The Boy Who Was Born A Girl

Did anybody see this documentary? It was originally broadcast in September 2009, so I’m probably late to the praise party, but it was the first time in the UK that a family with a transgender child has agreed to be identified on camera and I don’t think they could have handled it much better.

It shows moments like the mother mixing up pronouns and getting her son’s name wrong then correcting herself, the son looking up breast binders and usable penises online, and them talking together about the ongoing harassment he received since going back to the same school he went to as a girl. It would have been so easy to put these negatives at the core of the documentary, but they couldn’t have picked better subjects: an optimistic, cheerful trans teenaged boy, and a warm, caring mother who is very open and honest about her grief over the loss of her daughter, both of whom obviously have a fundamentally good relationship.

It ends with images from a photoshoot they did together, their first as mother and son; the son is now comfortable with his gender presentation and satisfied with the journey it took to get there, though there have been hard times. The mother is proud and seems to have come completely to terms with the sadness she showed at the beginning of the documentary. A really upbeat end to a documentary that has been on its subjects’ sides from the start.

I am aware that I am basically approving of a ‘model minority’ view here, advocating that transgender subjects should be portrayed as stable, positive and maintaining excellent relations with friends and family. This is clearly unreasonable to expect of any teenaged boy, least of all one who is dealing with gender dysphoria, and obviously this has not always been the case. However, considering this was shown on primetime television I am pleased that mainstream Britain was given a positive and decidedly undramatic example of a transgender person living an ordinary (middle class) everyday life, and hope that it went some way to opening the eyes or changing the perspectives of people who have never been able to see it from this point of view before.

And that includes me. I’ve been having some body image and relationship worries lately, and it is a gentle slap on the wrist to remember that, for quite a few people, body image troubles are far more intense, distressing and constant than an occasional “I feel fat” quiver, and that there are people with relationship concerns with much more serious consequences than wondering whether or not my boyfriend is a forever guy and at what point I should start factoring babies into my five-year plan. Checking my privilege as we speak.

Of course though, I hope that someday trans people’s representation in the media will be frequent and nuanced enough that such praise is unnecessary and that the transgender teens who suffer from mental illness, disability, , troubled backgrounds and so on will also be able to have a voice without any concerns that they may be adversely affecting the public’s view of transgendered youth.

I also hope I haven’t said anything offensive here, as this is an area with which I’m still attempting to become more familiar. I imagine someone will correct me if I’ve made a mistake though.

[EDIT]: Just found this interview with the mother and son in which the son talks a little about being queer, bringing home a (presumably) male partner, enjoying wearing dresses as a part of role play and about paganism as his spirituality of choice for the way it frames and accommodates his identity. I’d love to see a follow-up documentary in which he talks more about these aspects of his gender identity which break away from the model minority view.


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