My thoughts on “My Transsexual Summer”
November 9, 2011 § 5 Comments
Well, the online trans community is all atwitter (couldn’t help myself) about the latest trans documentary, Channel 4’s “My Transsexual Summer”. And, being not only an extremely opinionated creature, but an extremely opinionated creature who was involved in part of Channel 4’s ongoing consultancy work with the trans community, I thought I might as well weigh in. So…
Cons out of the way first? There were three crucial ones, for me. In the main it was the narrator: not only the language they used, but their actual redundancy. All the usual linguistic tropes we’ve gotten used to drinking on cue to: “becoming a man/woman”, “changing gender” etc. For a programme with such articulate, well-informed participants, the voiceover felt largely unnecessary. Another problem, as many people have pointed out – it would have been nice to see a more ethnically diverse group – and people of different ages. I don’t feel comfortable commenting on diversity of socioeconomic background/disabilities – who am I to know? Finally – can we call a moratorium on the “applying make-up (with mirror!)” shot? Done to death.
The pros, on the other hand – I’m surprised to find myself writing this, but I genuinely enjoyed the programme. Maybe I’m just too idealistic, but, to me, it didn’t feel like just a one-off positive programme – it felt like a game changer. The overall feel of it – of hope, of warmth – that felt totally new to me. And hats off to the seven trans people of screen for putting that across.
This was trans people speaking for themselves – showing that we know best when it comes to trans issues – what it feels like, what’s best for us. It was our language, our words – our in-jokes (“You boys can shave, and us girls can…shave”). Our experiences with suicide attempts and self-harm – told not in a sensational way but with understanding and compassion. I saw the make-over scene criticised, but I found it touching – because it reminded me of getting ready to go out with my trans male friends – trying on clothes, styling our hair, choosing between ties – giving back to each other a sense of beauty and dignity that the world so often tries to strip us of.
Instead of positing the audience as ‘normal people’ being given a chance to pity the ‘freaks’, this felt like the audience being invited to share the experiences of the trans people on screen – as allies. Particularly when instances of transphobic abuse were shown – not only did they feel (as they should) outrageous attacks on people’s sense of safety and self-worth, but they felt unacceptable – not something to be tolerated as ‘one of those things’, but an insult to be rectified.
Coming back to the subject of diversity – there were two points in particular that made my day. Firstly was the fact that the participants did have differing views on what constitutes sex/gender, male/female, and how they fit into and/or challenged those systems. That people have different surgical needs. That some trans people, like Donna, are neither men nor women. That there isn’t a standard, one-size-fits-all trans narrative. Secondly, the natural, unforced way in which Maxwell’s Judaism was shown. Wearing a kippah around the house, reading a book on shtetl life – it was a gentle yet powerful reminder that trans people are far, far more than ‘just’ trans. That we come from different communities, traditions, families – the deep and abiding love and connection that so many of us feel for those communities – and what we stand to lose when we open up about who we truly are.
So – not, by any means, perfect. But, at least in my eyes – this felt like a beginning. My fingers are firmly crossed for even better things to come.
Aye, I agree with this. One thing that particularly struck me was that we got to see and hear trans people talking to other trans people, and I realised this is not something that has been in these documentaries before. It’s almost like a trans equivalent of the Bechdel test, and when we get to speak amongst ourselves, we can very much express our own views, making even a (cis) narrator (with their tired stereotypical tropes) to ‘speak to’ unnecessary. That was a hugely positive thing for me to witness.
Agreed on the ethnicity front, although I was pleased to note the range of sexualities. I was slightly disappointed that all there weren’t any masculine women (or at least ‘butch’ women) as some people may think from this that all trans women are traditionally feminine (or ‘femme’) which I suppose does tie in with that done-to-death makeup-in-the-mirror shot.
But yes, this is a step forward, and there is a lot of hope to be gained from that.
I agree: there was unlikely to be a sense of perfection: this is TV, aimed at C4 viewers. Programme 1 had to grab attention because it’s what makes folk come back for more. Too much straight documentary and people say “that’s enough; I know now”. So let’s forgive the standard narration, the bits we cringed at, the drink and party aspect. Wow; this took me back not so long ago to realising there were other people like me – and also not all alike either. It’s a powerful thing suddenly finding a whole bunch of rather nice and diverse people who understand!! And this episode did that. I liked the honesty, even the faux pas, and that it was so much more about gender than sex (even though sex as a term was preferred throughout). I really hope that as the series goes on, the power of seeing people being inevitably who they are, wipes away some of the stereotyping of what trans-ness means, and raises awareness and understanding.
On the ethnicity thing, Fox (one of the guys) is mixed race and apparently pre-editing he talked about that but it doesn’t seem to have made the final cut – nor has his identity as Two-Spirit.
Maxwell talking about what was left on the cutting room floor – I say let’s work our arses off so that in five years we can have the programme that might have been.
[…] as a positive step forward. I agree with those who point out that the show breaks new ground in enabling trans people to speak for themselves in a public/media setting. The best parts of episodes one and two do tend to involve group […]