Judge Brett Cullum finds that transsexuals on TV have come a long way since that AbFab flashback to Patsy's, uh, detour.
Four college students switching more than their majors.
College is a time of challenge and change, when you decide who you are. Yet try and imagine being deaf, poor, from the Philippines, and living as a woman when you were born a man. Transgeneration is the insightful and moving portrait of four college students deciding what they want to be both professionally and as a gender. Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Inside Deep Throat, Party Monster) executive produced the series Transgeneration in cooperation with the Sundance Channel and Logo Network. It is a frank, funny, and moving look at what it's like to be young and trapped in a body you don't want.
I have decided that 2006 is officially the year of the transsexual. Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) walked off with a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for playing a male-to-female in TransAmerica. Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins) got a Golden Globe nomination for playing a male-to-female Irish woman named Miss Kitten in Breakfast on Pluto. Trannys are everywhere you look lately; there's probably one near you now and you don't even know it. They are invading the media by becoming top fashion models, and even hitting reality shows as contestants or stars. Alex Arquette (Pulp Fiction) is destined to eclipse his entire famous family by becoming Alexis this year. Popular cable series The L Word has tackled the not often chronicled female-to-male experience with actress Kelly Lynch (Charlie's Angels).
I have many dear friends who are either in the process of changing genders or officially living as another sex. One who I particularly admire looks exactly like a young Jerry Hall (Jack Nicholson's girlfriend in Batman and Mick Jagger's longtime consort). Any time I take her to dinner every guy in the room has to pick his jaw up off the floor, because she is one of the most striking women I know. Yet I realize she's preoperative, and still medically male. She lives trapped in a body that betrayed her at birth, and finding her way has been a struggle. She works at make-up counters, and has become an incredible stage performer in several burlesque revues. Her signature entrance is to come on stage at a crowded sports bar in a full fur coat. She drops it to reveal an outfit comprised of only a few well-placed sequins. The guys go nuts cheering and stomping, and she leans in to the microphone and says, "I bet you never thought a guy pushing forty could look this good!" Hair and make-up? Forty dollars. Sequins? Twenty. The look on hot red-blooded males in a crowded bar in Texas after her comment? Priceless.
I bring up my friend because Transgeneration made me realize how little the general public knows about the topic. Since this is the official year of transsexuals I will make Transgeneration the DVD you need to watch as soon as you read this review. Consider it your homework assignment. Many of the subjects in the series are taking a lot of introductory 101 classes in college, and this show will probably be many people's "Transsexual 101" course. I don't want to reveal much of what happens in the series, because it's important to discover on your own. Just know it's a moving story of four people in very different circumstances:
• Raci, majoring in English at California State University in Los Angeles. A male-to-female Filipino woman, Raci is deaf, and she comes from a poor family. Raci hides her secret from almost everyone, dangerously scouring the streets for illegal hormones to keep up her convincing appearance.
• TJ, attending the graduate program at the University of Michigan as a man. Born female in Cyprus, TJ did not begin the journey to becoming a man until he got to college. He's an activist, and is very out and proud. The problem is that his mother refuses to accept the transition of her daughter to a man.
• Gabbie, attending the University of Colorado. Gabbie is a girl who comes from wealth. Her family has agreed to pay for her surgery, and she is living out her final preoperative days as a student. She's going through a period of being intensely focused on herself, and her friends and family are having a hard time with it.
• Lucas, attending Smith College, a women's college in Massachusetts. He was born a woman but is transitioning to become a male. His biggest struggle is becoming a man at a women's college that doesn't want to accept his transition.
In Transgeneration several things happen that might shock you. At least two of the participants enter a relationship that is rather odd. One of the male-to-female subjects aspires to be a lesbian, and two of the female-to-males seem to get together to become a gay male couple. Why even go through the hormones or the surgery? One thing you learn is that gender has nothing to do with sexuality. A man can desire a woman but still feel he should be of the female gender. That's an important difference between homosexuality and gender displacement.
The rub is that for the transgender everything becomes clear, but what of their families and partners? Transgeneration does give you some idea of the struggles the people around these students go through to accept what is happening. Families, friends, and lovers all become a part of the fabric of the show, and half the drama is watching how their opinions and reactions affect each subject. There's an extremely touching scene where one set of grandparents take their new daughter to church (where she was formally their grandson), and beam and coo as proudly as any other set of grandparents would.
The Transgeneration DVD set includes the entire five-hour miniseries as seen on the Sundance Channel. The full-screen transfers are clean and crisp, and actually pretty darn good considering the footage was shot by handheld camera operators in varying circumstances. The sound is a simple stereo mix that is clear enough to hear the dialogue, and subtitles come on when things become inaudible. The only extra is a series of deleted scenes that run about 20 minutes.
If you're reading this review and thinking that all of this sounds interesting, rest assured it is. Transgenders have been misunderstood for many years by both the straight and gay community, and it's important to understand what their struggle is. Especially now that 2006 has seen their visibility increasing. Transgeneration is one of the most timely and well-produced documentary releases I've seen. You'll never get a chance to spend five hours with a more interesting group of college kids again.
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