Outdated trans programs pt. 1

My partner and I were recently sorting through / condensing our VHS collection.  We came across one that was labeled “transgender videos,” and it sparked a memory.  I was in a support group in 2005-2006, and one of the facilitators put together this tape and made copies for everyone.  It has 4 parts.  Parts 1 and 2 are from 2002 – a program on the Discovery Channel called Changing Sexes.  My partner and I watched this over the weekend.

We knew it was going to be really bad, but we could not envision how utterly atrocious it turned out to be.  This was only 13 years ago, and it’s amazing how far we’ve come; it’s like a public opinion time capsule…

First off, the term “transsexual” was used, and they got it wrong.  They referred to FTM trans people as “transsexual women” and MTF trans people as “transsexual men.”

Part 1 was about MTF trans people, and they focused on the stories of 3 people.  One was just coming out, one had been out for about a year, living her “real life test,” and one was getting ready to have surgery.  A LOT of time was devoted to her (Angela’s) journey toward surgery; they even followed her to Montreal and were in the operating room with her and her wife.  Angela was 59 and had just recently come out and starting taking hormones.  This last step would “complete her.”  (Her words.)  They pointed out how lucky she was, in that she could pass and in that her wife stayed with her.  She lived in Fresno, CA, and hosted a monthly support group in which people came from upward of 100 miles away to attend.

There were a lot of sensationalistic soundbites.  A couple:
“What pushes men to risk everything they have to become women?”
“Believing you were born in the wrong body may be a delusion that won’t be corrected with surgery.”
“Self-diagnosed illness.”
“Watching a parent change from male to female is bound to leave a strong mark on a child’s psyche.”

A therapist was quoted as saying, basically, that people may be convinced they are a transsexual, but once they start the theraputic process, they may come up with alternatives to having to go through a sex change.

Kenneth Zucker, from the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, was on the program, basically saying that transsexual tendencies come from one’s upbringing, and that kids have developmental plasticity, even if there is a biological predisposition.  I recently read this blog post, partially about Zucker – apparently he is still around, but his clinic is under review, and is not accepting new patients.

Part 2 started out with, “The story of four transsexual women, and their quest to live as men.”

Someone named Thomas Wise, MD, from Johns Hopkins, was quoted liberally in both sections.  More than once, he made an analogy to people struggling with anorexia.  Basically, would you allow them to continue to make changes to their bodies because they see themselves as too fat?  No?  Why should we allow people who see themselves as the other gender make changes to their bodies?

One of the stories was about someone named Dirk.  He was getting testosterone through a urologist, and he was binding with a combination of ace bandages and sports bras (no mention of how dangerous this is.)

More sensational sound bites:
“What defines a man?  Can women ever become one?”
“Are they real men?  Imposters?  Or something else?”
“She has started hormone injections, rendering him virtually unrecognizable.”

Again, the segment focused heavily on surgeries (both top and bottom), again with footage from the OR.

Twice, a study was brought up, from the Netherlands, in which scientists thought they may have pinpointed a part in the brain, the BSTC structure.  In autopsied MTF people, the size was closer to that of a biological woman, and in FTM people, the opposite.  Other scientists debunked the findings, saying that it was the cross-hormones that changed the brain structure.  It was unclear what finding or not finding this evidence might imply for trans-people.

This program was worthwhile in showing human stories, and that’s what I remember taking away when I first watched it in 2006.  Although it was invasive and sensationalistic, these were real people going through real adversity, and it felt important to me at the time.  I told a friend who was also in the group that I had unearthed this video, and he said he has purposefully never watched it.  I don’t blame him.  I mean, it’s not something I would consider “supportive” of trans people.  (That’s a huge understatement).  So for it to be given out at a support group – I mean, that’s all that was available at the time – it’s what was out there.

It’s reassuring to see that public opinion is changing, but there are still plenty of people who hold on to archaic notions about “transsexuals.”

Stay tuned for part 2 – talking about an Oprah show about transgender children, and an A&E investigative reports:  Transgender Revolution.

8 Comments on “Outdated trans programs pt. 1”

  1. micah says:

    Such nuggets of “history” – a mere decade ago.

    By the way, Ken Zucker et al are all still around touting the same hurtful soundbites and “research.” Many of these doctors are on APA and DSM and WPATH boards and committees, so while we might think you and your doctor and our community has seen the light, most “official” people making decisions not only believe this bullshit, but have the power to enforce it. This is why we must push back in any way possible, from local conversations with your own provider to loud public outcries in the other communities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dexxy says:

    That video sounds good for a laugh, a bit like old cigarette adverts claiming to be healthy etc. I am glad we find ourselves in a better world than that. Fast progress, but is it fast enough?


  3. George Davis says:

    I don’t think anyone knows what causes gender dysphoria, but it is probably a combination of biological and environmental factors. I don’t think most experts think it’s about the parents, though.

    I’ve seen the idea that gender identity is plastic in children but not adults, and I think it makes sense. There are many children who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria who change somewhere around puberty. This doesn’t seem to happen with adults.

    The BSTC studies are probably wrong because they looked at people who had been on hormones and we now know that taking hormones changes the brain pretty significantly. However, there are interesting new studies that show the brains of trans people being different from the brains of cis people. It gets even more complicated because sexual orientation can affect the brain, and studies don’t always control for it.


  4. Anonymous says:

    I was a subject in the FTM video. I could only stand to watch it once, It was too painful, but because it was so deeply personal, not for the reasons you mentioned. I hadn’t even noticed the misgendering and sensationalistic tone back then. I think it was so common that it actually seemed like my story was portrayed in a positive light and I didn’t notice the subtle and not so subtle snubs. Unfortunately, even though improvements have been made in the language being used to describe us, I can’t say that I think much progress has been made.


    • janitorqueer says:

      Wow, I’m so glad you commented! That’s amazing that you were in the video, and that you found this blog post all these years later. Would you consider doing a guest blog post about that experience? It could be totally anonymous if you want…

      It’s interesting you say you don’t feel much progress has been made. I guess speaking from personal experience, it feels much more within the realm of possibilities to come out as trans than it did 10 years ago…


  5. Anonymous says:

    For those interested in coming out as trans, the world is a very different place, and it is probably an improvement from ten years ago. For those of us who transitioned to be “male” and not “ftm,” “transman,” or some other variation I perceive of as a social designation of “not quite male,” for those of us who don’t self identify as “queer,” the lack of privacy in the internet age is terrifying. Even though I am positive I should have been born and raised as male, I often regret my transition. As I wrote, I don’t regret it because I don’t think I’m a guy: I regret it because I traded a lot to transition to something that society will never recognize as fully male. This is at least partly due to recent policy changes won by trans* activists who do not represent me or others like me. The push for visibility has paradoxically rendered people like me who want to fully integrate into the larger non-queer culture, invisible in the larger trans movement. Thanks to the work of activists, now someone’s trans status is “celebrated” rather that protected at a doctor’s office, for example. (I no longer receive medical care because these policies invalidate my male identity and actually put me in danger.) Likewise, “smashing the binary” is calling to destroy something I think has meaning and value. (This is not to say I support the patriarchy, strictly enforced gender roles, or other such nonsense, it’s just that I believe men and women are different and important in their own ways. That’s why I transitioned. I think something rich and beautiful will be lost in the same way something is lost as cultural practices or accents become homogenized and disappear into postmodern mass culture, only hanging around as cultural remnants in a comedy routine or annual heritage holiday.)
    I concede that my story coincides somewhat with society’s typical trans narrative- although we’re still public property not allowed to fully infiltrate and must be identified as not really men or women at all times.
    Those pushing for policy changes are not me or others who want to be stealth like me. The activists writing the narrative for the movement are pushing a different agenda. I don’t feel like it includes me, and in many ways, I think the fundamental ideologies behind the new trans movement- a post-modern conception of gender as a fluid and wholly socialized phenomenon- are at odds with my beliefs. I don’t know how this can be reconciled.

    Here’s a link to a study abstract I like. I like it because it’s the only academic study I have ever found that features subjects who believe it’s essential to our identities to be “stealth.”



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