Monday, January 9, 2012

Transgender Kids - The Passionate Eye on CBC

Over the weekend I watched a re-run of a documentary on CBC news world's doc show "The Passionate Eye" about transgender kids, and I've got mixed feelings about the documentary.

It started with a disclaimer/warning that the narrator was going to use birth pronouns for the four trans kids in the documentary, which was kind of a warning sign, since one of the ways that trans people are discriminated against is with people using the wrong pronouns.

The documentary itself, when the narrator wasn't screwing up pronouns, was pretty good. All four of the families seemed incredibly supportive of their kids, which I can't imagine is very common. And the kids - because they are kids, maybe - were all awesome and adorable in the ways that kids are. I liked that they were given a lot of time to speak for themselves, and that the doc emphasized how "normal" (for lack of a better word) these kids are. I also appreciated how they let one kid show that she played with all kinds of toys, not just the toys that we assume are for girls...which matches most childhoods (including my own) that I know of. Maybe there are differences in play styles, but I played with legos and cars, but also with my little ponies and dolls, usually my cousins', when they were available. Kids like to play, and toys are toys to them.

The pronoun thing really grated. REALLY grated. I suppose I can see a rationale for it, as the program kept repeating how sometimes children changed their minds (but how many children change their minds? What are the differences between kids for whom the gender thing is a phase and for whom it is part of their identity? These questions are not dealt with), so maybe they hoped to avoid ambiguity by using the birth gender. But this is all wrong. There was no ambiguity in these kids' lives. They were living essentially as their desired genders and had been for years, with some exceptions made to probably avoid backlash from society, and their families called them by their correct genders throughout. It was just the narrator who stubbornly insisted on calling Chris, the teenage boy who loved that he had to shave at least once a week, a "she", and the adorable dancing red-headed girl (blanking on the names) a "he".

I don't know if it was worse that the narrator also stuck to this when talking about a grown man, Chris' mentor, who had undergone some elements of sex reassignment therapy and had been living as a man for years. But to the narrator, this person was also a "she" because he had been born that way forty years ago.

The biggest strength of the documentary, other than the kids themselves, was in showing how much these parents loved their children, and how committed they were to allowing their kids to have full lives by accepting and loving them as their children. A documentary on trans kids could very easily - more easily - show the more common, sadly, outcome where their identities are not understood or welcomed. Those stories still need to be told, but seeing how some families are able to demonstrate unconditional love and support, showing the ways that they do this, is worthy as well.

Documentaries like this one are so frustrating in that they can get some things, critical things, so right, but then they get other areas so completely wrong. To someone completely unfamiliar with trans issues, watching this documentary might make "the pronoun thing" seem even more confusing. Why does this mother call her child a "she" but the narrator, who we must trust to guide us through the documentary's world, keep using "he"?

In a perfect world, I would love for the producers of Transgendered Kids to go back to the footage and make a new, better documentary. The messages that need to get out are in there, but were really fumbled in what was probably post-production. But damn, those kids were great.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I recently watched this documentary and was somewhat upset with the rather annoying use of pronouns by the narrator. I was looking into whether CBC issues any sort of appology or reaction at all, considering they did recieve an open letter by Egale's Canda Trans committee pleading them to revise the narration in an otherwise well done documentary.

    I can't seem to find any respons oor public reaction other than your blog here and that single open letter, and I would like to know if you heard of any such reaction by chance.

    I realise this is somewhat old news, but the documentary just aired in my country for the first time and trans right here are especially sensitive as we are not a well developed western country.