I was a little disappointed with part two of My Transsexual Summer. It didn't seem to add much to the first part last week. The presumed purpose of the programme - to present a group of people whose interactions and personal revelations will 'explain' transsexuality to the general public - wasn't much taken forward. Four incidents stand out: A fuller account of Drew's attempt to find a local job; the displaying of successful FTM surgery by a visitor; the Saturday night in the local pub; and Sarah's coming-out to her mum.
Drew's experience when she approached a bridal shop who were looking for an assistant is perceptively described on Jane Fae's blog (her 'Internalised Oppression' post). I won't add to it, except to mention that as I watched, I felt like saying to Drew 'Why on earth didn't you try your luck at a proper beauty salon, or a hairdresser? Plenty of those around. Or even better, get a till job at a supermarket, put some money together, attend college, and get some qualifications to show'. It seemed desperately unrealistic to rely solely on a nice manner and makeup skills. If she is meant to represent the plight of unemployed transsexual girls, and the sort of self-improvement notions they have, then she did them no favours.
Next, the FTM surgery. This was the first time in years that I'd seen a 'created' penis on TV. It was rather impressive. Perhaps a bit too big, in fact. It didn't look anything like the penis I used to have, which in no way resembled the proverbial elephant's trunk when relaxed, wasn't overlong or overthick even when erect, and shrank into a pathetic crinkled little appendage in cold weather. This one looked permanently half-inflated and half-erect in its normal state, and had a circumcised look. Despite the mention of how many operations were needed, and the high cost, and the fiddly stiffening procedure, as a surgical accomplishment it was remarkably well-crafted, and must have come as a surprise to the general viewing public. The six in the house were pretty awed.
I considered my own reactions carefully. Would I, as a trans woman, find it exciting if a trans man revealed his penis to me? It was hard to give more than a tentative answer. I wouldn't be in the position of even seeing it unless I was contemplating sex with him, or living with him on an intimate day-to-day basis. That would only happen if we had already got very close; and if so, I would be accepting of him as a whole person, and not just one or two of his parts. I would be disposed to understand and forgive any anatomical imperfections in his physique as much I would want him to forgive any in myself. The more challenging issue was whether a natal woman would be content with a post-op trans man for a lover, if he had a penis like that, and the scars where the skin grafts had been taken, and scars where breasts had once been. And not being a natal woman, I couldn't possibly say.
The night out at the local pub was driven mainly by the young, pretty, up-for-anything Donna. And it raised a few question-marks about her. She had been saying that she 'liked being a tranny' and didn't want genital surgery, and her out-and-proud actions at the pub, in which she successfully won over most of the men, seemed awfully like a stage performance. She wasn't a drag act; but it seemed to me that if she wanted to make a career in that general area then she had the right temperament and personality. Which begged the question, was she really transsexual in the same sense that I was? Why didn't she want surgery to remove the male organ that Karen and Sarah so disliked to see on themselves? It will be interesting to see whether the next two episodes clarify this.
She made the men think. Donna really is very pretty and convincing as a girl, very vivacious, and was igniting pilot lights in the men's loins. She was pressing all the right buttons. One or two men found it disturbing. It made me wonder whether the wrong kind of man would find it so threatening that he'd want to retaliate in self-defence, as it he were being seduced against his will into what he might regard as 'gay sex'. Is that in fact the 'thing' men have against trannies, that they are sirens luring them onto the rocks? That their own suppressed gayness will be exposed to the unbearable scorn and ridicule of other men?
Drew had also been saying that she didn't see the need to have genital surgery, but in her case I'm inclined to think that she presently finds the thought of a drastic and irrevocable operation too enormous to cope with. As she emerges from her social isolation and gets more clued up on what can be done, maybe her fears will not hold her back so much. Again, something to watch for.
Sarah's coming out was rather a non-event, at least in the limited way that we saw it. There was a big build-up. Sarah was clearly very nervous (my goodness, I would have been). She later described her mum as 'red-faced' (and spluttering?) as she explained matters to her. But all we saw was a low-key private tete-a-tete in Sarah's car, in which her mum basically said little more than 'are you sure?' and 'all right then'. I felt we were sold short on that. Much more must have been said, and her mum must have been perfectly aware of the purpose of this meeting. I mean, there was for instance a camera crew in the back seat. It was all made to look far too quick, simple, and easy. That said, if it really was so easy, then all the better for Sarah.
And was the general public educated by any of this? I think not. I can't help feeling that its mental image of trans people has been confused further, and that there is much work to be done in the final two parts of the programme.
Where is the basic underlying reality that a transsexual is a driven person, unable to do anything else but find psychological relief in a different body and a different life? That all normal living is on hold until transition can be completed? That it isn't primarily about the clothes and makeup? That basically we are all desperate and leaping in to the dark? That we have faced black moments of despair and endured many hopeless and frustrating weeks and months (and maybe years) of delay? And that we may have been scarred by the prejudiced opposition of family, friends and neighbours? That some trans people have been routinely insulted and hurt and even murdered? Not just in far-away places but here in the UK? This bleak side of it hasn't yet come into the picture.
Will the viewers come away with the impression that trans people are uncomplicated, sweet and lovely, with a family safety net? People who can easily get help, and meanwhile can have a jolly good time?
And will they believe that their dreams of 'money for surgery' will be met with cash for appearing on MTS?
Actually, it would be interesting to know how this particular group of trans people came to be chosen for the programme. Will that be touched upon? What was the process? Were people like Drew really as closeted and hermit-like as they have been portrayed, and what was their precise motivation in putting themselves forward for the nation to examine?
Would you or I be seen as suitable candidates? And would we agree to participate if approached and shortlisted? I'm not sure I would.