Saturday, September 30, 2006

He Said, She Said ...

Online pal Ethan, often a thinker of big thoughts, recently made a Netflix recommendation. Ethan and I have some rather interesting conversations, so I took his recommendation to heart and put it at the top of my queue.

Ethan wrote about the topic here and I will write about it here.

The discs contained a series from the Sundance Channel: "Transgeneration." An examination of the lives of four college-age transgenders: Raci (nee Raymond), T.J. (nee Tamar), Gabbie (nee Andrew), and Lucas (nee Leah). Raci and Gabbie were born male and are now presenting female. T.J. and Lucas were born female and are now presenting male.

I don't have a lot of experience with transgender situations. When I worked at the Tribune, one of the security guards was transitioning from male to female. I've seen (and loved) "Transamerica." Point is, most of the transgender cases I have any knowledge of are male to female ("M to F" to use the lingo). I've never much contemplated the F to M, so watching two F to M students made me think.

Of course, I can never understand what these people are going through. I've never had the experience of feeling as though I'm living in the wrong body. But I am astonished by their bravery. I suppose they could go through life denying their true selves, but instead they have all chosen to face their realities and brave the reactions of their friends and families.

As Ethan writes about, one of the aspects of transitioning from male to female or female to male is learning the behaviors of the other sex. Some take to their new "roles" well. Others are much more awkward. Of course, I would think that part of what makes them question their gender to begin with are feelings of not belonging to the gender to which they were born. (At one point, I believe it was Gabbie who said that "sex" is the physical aspect and "gender" is mental, which means that I'm using the word "gender" incorrectly.) Still, it must be a very different experience to observe the other sex than to present as the other sex.

T.J. is from Cyprus and his mother is having a very difficult time accepting his decision. When he returns home from Michigan State, he looks like T.J. but identifies as Tamar, out of respect for his mother. As Aremenians, they are very focused on community, and Tamar was valedictorian of her boarding school before attending MSU on a scholarship. In America, away from the close-knit Armenian community on Cyprus, T.J. is freer to explore his identity as a man. He meets Staci and they eventually move in together. He befriends other F to M students and finds understanding. But under the terms of his scholarship, he must return to Cyprus for two years when he finishes his master's degree, and he's unsure how he'll be able to walk the tightrope that traverses what he must do to be true to himself and how he must behave out of respect for his mother.

Gabbie is the only one of the four students during the course of the series who undergoes sex-reassignment surgery. Lucas begins testosterone treatments. And Raci fluctuates between taking estrogen and not. Cash-strapped, she buys her hormones illegally and her source dries up.

But while she's on them, they really, really work. Raci, who's hearing-impaired and whose mother moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco, has an infuriatingly hot body: thin waist, curvy hips, perfect breasts. With her full lips and long, dark hair, she looks the least like the opposite sex. Gabbie still has a gawky, boyish quality about her. T.J. as Tamar looked slightly masculine. Lucas looks androgynous. But Raci looks all woman.

It's a fascinating series, well worth the rental. Lots of food for thought.

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