Gender Studies: Doc Series Premieres on Sundance Channel
September means back to school, and MTVN's Logo and the Sundance Channel are no exception. TransGeneration, which premieres September 20 on the Sundance Channel, follows the daily lives of four college students who are going through a gender transition. The series will air on Logo in the beginning of 2006.
Filmed over the course of the 2004-05 school year, the eight-part series delves into four students' challenges with academic and campus life as they move forward with their commitment to gender reassignment. The diversity of the film's four subjects is notable. They include Gabbi, a very open male-to-female sophomore at University of Colorado, Boulder; Raci, a Filipino, hearing-impaired, male-to-female freshman at California State Los Angeles; Lucas, a female-to-male senior at the all-women's Smith College; and TJ, an activist female-to-male graduate student at Michigan State.
Director/supervising producer Jeremy Simmons ( School's Out: The Life of a Gay High School in Texas; Gay Hollywood ) stresses, "We weren't trying to say, 'This is what it is to be transgender.' This series is about telling four different stories."
It took approximately three months to find the "cast." The production team began its search by reaching out to virtually every LGBT campus group in the country. The next step was widening the search to the Internet and using tools such as personal ads. The team also met a lot of people in the transgender community who gave personal referrals.
At first glance, the students seem to be dealing with the same problems every college kid faces. Messy dorm rooms, getting to class on time, discovering new ideas about the world and, of course, dating, are par for the course on any campus. However, when you throw gender reassignment into the mix, things take on a whole new level of complexity. What do you do when you are legally required to use the dorm bathroom assigned to the gender you no longer associate with? If you are a theater major and you have to do a scene where there's kissing, are you morally obligated to tell your partner about your gender background? How do you deal with body changes resulting not just from the dreaded "Freshman 15," but from hormone treatments? How does a tranny handle sorority rush?
One of the big issues that threads throughout the series is that of openness. In the first episode, Gabbi tells everyone exactly what the piece is about, but Raci chose to tell everyone that it's just a documentary about "women in college." Says Simmons, "Through the filmmaking process, the idea of being out or being closeted started to come up, and each student started to reveal themselves to us. It became a choice that the students had to make."
Simmons added that the project was one of the more difficult pieces he's done. "I think this is a really tough subject for parents, for friends, for loved ones. There's still not a lot of understanding about it, and people have a hard time going public with these types of things. These students are really courageous and rare in a way; they're saying 'This is who I am,' and putting that in front of the world. But doesn't mean their parents, friends, and schools want to do the same thing. And how can you make a documentary if those things aren't part of it? It speaks to what the students have to go through on a daily basis."
Transgeneration was produced by World of Wonder, Sundance Channel and Logo.
Tamara Krinsky is associate editor of Documentary magazine.