I was able to get on Netflix and watch all seven parts of the film Transgeneration. Although it was quite long I highly recommend watching it and following the stories of the four transgender college students living across the United States. The film crew follows Raci, Gabbie, Lucas, and T.J. through their everyday lives and trying times during the year. Each student had a unique situation to the others involving race, ethnicity, family, economic status, social life, gender display, and pressure. Transgeneration explores the interactions between all these facets of life through the deeply personal and touching stories of the four students.
One of the most important factors into each student’s wellbeing, both emotionally and physically, seemed to be support. This support came in many fashions including family, school, and student or community organizations. Having support from others, or the lack of support, has deep effects on all people and was demonstrated in Raci, Gabbie, Lucas, and T.J.’s lives.
Gabbie, a male to female transgender woman going to University of Colorado, had complex family support, as each of the students did. She was lucky to have parents that were willing and able to pay for her genital surgery and hormones, which were incredibly important to her. (In fact so important that many of her friends and family members worried she was putting “all her eggs into the surgery basket.”) Although she was financially supported there did seem to be a good amount of tension with and resentfulness toward her parents. Gabbie’s parents had not always understood her feelings and had originally fought her on them and during the film were still working on being supportive and accepting.
Raci’s family was very emotionally supportive but was less able to support her financially. She had emigrated from the Philippines with her family had a very close relationship with her mother and lived with her aunt. Raci’s family had accepted her gender and didn’t seem to argue her identity as a woman at all, although they were concerned about the demeanor of her dress and sexualized attitude. Because Raci was very low on funds, her tuition being covered by a scholarship to California State University, she was forced to buy the hormones she wanted on the street illegally, where they were about a fifth of the price she’d pay at a doctor. For a while she was feelings incredibly alone, but through a friend at school Raci learned about the Lesbian and Gay Center and was able to sign up for a program in which she could get hormones from a doctor. She learned that the illegal hormones she had been taking had made her more at risk for contracting HIV and was relieved to find out she was healthy and would be able to receive the hormones for free. Through the Lesbian and Gay center she was also able to go on a bike trip with other trans people, including her only trans friend, Apple. This connected her to a community in her new home where she felt she belonged and helped her reflect on her own feelings about herself and her decisions, like weather or not to have genital surgery. Her friendship with Apple was not only important to her because she was also trans and a mentor to Raci, but she was also Filipina and could share and understand her language and culture.
T.J. is female to male and like Raci came to the United States from another country. His family was Armenian and he had an extremely tense relationship with his mother who did not accept him as a male. Much of this conflict stemmed from their cultural community in Cyprus and the fact that T.J.’s gender identity could result in his family’s exclusion from the very small and tight-knit Armenian population. At school T.J.’s friends and girlfriend were completely supportive of him and he even found ways of celebrating his gender identity through activism and performance. He referred to a particular friend as his “family,” his “brother.” Although he was incredibly extroverted, stubborn, and open in the U.S., being back in Cyprus and with his mother he was quieter and followed her rules. These incongruent communities, families, and identities created a lot of stress and inner turmoil for T.J. as he contemplated his future in the United States and in Cyprus.
Lucas’s community also posed somewhat of a problem toward his gender identity. Lucas is a female to male student at the prestigious all girls school Smith College. Because being there made sense for his academic future he stayed, although being a male in a girls’ school poses certain issues. Not only was he worried about carrying a Smith degree around for the rest of his life, but also Lucas did not feel supported by his school. After they didn’t allow his thesis presentation to be taped he said he felt like they were ashamed of him. Lucas was a very good student and they only person at Smith doing a thesis on neuroscience and felt their attitudes about his gender were getting in the way of his appreciation and acknowledgement at the school. Lucas’s family support was also an important concern for him. His mother had accepted him and been there for him, doing her best to educate herself and be understanding. His biggest worry was that his father would be less understanding and even angry. When the time finally came to discuss the matter with his father he learned his father had been upset at first but after educating himself and doing some deep inner reflection, he had come to realize his little girl had just grown up to be a man and that “Lucas” is who his child really was. This acceptance, love, and support from his father made a world of difference to Lucas and helped him feel proud of himself, especially within his family.
The support each student felt helped shape their attitudes, abilities, and decisions. This support changed according to the different social and cultural expectations and pressures of their family members. In the end the feeling of family, belonging, and community was vital to the happiness and future of each student.