Plus ça Change

Flicking through channels on the TV last night, looking for something to watch (anything as long as it’s not endless re-runs), we came across a show on TLC called Body Bizarre that featured a transgender couple. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much: the show’s sensationalist title as good as tells you this is going to be a modern-day freak show.

Sadly I was proved right. The narration did use pronouns correctly and showed the two young people just living normal lives, but that was as good as it got. The show fell back on old stereotypes, using terms such as “born a boy”. Most cis (non-trans) people won’t pick up on this as problematic, but it is an inaccurate and misleading description because it implies that the person’s gender identity has changed: that they have chosen to be a different gender. I am female. I was born female, but the gender I was assigned at birth was male. I was not “born a boy”, I just looked like one.

The other serious problem with the reporting in this show was the focus on genital surgery. Somebody watching this who didn’t know any better would think this is the biggest part of transitioning and would not be aware that a large number of trans people opt not to have these procedures. In fact the process of transition was barely mentioned: you would think that it was like flipping a switch. Male one day and female the next. There was no suggestion of the difficulties faced by somebody who is transitioning, or of how long the process can take.

The picture of transgender life painted by this “documentary” was so incomplete and slanted that I feel it only qualifies as factual on a technicality: the few facts presented seemed to be accurate. It provided little information about gender dysphoria or its treatment: considering that the channel is called TLC — The Learning Channel — it was mostly free of any educational value. The superficial treatment of a condition that is associated with shockingly high levels of depression and suicide did nothing to further anybody’s understanding and does not benefit trans people.

There are documentaries that provide in-depth coverage of this subject, that portray their trans subjects accurately and with respect. That will educate their audience and give them some insight into our lives. That will foster the understanding that leads to acceptance. I know: I have seen some of them. This was not one.

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5 thoughts on “Plus ça Change

  1. I have never watched the program – the title puts me off – but I have to say, having read your blogs, that there is nothing ‘bizarre’ about transgender in the first place!
    People should put themselves in your shoes, to try to imagine how difficult it must be to live your life in this cruel world. Really! xxx

  2. Alex – what are your thoughts on the language “was raised as a boy[/girl]” instead of “was born a boy[/girl]”? When I hear this alternative, I interpret it as the parents/caregivers as the ones responsible (whether they accept that responsibility or not) for any ways the child was put in the position of passing as they gender that they were perceived as by others. In other words, when I hear “she was born a boy” or “she grew up as a boy” I hear that she then somehow chose to no longer be a boy – which is obviously inaccurate. When I hear “she was raised as a boy,” I hear that there was a misunderstanding – not necessarily unloving or malicious – that led to the girl presenting/passing as a boy until she was able to transition later in life.

    Of course, this is how I hear it as a cis-woman. I wonder how that sort of language comes across to trans men and women, since if it comes across as hurtful, offensive, or simply misrepresentational, I would really like to correct for that in my own speech.

    • I’m totally in agreement with what you say here. I have no problem with “raised as a boy” which is a perfectly accurate description.

      As with everything there are exceptions. Some trans people do not have a fixed gender identity, or do not identify with binary gender. In these cases, “born a boy/girl” can be correct. However these people are a minority of the trans population. In general if somebody describes themselves as a trans woman/man then it would be incorrect or, for some, offensive to say they were born a boy/girl.

      I hope this is clear enough. I really appreciate how much you care about this: you are a good ally. ❤

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