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.
A couple of days ago, I got an email from someone named Rachel, a casting associate with Magilla Entertainment, a New York-based television production company that specializes in non scripted programming. Which I’m guessing is synonymous with reality TV shows?
Here’s a link to their website and current programs: Magilla TV
They are developing a new show that will follow different people changing their lives in various ways, and one episode will focus on multiple trans-people and varying stages in their transition. They will be pairing people up with a mentor or coach to help them through aspects such as coming out, starting to wear clothes they identify with, and contemplating surgery.
Rachel asked me if I’d consider becoming a coach for the show, and although I’m flattered, there’d be NO WAY I would do this! For one thing, I’m an introvert and although I can envision contributing to an anthology or being a part of a magazine story, this is way way way too BIG. Also, the premise is intriguing, but I fear the tone could become exploitative (as is the nature of reality shows, usually).
If you’re not scared off by these types of things though, this might be the right fit for you. Here is the casting call and contact information:
ARE YOU STRUGGLING WITH YOUR GENDER IDENTITY?
Are you struggling with who you are? Do you feel like you were born into the wrong body? Are you living life as the opposite gender you were given at birth? Magilla Entertainment and a major cable network are now casting men and women who identify as the opposite gender and who are considering going through a transition for a new docu-series. If you have been struggling with your gender identity and want the support of a coach or mentor as you transition, we want to hear your story. If you think you are ready to embark on this journey, please contact us ASAP at email@example.com with your name, age, location, occupation, contact phone number, a recent photo and a few sentences about yourself.
I’m glad for the increase in media representations lately and really hope they aim to showcase a diverse group of trans-people. Demonstrate that not all narratives are the same. (For example, point out that not every trans-person identifies with having been “born into the wrong body.” Another example: a non-binary person!) And, most importantly, to convey these struggles with the deserved respect!