Back in the fall, a documentary mini-series called My Transsexual Summer aired in the UK on Channel 4. It covered the day-to-day lives of four young trans people as they went about…well… being trans. This was generally advertised as a groundbreaking look at the realities of lived trans experience and an educational, non-judgmental look at an often sensationalized, stigmatized and misrepresented class of people. I imagine that for most cisgender viewers, that’s exactly how it was seen and received, too.
For trans people, however, the reaction was different. Some people thought it was alright, not bad, a fairly good, positve take on things and pretty low in the cissexist-bullshit and misrepresentation meters. Others reacted to it with a big giant “meh”, seeing it as just another in a very long line of documentaries claiming to show our strange, novel, exotic world to the idly curious cisgender public, knowing that it would undoubtedly hit all the usual tropes (shot of trans girl putting on make-up in the mirror? trans guy swigs a beer on his back porch?) and would, at best, be fodder for the trans documentary drinking game. And still another set were displeased, regarding it as just another act of appropriation, of cis producers making money exploiting trans lives.
I myself was in the “meh” category. Until I came across word that one of the men portrayed in the series, Max Zachs, had begun writing statements of anger and disappointment with the degree to which the stories, experiences and lives of the participants had been grossly edited and misrepresented by the producers. He began revealing extremely disturbing insights into the actual processes that occurred behind the scenes, citing one meeting where a producer chose to completely cut one segment of one of the girl’s stories on the grounds, and I quote, that it was “not heart-rending enough”.
He pointed out that none of the participants had been paid. At the time the contract was presented to him, he agreed to the terms, feeling that an honest and positive portrayal of trans lives to the British public would be compensation enough. That particular aspect of the bargain, however, ended up in his opinion not being met by the producers, which left him feeling (understandably) rather cheated. From what I understand, many of the other participants are in agreement and feel similarly.
In a really interesting development, though, a new project has begun in response. DIY Transsexual Summer is a grassroots project that emerged from twitter hoping to be a representation of trans experiences that is instead produced, edited and controlled by the participants and trans folk themselves, with the stories being presented on their own terms, in the light that they themselves feel is accurate and appropriate. Hopefully nothing will be heart-rending just for the sake of being heart-rending. The positive and joyous aspects of trans life, the mundane and not-all-that-different aspects, the non-sensational, the nitty-gritty, the things that end up on the cutting room floor of cisgender producers, could be included. A rare portrayal of trans experience from trans voices!
I’m extremely excited about this idea and would love to see it blossom into something tangible and terrific. To find out more about it, and offer whatever support you can, please go ahead and visit them at their Facebook page. For developments and updates as the project continues, you can follow it at twitter, @DIYtranssummer. I truly hope this project comes to fruition and ends up being every bit as great as it has the potential to be.