. The dom/sub energy between them swings between tension and affection despite its platonic presentation. At one point they agree that marrying each other might have some benefits in terms of Social Security eligibility. It is a practical choice in a precarious economic situation. 

The editing choices and even the background music emphasize the difficulties of Thomas’s circumstances. The motivational videos she shares could have been given much more space to showcase her determination and self-acceptance. There is a fighter and a survivor in this story and when she karaokes to Eye of the Tiger(ress) the audience is left wishing they could have seen her get her Rocky moment with a championship title.




Queerguru Contributing Editor ANDREW HEBDEN is a MEDIA & CULTURAL STUDIES graduate spending his career between London, Beijing, and NYC as an expert in media and social trends. As part of the expanding minimalist FIRE movement, he recently returned to the UK and lives in Soho. He devotes as much time as possible to the movies, theatre, and the gym. His favorite thing is to try something (anything) new every day.


Posted by queerguru  at  14:08

Genres:  documentary

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