Book Review -
Transparent: Love, Family and Living the T With
Transgender Teenagers by Cris Beam
Written by Damian Penny
Published March 08, 2007
Britain's Daily Mail newspaper caused a stir last month with a story
about a German child diagnosed as transsexual at 12 years of
age. Born a boy, she now lives as a girl and receives regular
hormone injections to offset the effects of adolescence.
"Kim," as she is now known, has been given the wholehearted support of
her family - which makes her much more fortunate than the subjects of
Cris Beam's Transparent, a detailed look at a subject normally
relegated to the tackier daytime talk shows.
Beam met and befriended several transgendered teenagers born
male and now living as female, or vice versa while
volunteering at a small high school for gay students in Los
Angeles. Over the next four or five years, Beam became
especially close to four of her male-to-female students, and chronicled
their daily lives.
Needless to say, they don't have it easy - largely rejected by their
families, the girls (as Beam, and most transgender advocates, would
insist on calling them) bounce between group homes, roommates,
short-term romantic relationships and all too often
prostitution, drugs and prison. Some are able to procure
female hormones or even cosmetic surgery to feminize their appearance,
but others attend "pumping parties" where silicone (often,
industrial-grade silicone) is injected into their bodies. One
of her young friends, Domineque, ends up in a male prison, and
ultimately winds up in a special unit with informers and sexual
offenders - partly for her own protection, and partly because no one
knows exactly what to do with her.
Beam and her girlfriend become especially close to Christina, a former
gang member (still sporting her tattoo, which leads to some extremely
awkward and dangerous moments) who rollercoasters between meaningful
employment and the squalor of prostitution and drugs. She
lives off and on with her mother, who remains deeply uncomfortable with
what her son (born Eduardo) has done with his life and body.
Thankfully, Beam resists the urge to preach, and allows her subjects'
stories to speak for themselves. She does occasionally
digress into related subjects, such as the medical options available to
young transgendered persons, and why there are so many more
male-to-female transsexuals compared to the other way around.
(A viable prostitution market for "MTFs" is no small factor here.)
Some readers will be uncomfortable with Transparent's subject matter,
whether because of the issue of transsexuality itself, or because of
the young age of those involved. Even I would have some
serious questions and concerns about allowing a young teen or pre-teen
like "Kim" to commence such treatment. But you can be sure
this issue will become more prominent as time goes on, and Transparent
is an interesting introduction to a controversial subject - and, more
importantly, a compelling look at some difficult, unusual human
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