The show centres on seven transgender lads and ladies in various stages of their journey to becoming who they were meant to be. Upon hearing the title I thought this would be the usual reality fodder – a bunch of attention seeking nobodies trying to make the most of their five-minutes by being as ridiculous as possible. I envisioned a group of loud and proud transsexual youths in a beach house frolicking, fighting and generally lowering the IQ of the audience by the minute.
So it was a happy surprise when I was greeted with something both heart warming, educational, and still full of personality. The show takes place over three months, (in surprise, surprise – summer!) opening with the lucky seven meeting in a house rented especially for them, it splits screen time between their weekends spent in the house and time spent in their everyday lives, around family and friends, with intimate chats revealing their fears and woes.
The house, labelled a retreat, is exactly that, a place they can come together without fear of judgment and discuss all the things they wouldn’t otherwise share. Though these weekends, which sit somewhere between group therapy sessions and wild weekend getaways, are full of intrigue, it’s the addition of their day-to-day lives which really open the audience up to these characters and reveal to us who they really are.
And for those of you who haven’t tuned in, here’s a run down of our lucky seven:
Drew, 22, is your typical girl..except that she has a penis. Born male, the blonde bombshell admits ‘when I grew up I wanted to be a woman’. As of yet without surgical enhancements, Drew has been living as woman for four years. By far one of my favourites, she first comes across as a brilliant party girl, with long blonde extensions, a face full of make up and a chest hoisted up in a way the TOWIE crew would be proud of, she’s young and full of life. With the continual support and flat out acceptance of her family you’d expect Drew (who dresses like our favourite drag queen Lady Gaga in episode three) to be the most confident.
And yet we learn as the show evolves that she borders on being a recluse, having barely any friends and unable to find a job because of societies prejudices. Confessing she still feels ‘like a teenager’ due to her inability to be independent financially, Drew is actually one of the luckiest of our bunch, having a mother who sees, daughter or son, her child is special and deserves the same level of respect as everyone else. But sadness aside, Drew is a whirlwind in a tea cup when she’s on familiar ground with friendly faces.
Next on our list is Karen, 52. Although Karen has been living as a woman for a mere three years, she’s one of the most confident in the bunch and also seems to be furthest in her transformation, undergoing the irreversible gender reassignment surgery in the first episode.
I give mad props to Karen for her support to the younger of the crowd, and for her late acceptance of who she really is; Karen spent years of her life knowing she was a woman but refusing to accept it, going as far as taking on ‘masculine’ jobs like police work, getting married and child rearing; however her dress sense offends me in ways unimaginable – no 52 year-old woman should dress like a hooker, not Madonna and definitely not you Karen.
Karen actually passes as a slightly weather worn older woman until she speaks; I find it hard to believe that in 2011 they still haven’t managed to get the pitching of voices changed adequately (this is of course a criticism to those in the profession and not of poor Karen herself).
Although she keeps a positive outlook throughout the show, happy to finally be whole, Karen’s years of suppression didn’t let her go without a scar – she sadly has a daughter she hasn’t seen in twenty years and hopes to make contact with again one day.
I don’t know about other viewers but I sat hoping that her daughter was watching and realises what an asset her dad (or should it be mum now?) would be to her life, if not for any other reason then that she parties just as hard as the others in the house even though she’s twice their age.
The first of our males, Lewis, 22, was a shock to me. Apart from the fact that I find him quite attractive, if I passed him on the street I would never guess there wasn’t a massive trouser snake with all those muscles. He’s slightly effeminate but I must say I like that in a man, and he still definitely boasts a more masculine look then most boys I know. Taking male hormones for 2 years and on the NHS waiting list for surgery, Lewis one of the few in the house that has no trouble ‘passing’ but he’s not without his woes: rejected for a breast removal surgery by the NHS, Lewis has to raise the money for his surgery by himself. Luckily, in gaining six new friends, he also gained support, financial and emotional, for this venture. The fund raiser he organized was a smash hit, with all the gang turning up, and Donna doing a very saucy performance, as well as showing us that good friends will support you, penis or not. The volume of people who turned up, as well as his all round good outlook, and the touching moment when he realises his father finally accepts him as his son and not his daughter, makes Lewis a positive watch throughout.
Donna, 25, is a striking and inspiring individual. By far the prettiest girl in the house, she’s been taking hormones for two years and she just doesn’t give a fuck who knows about it. Donna is like a heavily pierced unicorn, a mystical creature you can’t help but love, she is completely happy as a transgendered individual, currently feeling no need for surgery, and she’s open and honest about it. A lot of the best scenes of this show have been Donna inspiring confidence in the others by her drunken antics (and I’m not referring to the time she flashed them all). Whether it’s local pubs, bowling alleys, or London’s Soho, Donna confronts questions head on and wins people over with her flirtatious, devil may care attitude.
In the final episode a romance strikes up between D and my transsexual love Lewis, which I’d been rooting for since the first episode. By far the best looking pair in the house, they naturally bounce off each other. I think when Donna announced she was seeing someone else I was more upset than Lewis, but I know I’m holding out hope for a future catch up episode where we find them happily shacked up.
Next up is Sarah, 29. Sarah is in the earliest stages of her transition, living as a woman for only a few weeks when she arrives at the resort, and boy does it show. Poor old Sarah, who hadn’t even broached the subject with her parents, turned up looking like the runner up in a Little Miss Drag competition. Completely lost, like a teenage boy fucking an apple pie, she knew what she wanted but had no clue how to go about it and therefore went very wrong. However, help was at hand, Double D took her on, giving her a makeover (Drew on make up and Donna on clothing and hair) which pulled her up to scratch tenfold.
When Sarah turned up I wouldn’t of blinked if they’d said she wanted to be a transvestite, they’re all into OTT ‘glamour’, but to me, people who believe they were women didn’t look like NY show girls. Ugly New York show girls. But you can’t fault her for going wrong, we all have a fashion faux pas in our history and I hope one day Sarah looks back at her black and pink wig and long talons and laughs it off.
Sarah is one the people who benefits most from this experience, being so new to the game and not knowing any other transgendered individuals, she benefits from a wealth of knowledge by people from all walks of life and ages. The transformation in her over the course of the show is beautiful to see, from coming out to her mother (who thankfully accepts that if her daughter is happy it’s a-ok) to taking on some unwanted male attention in a bar with such confidence and wit you’d think she’d been doing it for years.
Fox, 30, is the newest of the males to change his gender. Although he’s known for years that his gender was wrong, he’s only been on the hormones for six months and during the show is seen to feel inadequate next to the other men. I must admit, when I first saw the show I thought that Fox just looked like a lesbian with a name not out of place in an X-Men comic, but watching the show you can see that once the beard grows and the fems sucked out of him, Fox will be a real ladies man.
Currently restricted by the freshness of his transition, Fox is managing to live as a male, just maybe not as comfortably as he wishes – wearing a binder every day to flatten his chest, as well as nifty little device for peeing like a man, he gets by day-to-day but is clearly frustrated by the time it’s taking to transition. It’s a real eye opener, to those of us born in the body we were intended, to see the struggle of people like Fox. Though some people might judge his impatience, Fox is essentially waiting to look as he feels, something which most people can empathise with to a degree, and his frustrations, especially in the face of others who’ve made a greater transition, is both understandable and touching.
Fox describes himself as ‘living in a trans-bubble’ due to the fact he has a lot of support from both family and friends and doesn’t face the same amount of animosity as other trans individuals.
Last but not least is Max, 25. Max has been living as a cute and chubby Jewish boy for 3 years, and has done the most to transition out of the men in the house (having had a double mastectomy in Thailand). Max has no problem passing as male and seems completely comfortable in his skin, his real aim for going on the show was to help open the eyes of the public to the prejudice that surrounds transgendered individuals, as well as the happy bonus of helping a few transgendered people along the way.
Max seems to be the most open of the lot, bringing in photos of himself before the transition as a self confessed ‘girliest girl’, as well as discussing his breast removal surgery with the other boys and sharing the scars. Max is a breath of fresh air, although he’s not without his fears of hostility, he seems to know himself and his mind better then anyone I’ve ever seen on reality shows.
Although he’s very religious, hoping to some day be a rabbi, Max isn’t boring or judgemental, he’s still out with the others and enjoying the experience.
Whether you know very little about the trans community, or you’re a transsexual yourself, My Transsexual Summer is a great watch. It’s entertaining and saddening in equal parts, it has a fabulous cast and it’s exceptionally educational.
It’s one of the few reality shows I’ve watched that haven’t left me feeling like I wasted hours of my life laughing at people I consider a lower life form. Watching the struggle of these individuals, I’m impressed by their knowledge of themselves; to have such a strong conviction to do something so drastic is amazing, and how many people in this world can say they know themselves that well? I certainly don’t but I do know I love this show and you should too.