My partner and I uncovered a video I had gotten while in a support group about 10 years ago – a collection of trans-related TV programs from the late 90s / early 2000s. We’ve been spacing it out, watching some of it each weekend.
Part 3 was a program on A&E from 1998 called, “The Transgender Revolution.”
As soon as we started watching it, my partner said she remembered seeing it in a class at College – that’s pretty cool. And her reaction was positive, like it had been worthwhile. And it was – it showcased a few trans-people in respectful and dignified ways. It was also the most political, by far. There was a clip of Leslie Feinberg, and there was footage of Riki Wilchins talking about hate crimes and founding Gender PAC. She talked about going to senators to get policies changed, and going to the APA to get “Gender Identity Disorder” changed. Brandon Teena was talked about, as well as two more recent cases of the murders of trans-women.
The first portrait focused on Tonye, from Tampa, FL. He lives on a farm, works as a sheriff, has a wife and 8 year old daughter. He talks about all the discrimination he has been up against at his job. He also says his community has been hostile – his farm animals have been killed; other times they have been turned loose. He started an online group called TOPS – Trans Officers Protect and Serve, in order to get support for people like him. He had to undergo an internal confidential criminal investigation at his job, which he says is just a pretext for prejudice. It was left on an uncertain note – we don’t know the outcome of his struggles at work.
Next the program focused on Nancy Nangeroni, an engineer from MA. She talked a lot about overcompensating and living as a very macho guy, taking a lot of risks. The turning point for her was when she endured horrible injuries from a motorcycle accident – she realized she could not keep living the way she had been. One great quote from her: “I’m not a pre-op or a post-op because that’s not what defines me as a person.” She founded the IFGE – International Foundation of Gender Education.
The third portrait was really moving because it was done anonymously. “Terry” never showed his face, and neither did his wife and his mother. He owns a construction company and lives completely stealth. He equated being trans to having cancer – it’s something that you live with, and getting treatment is a matter of life and death. His story focused on him getting metoidioplasty. It was made clear that he needed this procedure to be legally recognized as male – he was living in fear of being outed because his documents all had an “F” on them.
The program wrapped up by discussing the extremes of gender in the society we live in. Toys, etc. “In time, the movement may leave America forever changed.” A nice note to end on.
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.
The other day, my partner alerted me of a really cool podcast story, and we listened to it together (for her, she listened a 2nd time). It’s about a subset of trans-people, and a subset of non-binary people even: people who identify as bigender. I’ve heard this term before but didn’t have a clear grasp on the experience of bigender people, largely just equating and blending it in with people who identify as “genderfluid,” in my mind. The two terms definitely overlap, and the podcast didn’t mention “genderfluid” as an identity, but it told a very gripping and personal story of someone who is bigender.
I’m just going to summarize this person’s story, but if you have a half hour, listening to this podcast would be a half hour well spent! Here is the link:
Invisibilia Story About Paige (Go ahead and skip the first 2 minutes – it’s just podcast producers doing introductions and general banter.)
Paige is in her 30s and lives in San Diego. Her story is not a common one, even within the trans-community. She grew up MAAB (male assigned at birth) and was largely fine with that, didn’t think twice about it. She had fleeting feelings maybe she was supposed to be a girl, but they were very rare, and she didn’t dwell on them. She joined the Navy and enjoyed it. She got married; got a job, a car, a house – everything most people hope to do. When she was 30, still living full time as a man, her body mysteriously stopped producing testosterone. She got put on testosterone replacement therapy, and that’s when things started getting strange. Those fleeting feelings of being female returned full force and with more frequency. She began to feel a really strong split between “guy mode” and “girl mode,” and she had no control over when or where it might happen. When in “girl mode,” she began to feel repulsed by her body, even to the point of vomiting from disgust.
She talked to her wife, and decided to stop taking testosterone and start taking estrogen instead. The disgust started to wane as her body changed, but at this point, she was aiming for androgyny so that she could feel comfortable in both guy and girl mode, something she kept flipping between, often multiple times within a day. There were certain things that changed for her depending on which mode she was in, perception-wise and personality-wise.
It’s been confirmed through psychological tests on a small sample of people who are bigender that there are in fact some differences going on. This research is really in its infancy, and nothing has been conclusive on a large scale thus far. But, well… makes sense! (I am far from saying men are from Mars and women from Venus or anything like that, haha.)
Parts of her story are really sad. Her marriage didn’t make it. She spent a long time feeling like an alien, hiding her true nature, etc. A lot of things a lot of people can relate to…
The interesting thing comes in the conclusion though. It seems that the longer she was on estrogen, the more she “settled into” being female, on a psychic level. She has stopped “flipping” uncontrollably, for the most part. It does still happen, and it’s super jarring, but she is living close to 100% in “girl mode” these days.
This is super fascinating to me – although I am really in neither “guy mode” nor “girl mode” ever, my gender identity is static. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to go back and forth, uncontrollably, at inopportune times.
More than just a few people experience this though. Something like 8% of MAAB trans-people, and 3% of FAAB trans-people.