With the "help" of Geraldo, Jerry Springer, and their ilk, transgendered people are becoming a familiar sight on the American landscape. Unfortunately their tabloid productions bear no more semblance to reality than the tacky souvenir shops that litter our highways. Few, if any reputable transgendered people would dare participate in their media side shows, so actors have frequently been cast in their places. "Somebody from [a notorious daytime talk show] called here, wanting actors to come in and portray 'guests' on the show," said Dee Shepherd, Artistic Director of Columbus' Reality Theater. "They're scraping the bottom of the barrel if they're trying to get actors to pass off as real people. They even have a casting agent!"
The public is perhaps not as gullible as Geraldo and Springer would want, and there is an emerging curiosity about these elusive people who are far more prevalent in our society than once believed. Only recently have the more responsible journalists started exploring this hidden world, with higher profile pieces such as the BBC documentary, "Brain Sex," a 20-20 segment on transgender political activism, and recent articles in Time Magazine and the New York Times.
Transgendered people will observe another milestone October 5, 9:00 PM EDT (check local listings), when A&E Network's "Transgender Revolution" premieres. From the Emmy Award-winning series, Investigative Reports, it will be the first television documentary devoted exclusively to transgender issues and will feature many of the most important leaders within the transgender political movement.
This excellent documentary will give the public its first uncolored look at the real people behind the transgender phenomenon. Many of them are my friends, finally represented as I know they are -- not as lavishly sequined drag queens throwing chairs at skinheads, but as real, often unremarkable people who must live extraordinary lives. "We wanted to look at the real issues of the transgender community," Said David Heilbroner, producer of the documentary. "We wanted to take this beyond the tabloids' focus, to portray the heart and soul of a community that is demanding its rights."
Of course no hour-long program can cover a topic comprehensively. While "Transgender Revolution" addresses transgender hate crimes and political activism, it falls somewhat short of its mark. Transgendered Americans may as well live in a lawless, third-world country. We have few discernible civil rights, and the law is often used to persecute, rather than to protect us. An hour is not long enough to capture the horror of being harassed, fired, falsely imprisoned, raped, or murdered with impunity. It cannot capture the despair of knowing that vital medical care is usually unavailable and uninsured. It cannot capture the indignity of having one's right to use a public toilet or even to appear in public questioned in some states or of hearing the Religious Right rail against us with invented "scripture" to justify that we are somehow evil, while we bury our friends who have fallen to "the system" one-by-one.
No program could document this nightmare we live, and even if it could, few would believe it. However, Investigative Reports is to be commended for what is clearly the best treatment of these issues in television history. Said Riki Anne Wilchins, Executive Director of GenderPAC, "I think we are, at last, turning a corner." Those wanting to learn about our invisible and maligned community, rather than to gawk at male actors in dresses throwing chairs, should not miss this ground-breaking production.