Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Gregg Shapiro
“TransGeneration” is the eight episode original documentary series about four college students, including T.J. Jourian from Michigan State University, who are in the process of undergoing gender reassignment. When the series begins, Gabbie, Lucas, Raci and T.J. are pre-op but have begun taking the necessary steps and injections to make the transition into their new identities and lives.
The series follows the students at four different colleges over the course of the 2004/05 school year, capturing their triumphs and setbacks as they balance the challenges of academia, campus life, and family with their commitment to gender reassignment. Through the stories of these four students, their friends, families and communities, “TransGeneration” highlights a growing phenomenon: that gender identity is being confronted by a younger generation.
“TransGeneration” director Jeremy Simmons took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
BTL: I want to begin by asking you to say something about your interest in the subject matter of transgender society.
Jeremy Simmons: Being gay, I have often felt that the T in LGBT is silent. My experience is that there is a great deal of prejudice not only in the mainstream society, but within the LGBT community. Despite this, there are people out there who are beating the odds. I was interested in telling the story of people who are challenging the status quo and demanding change.
BTL: Who do you see as the target audience for this series?
JS: “TransGeneration” is a series aimed at mainstream audiences. It was never designed for just an LGBT audience.
BTL: How would you describe your process of gaining access to subjects willing to participate in the series?
JS: We employed a number of different strategies to ensure we would reach people from different ethnic groups, schools, economic backgrounds, and lifestyles. The diversity of experience was crucial, so our outreach included everything from working with LGBT campus groups, student organizations such as The USSA, networking through trans-websites and personal connections within the trans community, and even scouring personal ads. The process took over four months.
BTL: Why college students?
JS: By setting the series in a college environment, these stories become immediately accessible to a mainstream audience. While many people have never had to face questions of gender and how it affects their lives, they can relate to what it’s like to grapple with questions of identity in the college years. It humanizes an experience that many find foreign.
BTL:} In the first two episodes that I saw, I was grateful for the scenes with the family members, particularly those with Lucas’s mother. Can you say something about that aspect of the series?
JS: College is a time to deal with issues of identity. Students are living away from their families, but family still has a tremendous amount of control both financially and emotionally. In order to more fully understand who these people are and what they are going through, it was imperative to gain access to each participant’s family. We were lucky to have the cooperation and participation of each participant’s family by the end of the series.
BTL: I also got the feeling, from the episodes that I watched, that both T.J. and Lucas, the F to M transsexuals had a strong activist nature. Why do you think that was?
JS: I’m not sure it’s true that both of these students really have “a strong activist nature.” Lucas was an activist, but throughout the series, he becomes resentful of a role he feels was thrust upon him, and drops out of the activist community completely. From his perspective, it was expected of him, but not something he wanted to be a part of. T.J., on the other hand, had been an activist his entire life, is majoring in student affairs, and will probably continue in that role for years to come. Lucas and T.J. are actually a study in contrasts.
BTL: Do you think that the F to Ms are more likely to be political activists than the M to Fs?
JS: I don’t think that “TransGeneration” ever tries to speak for the entire trans community. From the beginning, the documentary was designed to show four different experiences within the trans community, not represent the trans community as a whole. The only constant is that everyone has a completely unique experience. Through the experience of these four characters, however, it is true that the F to Ms are in environments that are more supportive of political activism than their M to F counterparts.
BTL: Was there anything that occurred during the process of making the film that shocked or alarmed you?
JS: My shock came from my trips to the Bible Belt. Gabbie’s grandparents, retired Presbyterian Ministers from Moline, Illinois, have been the most accepting people in her family. Likewise, Lucas’ mom, from Glenpool, Oklahoma, is proven to be incredibly supportive. Places where I expected to find bigotry, I found love and acceptance.
BTL: Did you feel like you formed a connection with or an attachment to any of the four participants?
JS: I felt a strong connection to all of the participants. We spent a good deal of time with each other throughout the year, and got to know each other quite well.
BTL: Have you maintained contact with any or all of the subjects?
JS: I continue to communicate with all of the subjects. They were all present for the premiere at Frameline in San Francisco, where they met each other for the first time, and have since maintained contact with each other as well.
BTL: Having only seen the first two episodes of “TransGeneration,” I have to ask, does everybody live happily ever after?
JS: This is not a reality show. It is, in the truest sense, a documentary series; therefore, it is unrealistic to assume that everyone will live happily ever after. Their experiences are all unique, but given each students high intellectual caliber, I can say that they are all in a good position to face whatever obstacles are thrown their way.
Free screening of ‘TransGeneration’ Sept. 11
Two Michigan-based groups, Transgender Advocacy Project and TransGender Michigan, are co-sponsoring a specially edited 90-minute pre-screening of Sundance Channel’s series “TransGeneration” at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11 at the Forum Hall Auditorium, University of Michigan’s Palmer Commons, 100 Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor. For directions go to http://www.umich.edu/~palmcomm or call 734-615-4444.
Sundance Channel premiers “TransGeneration” on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. with each episode airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. through Nov. 8.