“Becoming Chaz” Review: About a Boy or About a Body?

The extended trailer for Becoming Chaz (OWN Network, May 10, 2011):

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Chaz with the directors of "Becoming Chaz"

Last night I went to a friend’s house (because who can afford cable TV right?) to watch the premiere of Becoming Chaz, a documentary following the gender transition of Chaz Bono (Sonny and Cher’s 45-year-old child). Chaz was assigned female at birth and lived as a woman into his adult life, during which he identified as a lesbian. According to interviews, he started to realize he was transgender 10 years ago and decided to medically transition somewhat recently (within the past few years).

I want to take the time now to apologize to my friends whom I made sit through this hour and a half long snooze fest. The documentary itself was poorly-made and hardly engaging from a cinematic standpoint.

That said, I’m not really a film critic – instead, I want to focus on the film’s depiction of transition and the attitudes Chaz and others in the film express regarding transgenderism, etc.

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Much Ado About Surgery

Becoming Chaz very much approaches transgenderism as a medical condition. Something wrong that needs to be fixed. This is evidenced not only by the terminology used throughout the film, but also by the large amount of time dedicated to Chaz’s top surgery and hormone therapy. The surgery in particular is seen as the critical step to “becoming a man.” There are lots of tears streaming down faces (though not from Chaz of course, who clearly struggles daily to fit a masculine stereotype – for example, he doesn’t wear a purple shirt for an interview because it is too feminine), interviews with doctors, gory visuals of poking and prodding with needles, and seriously gross close-ups of the post-op drains, which I didn’t even want to see when they were my own, let alone someone else’s!

The film succeeded in capturing the intensity of the operation. Maybe because I remembered it from my own surgery, but I could really empathize with Chaz’s intense need for surgery, the nervousness and excitement as he was being prepped, and the relief afterwards.

BUT, I was really bothered by what a big deal this was made to be. I mean, yes it’s a big deal – it’s a huge deal for most of us in terms of need and relief. But not in terms of becoming a man. This whole documentary seemed to just resolidify the concept that trans men are women who feel like men and need to undergo “sex changes” in order to become men. In reality, we are men who have always to some degree been men, and some of us need to have medical intervention to change some things about our body so we are seen as the men we’ve always been.

Chaz celebrated his one year anniversary of top surgery as his “Manniversary.” The most important part of my transition was not the day I had top surgery. It was not the day I started testosterone therapy. It was not the day my name and gender marker were legally changed. I think it was the day after my graduation from college, when my family got food from a local deli, went to a beautiful park, and celebrated my emerging identity as Sebastian. We called it “Welcoming Sebastian Into the World.” We weren’t commemorating a sex change (by the way, this is a pretty outdated and inaccurate term) or even any sort of medical intervention, and my name was still legally Sarah. We were celebrating the maleness that had always been within me and most importantly, we were celebrating that I now had the chance to show it to the world.

I think this is the important thing I want the non-trans world to understand about transition. The triumph of transition is not the act of a singular sex change, it is a gradual process of letting out what has always been within. And though this is verbalized a little in the movie (largely by Chaz’s sponsor who explains it as him “coming out of his shell,” for example), the filmmakers’ focus on surgical procedures and testosterone injections and Chaz’s own medicalized descriptions of his transition really distract from any depiction of his real journey or identity.

And though Chaz talks about his lack of a female identity as he looks through photos of himself from before transition, the filmmakers seem less interested in the development of his gender identity and more in his physical changes – the focus stays on what he looked like then compared to now. The sensationalism that drives most popular media stories of trans people really directs audiences’ attention to what or who we “used to be.” “Female-to-male.” “She becomes a he.” And so on. I definitely saw that in this documentary.

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All About Testosterone

And the really problematic issues of this documentary came directly from Chaz and his partner, who have some archaic ideas of gender. It’s clear in their conversation that they continue to see gender in terms of a binary. To Jenny and Chaz, there are women and men and boy are they different. There are few things I hate more than highly public discussions of how testosterone changes your personality.

According to the film, after T, Chaz lost some softness, became angrier, less tolerant of the annoying things “women do” (like “chit chat” or “worry about how fruit should be set out on the table for brunch…”), less sweet, more stubborn, and always needed to be right – traits his partner said were typical of men.

I’ve never bought into this concept that men and women are so inherently different and that it is so much a result of our physiological makeup that changing our testosterone and estrogen levels can seriously alter who we are mentally and emotionally. I mean honestly this is absurd. I know lots of sweet non-trans men whose testosterone levels are normal. I know lots of not-soft non-trans women whose bodies aren’t just rolling in excess T.

At one point, Chaz says that for the comfort he now feels in his body, it was worth the “trade-off.” As a trans man, let me just set the record straight here – there is not necessarily a trade off. Testosterone did not make me into some aggressive, misogynstic, irritable, rageful dude. Hormones do impact us in many ways and people who struggle with these things already may lose their ability to control them as well when they have more T pumping through them. But seriously, it is not a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde situation, and for most of us there isn’t any noticeable change.

T doesn’t transform us into beasts that need to hump everything and it also doesn’t mean that there aren’t women out there who can match us in our horniness. I think he needs to visit Smith College.

My favorite (read: least favorite) of these “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” bits of dialogue was when Chaz discussed his increased sex drive. He talks about being hornier and says “I’m so sorry women can’t feel it.” REALLY Chaz? You think women never feel horny? I found this comment to be so patronizing (he was talking to a lesbian couple at the time) and just ridiculous. I mean, yes, testosterone increases your sex drive. It is one of the first things trans men usually notice. But it doesn’t transform us into beasts that need to hump everything and it also doesn’t mean that there aren’t women out there who can match us in our horniness. I think he needs to visit Smith College.

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Getting Personal

Now all this said, the film did get some things right. Despite its “I have this condition so I’m going to do this and this to fix it” narrative, Becoming Chaz is pretty honest about how little Chaz ultimately has figured out. He’s still early in transition and is a recovering addict and comes off very adolescent in his dealings with the rest of the world. He plays a lot of video games, doesn’t seem to have very many friends, struggles with his girlfriend, and as far as I can tell, hasn’t held a job. His transition didn’t solve all his problems and I value a film that honestly portrays that reality.

Becoming Chaz was also pretty honest in its portrayal of how family members handle and don’t handle a loved one’s transition. Cher is eerily missing from most of the movie. We see her only in a single interview, which is spliced throughout the film, and in a clip of her appearance on the Letterman Show. In the interview she only uses female pronouns. A writer for the Washington Post said it best, when she observed that Cher seems to handle this as a diva first and a mother second.

photo by Patrick Fraser for The Advocate

It is hard for parents to have a trans child. The most honest moment in the film, in my opinion, was Cher talking about calling Chaz and hearing his voicemail in his old voice. She seems like she is about to cry as she says that “hearing her voice and knowing I’ll never hear it again” was the hardest and most real part of this for her. I remember having the same conversation with my mother and ex-girlfriend.

I appreciate that the film acknowledges that it is hard for parents, but it also doesn’t let Cher off the hook. Chaz visits a support group for parents of trans children and we see mothers and fathers who are struggling with the tough parts so that their kids can be supported and cared for, as they truly need to be. It is clear that Cher, the Diva, is simply refusing to engage in this struggle, and I think audience members will see how hard that it is on Chaz and feel real sympathy for him.

And yes, Becoming Chaz was informative. People who watched it now have a sense of what a transmasculine medical transition look likes. They probably have a slightly better understand of what it feels like at times. There were some great soundbites and scenes that I think will really click with Oprah-viewers. I love that we see Chaz reconnecting with family and old friends that he had lost as he withdrew and became completely isolated. We can see that his transition has given him a new comfort with and understanding of himself that has allowed him “become part of the world” again, as his partner’s parents put it. And even Cher, though she has yet to hop on the “Chaz is a man” train, has a great quote about being trans: “I’m so female. I’m such a woman. And if I woke up feeling the way I do and looked down and was in a different body, I’d be like, GET ME OUTTA HERE. The change couldn’t come soon enough.”

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In Conclusion:

But still, I am really disappointed, because this film could have done so much more. It reestablished narratives about transition that I don’t like and I feel like don’t represent me and a bulk of trans people and it essentialized gender and gendered characteristics. I just feel like Becoming Chaz presents an outdated view of gender and gender transition and sets non-trans people up to pat themselves on the back for using male pronouns when talking about Chaz even though they know what he “used to be” or even worse what he “really is.” I don’t think anyone without prior trans education will watch this documentary and understand that Chaz is as much of a man as a non-trans man, which is a real shame, because that is the kind of education and awareness-raising that needs to be happening now.

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Sebastian has written 16 articles for us.

86 Comments

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    I didn’t watch the show as I don’t really care about him, I mean good for him on being a public figure and still deciding to transition but I don’t identify with him so I don’t keep up with his story. But this is rather frustrating that he said Testosterone changes your personality when it really doesn’t I spent a good week of arguing with my mum that I would be the same exact person just happier and more comfortable with interacting with the world around me. I think that he is just being hyper-masculine (as is common with some trans guys) and trying to fight off every feminine aspect of life as if somehow that will cement them as men. We all just need to find a good balance, I mean I identify as a straight male but damnit I still jam to an old Spice Girl song with my friend now and again and I am not ashamed lol any who now that i rambled hope some of it makes a little bit of sense.

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    Great feedback, Sebastian. It’s quite unfortunate that the only 2 “public” transmen in the media (real Chaz and fictitious Max) reinforce the “machismo” bullshit stereotype, but reading the articles you and Oliver have written are comforting. Hopefully, with Chaz’s situation becoming more public, there will be an opportunity for more transmen and transwomen to speak up for the whole community.

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    DIdn’t watch the film since I don’t have cable. But I hope people won’t be hard on Chaz, he’s only telling his own story and feelings and remember that the film and its producers are cis peeps, not trans. That cis people (even World of Wonder, the production company which made the film… and also made the excellent ‘Transgenerations’ mini-series) are NOT trans. It’s people who haven’t been though these experiences speaking, editorializing and interpreting someone who has. Moreover, we haven’t seen all the footage which wasn’t used which might put a very different spin on what was said. It’s also important to remember that, yes, people who are relatively early in whatever their transition process entails are not always the best people to digest and process their identities and certainly, to not speak about the trans community as a whole.

    Furthermore, as I’ve written about in my media blog, Oprah, much as she does to expose trans issues, has a long history of trying to control trans narratives, basically ask questions she’s already answered for herself and is distinctly uncomfortable with a lot of the topics surround trans people no matter how many she’s had on her show. So, yes, she has some compassion, but her attitudes towards the subject matter haven’t evolved and she dumbs down the subject matter (I actually had a trans friend on the show, and the show’s producer used the phrase “dumb it down”). As soon as I heard the Chaz film was to be presented by OWN, I knew the content… it’s always the same. :(

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      Yes I think the narrative was very much directed by the producers and filmmakers. THOUGH Chaz was a producer and his PR director was behind the film, as well.

      I also don’t want to hate on Chaz, because first of all, I want to stand in solidarity (as much as possible) with all trans people, particularly those working for trans rights and visibility, and because he has had it extra hard, having to do all of this completely in the public.

      Still, I will continue to call him and Jenny out on their statements about gender.

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        the worst part is i’ve watched him in other interviews and that is something he does consistently. look, i don’t care that’s the way he is, but i don’t want other people to assume all trans men are like him, which they will

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        The cis dudes I know who make these kinds of “me Tarzan, you Jane” statements seem also to be deeply anxious about their masculinity… their offensive assertion of it seems to be a defensive gesture at heart, if that makes sense.

        I find myself wondering whether that’s what’s going on with Chaz, though I obviously don’t know him well enough to do more than speculate. If so, it could be for a lot of reasons which may not relate to being trans at all, obviously it isn’t for cis men. Alternately, it might be a response to a society that tells him he’s not “really” a man b/c he wasn’t born with a particular set of genitalia and a support network still struggling to accept him for who he is. In which case I could kinda forgive it and just pray he can grow into the man he is and that those around him will help him do it.

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          This is exactly what I was thinking. On the one hand, it makes me feel bad for him and, like you said, hope that he can work it out so that he doesn’t feel like he has to be hypermasculine. On the other hand, it’s still extremely frustrating that he says stuff like that because it doesn’t help anyone.

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      the problem i have with chaz is this – yes, we can recognize he is only telling HIS story of transition. however, 95 percent of people who will watch this film are going to think that’s the way transition is for EVERYONE

      and chaz isn’t off the hook with that. i’ve watched him in interviews many times before. he makes assumptions and i don’t like the way he words things. he doesn’t really reinforce that it’s just HIS story of HIS transition and often times makes statements that are general for other trans men, which isn’t cool because i don’t relate to him at all and i don’t want him speaking for me.

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        The thing is, the trans man/trans masculine community is represented quite a bit less in media than trans women/trans feminine people are (mostly for reasons of sexual exploitability). Because of that, the range of trans men depicted is still fairly narrow. We there a wider range of representations than Chaz or Max on L World, what Chaz says wouldn’t mean so much.

        But please remember that trans women, for years, have had Jerry Springer shows, murder victims, tricking men into sex, men in dresses (which is their own identity, but not a trans woman) “representing” us. We’ve had Renee Richards spouting transphobic bs, Susan Stanton sounding like a republican and “Ticked Off Trannies with Knives” all supposedly representing who were are. And on some level, they do represent a micro-slice of the community… you can find almost anyone who represents almost anything. Chaz is still fairly new to his transition and to expect him to be who we want him to be is in some ways unfair. It’s kind of pathetic in our celeb-obsessed world that his transition and life is somehow deigned to be more important than yours or some other trans mans… but welcome to fucked up world of cis media. Try talking to David Letterman (or Oprah) about the true complexities of gender identity and expression and you’d see in a second they could care less except how it gets them get viewers.

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    Bravo, Sebastian. Bravo!

    I was unable to watch the documentary, but you did an excellent job of summing it up with some much needed perspective. I just hope this is the beginning of something bigger.

    It feels like such a small baby step (and I say that as a cis woman) but hopefully this little trickle of representation in popular media, will lead to the floodgates bursting open and a real discussion on gender and gender transition will be able to start!

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    I watched this film. I thought it was great. It explains a lot to me. I learned a lot as a parent. You don’t know what someone is going through unless you been there beside them or in their shoes. I hope as the years goes on that he will be happy and healthy. It is a blessing that someone like him are out there will to share his story. Thank you Chaz!

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    Dear Sebastian,
    Thanks for your insightful and enlightening review of the documentary. I watched it the night it aired and like you felt that from a cinimatic point of view it wasn’t really all that interesting. It definitely simplified the steps often taken by transmen e.g. therapy, hormones, surgery, name change, etc. for those who may not have any previous knowledge.

    Personally I was really shocked at some of the quotes directly from Chaz including the one regarding male vs. female sex drive. I’m sure part of it is him continually evovling into his new self but it was saddening to hear. I was also saddened at times to see how he related and/or spoke to his girlfriend — at times it felt like he was excusing the behavior because of the hormones.

    I appreciate Oprah’s willingness to air his story but I feel like asking Chaz, “Ok, now what?” How will he help the trans community? I wonder if he is willing to become a public adovacate or if he would prefer to remain out of the spotlight.

    Thanks again for always providing great insight!

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    Well written write-up, Sebastian! I haven’t seen the movie but I’ve heard similar comments out there from people who have. Transition is something that’s so uniquely personal that it’s a rare thing indeed to be able to truly see yourself reflected in someone else’s story. Lots of trans men DO subscribe to a gender binary and see their trans-ness as a medical condition. While the film may reinforce some things that don’t necessarily serve trans* folks in general, it’s just one man’s story. It’s a representation that’s probably much more “comfortable” to the general public than Beatie’s story, and that could be a valuable opening for more gender education and awareness. Expecting any one person (or one movie) to represent “the community” will always be a disappointment.

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    I haven’t seen it as yet, so was interested in your review. But surely this is from Chaz’ perspective. As for the sex drive comments again surely Chaz is only expressing his point of view on how the testosterone has affected him compared to the sex drive of his female self. So to him, maybe he has generalised on how this affects a person from his own experience. It is his story, one of which was always going to be in the public eye. So good luck to him and I wish him all the happiness in the world.

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      I do wish him good luck but I wish he had been more supportive of the trans community in it, and qualified that his point of view was HIS and not that of all transmen, because a lot of people who might never have met or heard the story of a trans person will watch this and make conclusions about all trans people from it. I felt like that was lacking from the video.

      His perspective on sex drive is interesting. Perhaps because he was uncomfortable with his body he didn’t feel too much of a sex drive? I’m not trans so I am not going to say I know anything for sure, but it’s an interesting thought. I know that body image issues definitely makes some cis women less horny, so I think it’s plausible this could be happening for some transmen pre-transition.

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    Sebastian, all discussion aside on how Chaz views gender roles and such, what is your opinion of his top surgery?

    I don’t want to sound like a petty gossip, but my first thought when looking at his pictures are “You may not like the idea of having boobs, but that is not how a large man’s chest looks.”

    I’m a gay guy who’s into men of size, so I could spot that a mile away.

    My other qualm with this whole physical transformation is that if he could afford to take steps to switch genders, why not also focus on his overall physical health?

    I mean, I understand weight proportion is often based on one’s genes, but taking a look at his parents, I wouldn’t guess it. I can’t help but think too that whatever money he may have spent on getting surgery could have also been spent on a personal trainer or something.

    Please don’t think I’m just calling him out on being “fat,” but it just makes me wonder what his idea of physical health is.

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      Hey Chris – I feel like I do not know enough about his story to speak to most of yr questions, but I can say that we learn in the movie that he had to borrow money from his sponsor to pay for top surgery (which runs about 7500 at the surgeon he chose). So I don’t know that he is exactly in the best financial situation.

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        Well, as I was trying to say, the purpose of posting on the subject wasn’t to say, hey we should all point and laugh.

        I’m just saying it’s alarming that he has what I would view as a distorted perspective on what the larger male body naturally looks like.

        I mean, men have tits too. Looking at the pictures (esp. the first one) you could come to the conclusion that Chaz thought men’s chests were concave.

        As far as the “weight” thing, I think Sebastian makes a fair assessment. His priorities are his own and who am I to criticize that?

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          “I’m just saying it’s alarming that he has what I would view as a distorted perspective on what the larger male body naturally looks like.
          I mean, men have tits too. Looking at the pictures (esp. the first one) you could come to the conclusion that Chaz thought men’s chests were concave.”

          I can agree with this. I see men with big breasts all the time. Larger men have breasts, they don’t have flat chests. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s the way it is

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      Yes, but you have to realize that quite frankly as trans guys we are not really going to care all that damn much. We’ve lived life with our breasts being like bigass flashing signals of LOL GIRL LOLOLOLOL and even if removing them doesn’t look like a “traditional male chest” – it’s not like dysphoria is logical, is it? I know, logically, that my hairless legs are just hairless because I’m Asian and my family is all kind of hairless but I still feel dysphoric about them because I am comparing myself to other men and other men tend to have hairy legs. I know that yeah, I could just be any other XY guy with gynecomastia, but people use those breasts as reasons to call me a girl. Which is untrue.

      Secondly, re: overall physical health – again, as trans people, we tend not to give a shit. If someone gave me a pill and told me that either tomorrow it would ensure me a long life free of any kind of disease or health problem or whatever, or it would remove my tits and scratch twenty years off my life, I would pick the latter option. When a trans person has bad dysphoria they can’t help but prioritize their mental health over their physical.

      tl;dr Our idea of physical health is what’s good for us and it is usually completely different from a cis person’s, mostly because we kind of have to deal with bodies that Do Not Work Fucking Well At All

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        “Secondly, re: overall physical health – again, as trans people, we tend not to give a shit.”

        WHOA please watch your assumptions/generalizations. not cool. I have always cared about my overall physical health even pre-transition and post-medical transition I care even more because men have shorter lifespans in general and more health problems (cardiovascular disease in particular)

        not trying to be a dick but your comment is filled with assumptions and generalizations. I get that’s how you feel, but you can’t really speak for all trans folk. especially because plenty of trans folk do not medically transition and are no less men or women

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          whoops, sorry, I was kind of whipping out a reply there in between doing homework, seem to have fucked up a bit – sorry about that. should’ve stuck more “I” statements in there, yeah

          I mean, I also totally get what you’re saying re: health because yeah, I am a bit concerned about my health too since I’m already at a high risk for diabetes and testosterone might mess that up a bit – so I do know where you’re coming from.

          when I said “we don’t give a shit” I meant that trans people have a different perspective on their health and medical decisions, and trying to push a cis person’s priorities on us is a bit useless, because at least for me in relation to my overall health my transitional health takes an extremely high priority. but yeah, again, should’ve specified that that was my thing and not everyone’s.

          And I was under the impression that we were only talking about trans people who pursue medical transition, so I wasn’t really talking about non-op people that much.

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            ah ok, no worries, I get what you mean now. I pursued medical transition knowing that it may mean a shorter life span (generally speaking of course because male lifespans are a few years shorter than women on average, but of course that’s not always the case). I knew it would increase RBC count, increase bad cholesterol, increase risk of cardiovascular disease, etc but obviously my mental health was more important, so I totally get what you were saying now in that regard. But I definitely did care a lot about my health pre-T and I care about it a ton now. When I went on T I completely changed my diet around and started exercising to offset the negative effects

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      Chris, my only comment would be to argue that how Chaz wants his body to look is not accessible to anyone outside himself. Firstly, I think it’s problematic to assume that just because he is the size he is means that he doesn’t take care of himself. There could be a variety of other factors at work which are less visible, etc.

      Secondarily, to talk about his weight in the context of his transition is, I think, irrelevant– there are PLENTY of people who are “fat positive” and comfortable in their own skins in both/any/all genders.

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    Thanks for the recap and criticism, Sebastian. As a gender questioning / genderqueer person, I’m often discouraged by these kinds of binary-reinforcing representations of trans identity. It’s nice to hear a trans man speak up for people like me.

    Also I really like your blog. :D

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    i’m a long time lurker here and i’m pretty sure this is only the second time i’ve commented on the internet ever, but i feel a powerful need to say thank you for everything you said about hormones and the manner in which gender is sometimes essentialized in the context of transition narratives. as a genderqueer butch type person i appreciate you making those things part of this discussion.

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    This is great Sebastian, thank you.

    On a more personal note, I met with a filmmaker last weekend who flew up from LA to discuss his ideas about a documentary. We talked about the shortcomings of many mainstream depictions of the trans* experience like in ‘Becoming Chaz’.

    I’m not sure if anything will come of this, but he promised that I’d have full creative control so we’ll see! If nothing else, he gave me a free video camera :)

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    reading this and thinking about what was missing in the documentary made me think about “subconscious sex”, a term julia serano coins in “whipping girl.” reading that was one of my “a-ha!” moments in more thoroughly understanding the trans experience and I feel like that’s what’s missing from shows like this who prefer to focus on safer, more tangible ideas like the physical body. Maybe it’s just too cerebral for mainstream TV to understand, they just prefer to focus on ideas the audience already understands like “what a male/female body looks like” or “male sex drive.” Mainstream TV oversimplifies and disregards complicated ideas — like bisexuality, too — every day. It becomes problematic, however, when this failure to responsibly communicate the truth of somebody’s life contributes to misperceptions about an already-oppressed/marginalized/silenced group of people.

    anyhow!
    subconscious sex: A subconscious, intrinsic, self-understanding that all people experience regarding their own sex embodiment. Cissexuals tend not to notice or appreciate their own subconscious sex because it is concordant with their physical sex (and therefore they tend to conflate for two). In contrast, trans people tend to be excruciatingly aware of their subconscious sex (as it is at odds with their physical sex). Trans people most often describe their subconscious sex as an intrinsic, inexplicable, deeply felt understanding that there is something “wrong” with the sex they were born into, or that they should be (or wish they could become) the other sex.

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      Hmm, that’s a really interesting term Riese, thanks for posting…

      As someone who has always “conflated the two”, I find it both illuminating and problematic (probably the hardest thing for me to understand when it comes to transgender issues is “feeling” like a particular gender at all – I have never felt like a woman, besides the fact that I have a vagina, and c’est la vie).

      I have, however, felt like /not/ a woman or felt like a man at certain points in my life…but I do not identify as transgender. So, the term makes sense in that way – most of the time, my subconscious sex aligns with my physical one, and all is well. If there were more moments that it felt discordant, then things would be different.

      But, a part of me thinks it’s a “cop out” term, ya know? It addresses this “problem” (the problem of people who claim to just not giving a damn and live with what they “have”…i.e. ‘I got boobs, so I’ll learn to love ‘em, even though I don’t give an f about being female on a deeper level’). But it doesn’t address the contradictions (what about cis people who DO feel very much like a woman, or very much like a man…like Cher…who said if she woke up in a men’s body, she would want to get the f out?). Maybe some people just DON’T have a very strong subconscious sex, or really don’t have one at all?

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    Thank you for this Sebastian.

    Honestly, many of the comments I have heard Chaz make made me uncomfortable. He has a very gendered way of thinking that I find problematic.

    My friends who have transitioned medically are not noticeable different (personality wise) from hormones, other than of course being happier and more confident. It’s really problematic how Chaz makes comments about how going on testosterone made him more interested in gadgets/technology (and all of the other things he said which are just ridiculous and not even scientifically accurate)

    I also really didn’t like his comment about women’s sex drives and women not being able to feel the way a horny man feels.

    Many people I’ve known who went on testosterone didn’t even have a marked difference in sex drive. I think age has a lot to do with it. Chaz is an older guy, he transitioned at a much later age. If you transition at say, 19 or 20 or 21 you probably already have a fairly high sex drive, so going on testosterone may not make it extremely noticeably higher. Whereas transitioning at age 45 and all of a sudden having the hormonal levels of a 19 or 20 year old man is going to be a noticeable change

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      Speaking as someone who went the opposite direction: coming off T changed my sex drive but it didn’t make me less sexual/interested in sex. It’s different: in my experience it’s as if there is suddenly less pressure/you don’t feel the physical itch to the same degree, even if it doesn’t alter your inclination and feelings. From my standpoint it actually improved the feeling, because I generally felt better and I felt it put me in greater control: it made it easier to be sexual. I imagine a trans-man could have the same reaction going the opposite way.

      There’s no reason to suppose all bodies respond the same way, of course. And age could well be a factor too.

      I’ve not seen the documentary but it does sound as if Chaz is either trying to respond to a masculine stereotype, or is responding to his transition by no longer suppressing characteristics of his that happen to be stereotypical. I like Sebastian’s stance: this is Chaz’s journey ultimately, but we need to challenge the unversality with which it is presented (and the obsession documentaries have with physical transition). I’m sure some good will still come from the program.

      The puberty comparison is good: quite apart from the physical aspect, a lot of trans people I’ve met, myself included, can veer to gendered extremes, and generally hunt around a bit to find ways to express our emerging identity during transition. It’s not unlike adolescence in that sense, and some people do seem to have a smoother ride than others.

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    My recording of the doc cut off a little early, so I still need to watch maybe the last 10-15 minutes. The doc really resonated with me at the beginning when he was talking about shutting himself off to the world and television characters becoming his friends. It’s been hard for me to break away from being that person through my discomfort with being perceived as masculine lesbian girl vs. what I am which is a sensitive dude that likes girls. But I was definitely turned off from it when Chaz started acting more hyper-masculine. My Dad wasn’t very present growing up, so my mom was who I looked up to even though I was a major tomboy. I am very male in everything I do, but I like to be sensitive and polite. I like love stories in movies in addiction to comedy and action, etc. So, anyways, I wasn’t digging the stereotypes, but I guess it’s nice that the information is getting out there.

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    I haven’t seen the documentary, so I can’t comment explicitly on what’s in it; but I have been reading a lot about it, and I agree with you that many of Chaz’s comments about gender and how he changed after starting testosterone are obnoxious and, often, frankly misogynistic.
    I wonder if you’ve listened to the great This American Life episode about testosterone. One of the stories is about a transman, and he talks about how he changed after he started taking testosterone. I’m just paraphrasing, as I can’t remember exactly what he says, but I think he talks about having an increased sex drive and developing an interest in science. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I found his account far less obnoxious than Chaz’s. Maybe it’s because he seems really apologetic about conforming so perfectly to gender stereotypes.
    Anyway, I was just wondering if you’d listened to it, and if so, what you thought. Here’s the link:
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/search?keys=testosterone
    (The whole episode is worth listening to, actually. There’s another story about a guy who, for some medical reason, stopped producing testosterone AT ALL, which is really fascinating).

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      I mean, testosterone does increase sex drive, scientifically and medically speaking, but that’s not to say that all men have high sex drives and women have low sex drives. There’s an overlap. In general it’s best to stay away from that sort of essentialism, which clearly Chaz has not done. In my personal experience my sex drive did increase from testosterone, but it was high before I went on T, so it wasn’t this crazy huge difference. And there are plenty of women I know with sex drives just as high as mine. And there are plenty of dudes with low sex drives, it’s all relative. Testosterone can also cause mad acne, but you wouldn’t say “if only women knew what acne feels like” (like Chaz said about the sex drive thing..) because plenty of women have acne too.. that’s probably a poor analogy but yeah

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        Feeling profound body incongruence, and having unexpressed intense feelings of needing to transition can be big time sexual suppressants. Finally feeling as if you’re on the road towards getting where you need to be and experiencing the right changes in your body is very liberating and can free your mind to enjoy sexual contact more. There are a lot of aspects of transition which can potentially impact your libido one way or another. After I had a SRS (and therefore had extremely low testosterone) I felt the most sexual I’ve ever felt. So much of it is the spirit getting nourished with what it’s lacked up until now and that’s an emotional sexual stimulant as much as any hormone.

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      I was thinking about that episode while reading this post and all the comments. Actually, the one about the man with no testosterone stuck with me the most. I heard it when it first aired (I was ten) and that guy basically having no personality, but looking at everything and thinking “that is beautiful” in the most boring, unaffected voice remained with me for nine years. I have a hard time believing T has nothing to do with your personality after listening to that piece.

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    I think everyone should watch ‘The Boy Who Was Born A Girl’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ax7M2tIaShg

    Ignore the clunky title, Channel 4 has a habit of producing deeply moving documentaries about the humanity and stories of people on the edge of society and then naming them things like ‘Two-ton man’.

    The doc is only half an hour and follows Jon and his mum throughout the first few months of hormone therapy. And just…the relationship between them. The way his mum obviously loves and accepts him so much but still finds it hard and does not want to let go of the child she feels she has lost in his transition, and the way Jon is so much a typical teenage boy rolling his eyes at his mum for not knowing what packing is, as if she said something deeply uncool as parents are wont to do.

    It’s just beautiful. Watch plz.

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    I honestly don’t think that I will watch the show, mostly because I doubt that I’ll learn anything new. There are already so many stories out there like Chaz’s and not nearly enough like mine. Maybe because I don’t know what my own story is yet? Hmmm.

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    Thank you, Sebastian! This was wonderful.

    There were so many unfortunately not thought out comments, even in the trailer. “So few people struggle with any kind of gender identity.”

    Really, Chaz? I was under the impression that everyone has a gender identity.

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    My mom, when I asked about Sonny and Cher, said they had a daughter named Chastity and that she had gotten a sex change. :( I was like, “So, they have a son, not a daughter, he’s transgendered.” And she goes, “No, they have a daughter as far as Im concerned that just got a sex change and its wrong *rant starts*”

    I think its shitty how homophobic people are to things they cant understand, like..for me, I dont struggle with gender, I know that much and I cant imagine but like.. I cant say I think its wrong, we cant prevent whats chemical right? I mean my parents, they are telling me that all these years, my feelings for girls, its just a phase because of my age. I dont know anymore. I just dont, so confused.

    Although, I enjoy how you summed it up Sebastian. I havent seen the documentary myself, just heard about Chaz a fair bit.

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    Really? Regardless of the subject, this is the most asinine pile of gibberish I’ve read in years. You should have never quit your job at McDonalds.

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    Know what would be nice? If a mature, educated, and willing transgender advocate got to do a documentary, instead of some random Z-list celebrity who seems completely out of touch, doesn’t care how they come across, is unaware of their influence, and doesn’t even want to be an advocate.

    Oh, and it would also be nice for some of these filmmakers and talk show hosts to actually talk about the gatekeeping and legal obstacles and abject misery that some trans people are put through, like my girlfriend in Norway who will only be allowed to transition if she’s deemed “passable” before even starting hormones, or people who can never get their birth certificates changed, or people who get threatened and beaten, or people who get hassled by the cops. Lea T., not exactly an experienced advocate, apparently shocked Oprah when she said that she needed approval to get GRS. Oprah’s had how many trans people on her show, and she didn’t know that we can’t just say “Ooh, I want hormones, I want surgery” and get it done the next day? Really Oprah?

    Also, to Chaz: I’m a trans woman and my sex drive is much better now, thank you very much. Maybe if you’d actually paid attention to the trans community instead of going off on your own and speaking for people you barely seem to know at times, you’d have found out that most trans people of either major gender have the same experience, and that it’s not about testosterone vs. estrogen so much as feeling right vs. feeling bad.

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    I saw Chaz do an interview with Dr. Drew tonight. I was actually impressed and kinda felt bad for criticizing him. He was a little better spoken this time and didn’t do so much stereotyping. I think he’s helping, overall.

    Also, I keep hearing about Dirt. They seem like a jerk, whoever they are. Why do we even care what this person thinks?

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        This chick makes my skin crawl. I don’t understand how you could possibly identify as queer in any way while simultaneously perpetuating discrimination and hatred of others.

        Shit like this makes me so insanely pissed off that I know I should cut this comment before it turns into an uncontrollable profusion of profanity.

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    I recently watched the doc “Becoming Chaz”. I am a proud parent of a newly transitioning trans man scheduled to have chest surgery this coming Summer. I found your review very helpful on many levels. The documentary did help with preparing me for what to expect post surgery in caring for my son. Perhaps if the doc had explained the full spectrum of gender that exists, it would have better illustrated that Chaz’s experience as a transgendered human being is his own, and does NOT represent all transgendered people. My understanding is that while some of us remain fixed within the spectrum, others do not remain fixed on the spectrum. I know we still have much to learn and many ways to grow in coming to fully understand what being transgendered means. My feeling is that although the doc may have offended many transgendered people who did not feel properly represented, what Chaz has done has taken a lot of courage, something no openly transgendered person is short of, and while it did not represent well the diversity within the transgendered community, it has given some awareness to a segment of the population that would, very sadly, otherwise, perhaps have be fearfull, and or have little interest in learning anything about what it means to be transgendered. I do admire that Chaz was gracious in allowing his family and friends to have their own response/experience to his transition, without being offended or taken back. I know it has to be hard when your mom is not on board, but Chaz exhibited a high level of respect and candor in regards to his mom needing to take things slowly. It may have been “dumb ed down”, however, the doc has opened the door. People fear what they do not know. It is very hard to educate people that are narrow minded, but we have to start somewhere, and “Becoming Chaz” is a start in the right direction. It is very unfortunate that we live in such a binary oriented society. This is a complex subject that the a large section of the population needs much education about. The processing of understanding what it means that someone is transgendered, from the perspective of many people in our society who have not benefit of being brought up to be open minded and tolerant, is a huge transition in itself for our society. It will take time and tenacity and many voices emerging to better represent the intelligent, articulate and varied transgendered community as a whole.

  25. Pingback: Review: Becoming Chaz | Born Like This

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    I saw the movie and I loved it. It is appropriately titled “Becomeing Chaz”, as it is simply a documentary about his experience. I don’t think he owes you or our community any apologies if he didn’t address YOUR issues, or reflect YOUR feelings about being transgender. Chaz didn’t ask to be Sonny & Cher’s kid, or to be trans. He is doing our community a HUGE service to be so open, honest, and public about his transition. He cannot be everything to everybody though. For transgenderism to gain more understanding and acceptance, it is up to each of us to be equally open, out, and honest and genuine about sharing our experiences to the degree that each of us can. Nobody would watch a documentary about my transition, so I don’t make one. However… my friends, family, coworkers, etc usually WILL listen to me sharing my stories about my transition so I share them when I can. That’s all Chaz did, and it’s exactly what each of us should be doing. Nobody’s gonna be your hero, man. Nobody except you.

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    You took the words right out of my mouth and my brain!! Everything you said is exactly everything I have been saying since I happened to catch this film on TV. So thank you for that.

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