Outdated trans programs pt. 1Posted: September 24, 2015
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.”
“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.