The T Word goes beyond what has been seen in scripted media and shows the current lives of Trans youth.
Trigger Warning(s): Suicide
Review (with Spoilers)
As we see Trans representation grow in TV programs like Orange is the New Black and TransParent, as well as see books like Redefining Realness get released with support from mainstream media, it is easy to forget that there are actual people out there whose life hasn’t been as privileged as what we often see. For while Sophia in Orange is the New Black is in prison, her womanhood is validated through being sent to a woman’s prison; she has some support through her wife, and her being trans is only an issue really when it comes to providing her hormones. Though, for the young people we meet, there are various issues which haven’t fully been seen, outside of perhaps Lex on House of Lies and Gun Hill Road.
Characters & Story
As Laverne Cox narrates, we are introduced to various young Trans Americans, whose ages vary from 12 to their early 20s, and they are asked to talk about how life has been since the discovery they were Trans till now. Leading us through a series of question and answer segments in which we explore how being Trans has affected their dating and sex life; how it has affected their families; how it has affected their education; and how, especially for the Trans Women, how it has affected their safety.
For the documentary shows that while all Trans people suffer from discrimination, there is a level of discrimination almost unique to Trans Women which makes it so they cannot openly express their sexuality without being seen as a sex worker and, when they are victims, their ability to claim such a word is questioned due to ignorance. And I would give you the names, who says what and go into more detail, but I would really like for you to see this.
The best thing about this documentary is that it pretty much covers all the bases and Lavern Cox makes for a good, for a lack of a better term, Trojan Horse. For not only is she a well-known figure but with her being Trans there is this increased idea of this program not just being some project she is doing because it looks good for her celebrity. Instead, due to how intimate this topic is to her person, you can see and hear, how closely she identifies with these young people for they are going through what she went through and what she is still experiencing.
Then, focusing on the youth, both when it comes to diversity of participants, and the questions asked of them, you get the feeling that while the program has an “It Gets Better” type of message, at the same time punches weren’t pulled. For with the documentary addressing how some of them have been threatened with violence, or have been raped; or the difficulties of coming out and having people validate who you see yourself to be; and then just personal issues like dating and having sex, you get the feeling you see the whole picture.
Reminding me! Also, the topic of not being consumed by your gender identity is also mentioned. For, as I noted in the Redefining Realness chapter by chapter reviews, easily a person can be drowned in questions about their gender identity to the point it seems anything outside of them being Trans, just isn’t interesting enough to talk about.
Call me a pessimist, but I have to say I like the idea of not leaving things on a hopeful note sometimes. For while I get, especially for a lot of Trans youth, there is this need to see that people can make it, they can follow their dreams and be as authentic as they need to, sometimes I feel that there needs to be at least one person who seems like they are still struggling. Surviving, but struggling. For, as Janet Mock mentioned in her book, what we often see in media are those who are lucky and exceptions, and because they are exceptions they are put on a pedestal. And to me, as much as I am the type who doesn’t want to see a happy ending all the time, at the same time it is mostly because the happy endings always seem to go to the people who look like they would have them.
Take for instance, in the documentary they talk about those who have passing privilege, or as Mock would say: “are fish.” In this documentary, be it good makeup or what have you, most of the Trans youth we see are fish. And it made me feel like only the ones who were already an exception, or put on a pedestal, got to be seen. For, to add onto the idea of being an exception, most of the older youth have got their lives together; have relationships; are going to college, and even one has their own place, after being homeless for years. Then, when it comes to the younger ones, yes, they have issues, but it feels like those people who would really struggle with being Trans  weren’t included.
Overall: Worth Seeing
If you seek to understand something or someone, you need to hear them speak their truth. For while it is nice that there are more Trans characters out there, and I’m sure their stories are relatable, nothing beats a person speaking about their life, what they went through, or are going through. Hence the Worth Seeing label for nothing here is dramatized. No one is acting, they are just retelling their stories and trying to help you understand what they went through. A task which is difficult because none of them, even Laverne Cox, seem fully comfortable with who they are or rather, how they are seen and how to change that perception.
Things To Note
- Let me fully recognize that as a cisgendered person I shouldn’t really be trying to measure their struggles, but the point was that I felt as diverse as the interviewees were, it would have been nice to find those who didn’t look like they could pass, couldn’t afford hormones, and stuff like that.