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AT THE MOVIES

Meet The Residents of Trinidad, Colorado: Sex-Change Capital of the World

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The first time a friend told filmmakers PJ Raval and Jay Hodges about Trinidad, Colorado—”the sex change capital of the world”—they couldn’t believe it. Their friend said, “it was a place where people arrived as men and left as women.” It also “had the biggest selection of size 12 pumps available anywhere in the nation.” 80-year-old Dr. Stanley Biber and trans-woman Dr. Marci Bowers have performed over 6,500 sex-change operations in the town of 9,000. Raval and Hodges spent two years following the doctors and some of their patients to learn more about genital reassignment surgery, small town tolerance, and the beautiful yet painful journey towards full self-expression. Their film Trinidad premieres on LOGO tonight at 8pm and is now available on DVD, so we’ve reviewed the film, profiled some of Trinidad‘s trans-residents, and added more insights from co-director, PJ Raval.

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By:           Daniel Villarreal
On:           Apr 24, 2010
Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • 12 Comments
    • gina
      gina

      No offense at Mr. Raval or Hodges, but Trinidad is such an old, old, old story. There have been so many documentaries on TV like the CBS one from years ago and Sex Change Hospital by Channel 4 in England. Marci Bowers has been on umpteen programs like Tyra and Oprah. It’s been done to death. Of all the interesting stories in the trans community (and interesting people in the trans community) and compelling issues around our community, they (and Logo) are choosing a very tired one. Again, it points out to me that people who don’t know that much about a community (and aren’t members of it or closely connected), just because they have access to filmmaking equipment and funding, aren’t necessarily good judges of what’s compelling or not.

      And this statement: “Their friend said, ‘it was a place where people arrived as men and left as women.’

      Is really quite simple-minded, inaccurate and transphobic (I know people at Queerty love that word).

      Apr 24, 2010 at 11:29 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lynn
      Lynn

      Gina, yes, the story of Trinidad, Co. has gotten a lot of attention. I remember hearing it described as the sex-change capital of the US back in the early 1990s when Transgender was first added to the rainbow alliance.

      But good media coverage is never a bad thing. I haven’t seen the film, so can’t comment on it, but my caution increases when remarks are included in the Queerty coverage such as this:

      “Interesting note: Marci, who was married as a man, is currently dating Carol, Trinidad’s lesbian golf course manager. Does that makes Marci’s desire heterosexual or homosexual? Discuss.”

      I would hope that everyone reading the article knows that Marci is a woman, and that if she is in a relationship with another woman then she is a lesbian. Comments like the one I quoted make me feel like I stepped back in time to 1980.

      Apr 25, 2010 at 4:20 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Poofty MaGoo
      Poofty MaGoo

      You could make a movie about trans people being the most elevated, highest members of society portraying them as nothing but the grandest creatures on Earth and Gina would find something to crab about. It’s what she does. But we love her anyway.

      I saw this documentary and thought it was very well made. Nice article.

      Apr 25, 2010 at 8:42 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • gina
      gina

      Poofty, I know that’s the assumption you want to make about my film choices, but you’re wrong. Two of my favorite films about trans people fall into certain “traps” when portraying trans people but there are reasons why they are so fresh and thoughtful while something like this is sooo stale.

      “Different For Girls”– a British film from the 1990s has a man playing a trans woman (not something I’m usually into) but the actor does a brilliantly sensitive job and, it’s done with a lot of humor (AND SOCIAL CONTEXT… very important) and it comes off as a nearly revolutionary way of viewing trans people… she lives a life very much as a woman (not a transsexual), that life kind of sucks, her choice in men definitely sucks, but it’s well beyond trans 101.

      Another film I was very moved by was Princessa (an Italian film from 2001). It has certain aspects that might make some trans people cringe: the story is about a Brazilian trans woman prostitute who moves to Milan and lives an existence which is alternately brutal, yet she has a choice to live very much “a mainstream woman’s life” and can’t do it . But Ingrid De Souza, the trans woman who plays her, is incredibly powerful and, very importantly, places her story within a context of social structure, class, sexual politics, immigrants and definitely, real transphobia. It has a maturity which US films about trans people (including Transamerica) never have… and that doesn’t mean showing them in a good light or with a Hallmark Card filter.

      I have not seen all of this film about Trinidad (I have seen parts of it). What I’ve observed has been limp trans 101, and an awful lot of cliches about who trans people are and about transition. No shit the filmmaker didn’t know much about trans people… it reads like that… it’s obvious from the rehashed subject matter and the relatively shallow outsider observer treatment. This film is basically a documentary remake (or maybe a knock-off) of the classic CBS News piece and the Brit Channel Four Documentary (which was shown in this country as well called Sex Change Hospital)… sometimes literally shot for shot. If you saw a film which was a remake of Roger and Me wouldn’t you have some words for that director?

      Apr 25, 2010 at 10:58 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lincoln Rose
      Lincoln Rose

      She also feels that a lot of FTM physical transitioning (narrowing of hips, growth of facial hair, etc.) can be done effectively through hormone therapy.

      Wow, Marci really doesn’t know much about us transguys. Our hips don’t “narrow”. The hormones make the fat on our bodies shift to a more male fat pattern.

      Actual bone structure around the hips doesn’t change. The hips are actually one physical cue that helps people read transguys if they know what they’re looking for.

      Nice try Marci. But no cookies for you.

      Apr 25, 2010 at 11:38 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • gina
      gina

      Lincoln, she might have meant shifting of fat deposits. But no, Marci is not the premiere SRS surgery endless news portrayals of her always claim. She’s had far less experience with MTF SRS than Dr. Brassard (who taught her the procedure she currently does) or Dr. Meltzer (who’s done SRS way longer than Dr. Bowers). Both of these men have done many more procedures than her.

      Marci’s metoidioplasty procedure for FTMs is kind of a joke. At best, it’s only a partial procedure and has to be finished by other surgeons who actually know how to do it. She doesn’t know how to do phalloplasty. I wonder if those facts are in the film? Moreover, I know a large number of people who’ve gone to Marci who mostly describe her as being “a cold fish” “not terribly responsive to their concerns” or “aloof”… not the warm public relations stereotype we’ve seen portrayed in these “documentaries.”

      Apr 25, 2010 at 11:56 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • gina
      gina

      Correction: “But no, Marci is not the premiere SRS surgery”

      should be:

      “But no, Marci is not the premiere SRS surgeon”

      Still sleepy.

      Apr 25, 2010 at 11:58 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Poofty MaGoo
      Poofty MaGoo

      Gina, I’ve seen your softer side and that’s why I like you. You are a thoughtful, serious person with important things to say.

      Many of your comments are negative, however, and for a while that made me dislike you. I was wrong about you and I admit it.

      No, this isn’t the exemplary documentary about the FTM experience. It is a documentary that allows people outside the community a glimpse of what the experience is for some people and it made me more sympathetic and understanding.

      I’m not a film critic, like you are, and I have no expertise and don’t claim any. But I give the film maker an A for effort. I’m sure a trans-filmed documentary would have a different angle, wanting to portray everything in the best light possible but this movie was made by someone who didn’t understand and who was trying to learn and he did a good job of that, in my opinion.

      My straight friends who saw the movie were very much educated and touched by the portrayal and they applauded the town for their openness and diversity. Is is the “right” message or a perfect message? I doubt it. But it doesn’t deserve to be automatically shot down because it isn’t perfect, does it?

      Apr 25, 2010 at 12:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • gina
      gina

      Poofty, I’m not automatically shooting it down… I’m shooting it down because it says nothing new, doesn’t seem to give a deeper examination of issues surrounding transsexuality (nor about the town) which have already been portrayed in some more ground-breaking documentaries and… and it got shown on Logo, something many other trans-related documentaries have not. Getting a documentary shown on a network is a big deal, why does this one deserve that honor… because it’s made by a gay man?

      As to his effort… look, he’s discovering the subject through his fresh, uninformed eyes (which is worth something to him, but not necessarily much for others). It would be like someone younger coming along now who didn’t know squat about the Vietnam war, and making a fairly surface investigation of the facts surrounding that war (oh wow, like, can you imagine, we supported this totally corrupt government!!!)… is that an accomplishment? For that filmmaker it is… they’ve grown, they’ve learned something. But does it expand the discourse surrounding that conflict or add an interesting new dimension or perspective to our understanding of what happened… probably not.

      I would especially say that if the film weren’t made by someone Vietnamese or who had fought in the war. If you’re going to look at something from the “outside” you better go deep and it better be made knowing the context and assumptions of previous depictions of that subject matter (and one’s own assumptions… documentary filmmaking 101.

      Again Poofty, if a documentary filmmaker came along as said, I just finished this making this new film and it’s about the guy who’s the head of General Motors and I’m trying to contact him about how messed up my town is and he’s laying off workers and, and… I think you’d stop him and say… honey, it’s been done.

      Apr 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Poofty MaGoo
      Poofty MaGoo

      Gina, your points are well taken. From my perspective, this film did expand the discourse and added an interesting new dimension. Can you at least acknowledge that maybe not everyone in the world has seen the same movies you have and that maybe giving this one movie a broader audience might actually have some positive effects? That’s my argument. As I said before, I am no film critic, but I could imagine worse films to show on LOGO.

      Apr 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • missanthrope
      missanthrope

      Old story is old story.

      Though I’ll readily admit being jaded towards these kinds of documentaries. Poofty is correct in that this might expand the discourse for people completely unknowing about trans people, thier lives, etc.

      But Gina is right that on the whole with trans documentaries in general (a genre that has existed since “Glen or Glenda?”, if you could call that a documentary) this story is old hat and doesn’t expand the narrative on the whole.

      But exposure is good, so whatever.

      Apr 25, 2010 at 11:11 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Luke
      Luke

      @Lynn: Completely agree. Queerty needs to issue an apology for that discussion question. It is ignorant and transphobic.

      Aug 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • fredgreenm16
      fredgreenm16

      So does anyone have any suggestions as to where/who is best for female to male surgery? Or any documentaries to watch on it?

      Jan 4, 2014 at 9:54 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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