There’s little doubt that in 2014 trans* people have gained more mainstream prominence than they ever have before, with the likes of Orange Is The New Black star Laverne Cox making it onto the cover of Time magazine and Conchita Wurst winning the Eurovision Song Contest. However it’s also true that the majority of those who are fully supportive of trans* people don’t really know much about the issues that those who don’t fit into the traditional gender binary face, or even that ‘pre-op’ and ‘post-op’ are not the main types of trans* people.
I have to admit I am one of those people, who is happy to support trans* causes while being far from an expert on those issues. Indeed it was only relatively recently that I realised what the point of the asterisk at the end of ‘trans*’ was, and that transgender and transsexual aren’t completely synonymous terms.
That’s where a documentary such as What’s The T? can be important, as simply bringing us into a variety of trans* women’s lives can be illuminating and educational. The film features contributions from the fairly well-known Cassandra Cass along with a range of ordinary trans* people, who talk about the issues they face as well as inviting us into their lives, which range from the remarkably ordinary to those making a difference for both other trans* people and society in general.
What’s particularly good about the documentary is that it really does offer a range of trans* lives. As I said, I’m no expert, but it does feel like in the last couple of years there’s been an effort from some places to try to homogenise and assimilate the trans* public image, both to make it more palatable to the mainstream and due to a distaste for those who transition and then don’t simply try to slot themselves neatly into one of the two traditional gender options.
For example Cassandra Cass, who’s made her name amongst drag queens in burlesque, talks (from a slightly pop psychology perspective) about how she was influenced by Playboy bunnies during her transition as she believes that growing up these people were presented to her as being amongst the ultimate women. She certainly doesn’t look like most people and her life isn’t traditional, but she’s nevertheless a wonderfully articulate and inspiring person.
Then there are those trans* women living relatively ordinary lives, who have to face prejudice and issues specific to their life experience, but who are largely just like everybody else. Indeed it’s one of the documentary’s great strengths that it spends as much time talking about the problems we all share no matter our gender identity as it does those specific to the trans* experience.
Overall Verdict: If like me you feel like you’re trans*-friendly but perhaps not as educated about trans* lives as you ought to be, it’s well worth seeking out What’s The T?.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac