Why Is High School Quarterback Kimberly’s MTF Transition Such a Captivating Story?

Oprah invited a former high school star quarterback on her television show last week to see how life changes after leaving the fame of being a young athlete. His name is Paul McKerrow. Or it was when Paul was a man. Today, she’s Kimberly Reed, and all woman. Not only does this make great television (and great cinema; Reed’s film Prodigal Sons chronicles her life), it makes us wonder: Why is this story so enthralling?

Oprah doesn’t make bad TV. Even a cursory chat with Kirstie Alley becomes a must-watch episode that’s really just two women talking about their issues with food. And yet, we cannot turn away. So too was this show about a stunning woman who was born a man. So why does this tale of gender identity so captivate us?

She was a star quarterback. And Valedictorian. And senior class president. And hot as a guy! Kimberly had a “fairytale childhood” from the outside, she says, and you wouldn’t be blamed for agreeing. Knowing everything was going right on paper always forces the question: So how did this all go wrong? But “wrong” isn’t the word here. It just didn’t go as … expected. Whether good or bad, it’s generally easier to dismiss the gender confusion of an obviously troubled young person, because onlookers can attribute it to abuse, or neglect, or bad parenting. But Kimberly wasn’t subject to any of those things. Which makes her decision to transition a bigger “WTF moment.”

She’s post-op. And looks damn good. It’s one things to take hormones that changes your voice and might add some breast tissue. It’s another thing entirely to have your penis turned into a vagina. Such a procedure makes us curious; that’s natural. For the unfamiliar, it leaves lots of questions unanswered (Do they cut it off? Can you still have orgasms?). So learning Kimberly had gender reassignment surgery in her twenties makes people perk up.

Kimberly is a lesbian. Even some LGBTs sometimes need reminding that sexual orientation is not the same as gender identity. So learning that Kimberly, when she was Paul, dated women (as high school jocks usually do), and still dates women now that she is one, can make one’s brain explode. Why, a queer novice might ask, would Kimberly “want” to become a woman just to be a lesbian? It’s an ignorant question — insomuch as ignorance is to be uninformed — but also one worth answering.

She’s glad she grew up as a boy. She hated being a guy when she was one, but looking back she realizes that, yep, men have it better than women in this world. As someone with a penis, she was “given this license, this boldness” that was “unearned,” whereas girls her age were already trained to assume their lesser roles. After moving to San Francisco for college and beginning to cross-dress, Kimberly says she only went to certain restaurants as a woman, and others as a man. Who in this world gets to experience, first-hand, how society treats men differently from women?

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  • Jillyouface

    For a gay blog you sure are ignorant on some of these things.

    No they don’t cut it off. And yes, they are still able to have orgasms.

  • dizzy spins

    I think there’s another reason both Oprah and Details magazine showed interest in Reed’s story. She’s a conventionally attractive MTF who could probably “pass” as a bio-female. Rightly or wrongly, the mainstream media either ignores or ridicules trans women that don’t fit the mold. Reed is palatable to Midwestern soccer moms because she kind of looks like the girl next door. Whether her actual story is more compelling than that of the thousands of other MTFs is less significant to Oprah producers.

  • scott ny'er

    a wtf moment. Oprah saying she can sing the Beyonce “if i were a boy” song. So weird.

    @dizzy spins: Yeah, you’re probably right.

  • Tina


    Hormones don’t change your voice. Surgical matters on the bottom half never help you “look” good. Use some logic and basic research! Way to sound like every single other sensationalist newsposter.

  • Ben

    @Tina: Perhaps the Queerty editors are confusing the effects of masculinizing and feminizing hormone therapy.

    As a trans man, I’m still irritated that people think that boobs or voice/facial hair are the only things that change with hormones. The whole process is much more complex and alters a person’s appearance in a much more profound way than that, no matter whether you’re MTF or FTM.

  • sam

    @Jillyouface: you didn’t actually read the article did you, you just picked out two questions without looking at the words that came before it :P
    the author of this article didn’t ask those questions himself. He blatantly stated that the ignorant might ask such a question. Which i sure as hell would. I don’t know anything about the mechanics of gender reassignment, so yes, it’s a question i would have to investigate. Queerty makes a lot of stuff ups but this isn’t one of them.

  • jason

    I think she looks very stereotypical. Her long flowing hair seems like a real stereotype.

  • Wheaton

    Read this story in Details. Another fascinating part of the family’s story is that her adopted brother is Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth’s grandson. Her parents thought they couldn’t have children, adopted that son (who turned out to have a world of probs, and on top of it, sustained some brain damage in a car accident), then almost immediately got pregnant with Paul/Kimberly. The third sibling, the youngest brother, is gay. I am looking forward to that documentary.

  • HK

    Lucky bitch she looks hot both as a woman and a man.

  • Lukas P.

    Let’s not underestimate the power of The O. I mean Öprah!

    Oprah asks the questions that people may think but don’t always have someone at hand to ask. A lot of people around the world got a chance to learn a little something about transfolk from the show.

    Ms Reed helped put a story and a face to a concept that makes many people uncomfortable, and an issue about which many of us have more misinformation than facts.

    It’s a lot harder to hate a group of people when you get to know a member of that group. Obvious as that sounds, it doesn’t happen often enough.

    Kudos to Ms Winfrey and Ms Reed.

  • Curious

    So she has a vagina now? Btw how come some transgenders are straight cause I remember watching 60 minutes where the guy is married with 2 kids but then undergone surgeries to become a woman.

  • The Artist

    Good 4 Kimberly! Live4love! PEACELUVNBWILD!

  • Penny Sautereau-Fife

    @Curious Because Gender has nothing to do with sexuality. And “Transgenders” isn’t a noun. it’s an adjective, meant to go before the word Woman or Man.

    Would you ask a natal female why some of them are straight? No. Besides, a trans woman who likes men IS straight. Just like with cis (natal) people, the percentage of us who prefer same gender is around 10% or so. I like women, I AM a woman, therefore I’m a lesbian.

    I hope I managed to educate you while successfully restraining my urge to verbally disembowel you for how spitefully ignorant your wording was.



    Wow..Good for her

  • Lukas P.

    @Penny Sautereau-Fife: Thanks. I often feel frustrated by the “stupid questions” that get directed at me daily, but I too bite my tongue because I’d rather have people ask than be ignorant.

    In a grad-school course I once co-taught, a student asked, blushing, “Why do gay men need to have penises?” And it took me a full minute before I could formulate and deliver a response. That student ended up dropping the course.

    Still, it’s a struggle at times not to just scream “Look it up!” like my granddad used to when posed a question he thought I ought to know the answer to! He always did give splendid answers though, but they were always preceded by that ad for the local library.

  • Curious

    @Penny Sautereau-Fife: Sorry Penny that I offended you and anyone else I was confused since I always thought MTF are attracted to men and thanks

  • Penny L.

    Well, Oprah is known for sensationalizing gender transitions for sheer effect. Apparently, you–whoever you are–have joined the club. And since you bombarded us with a litany of questions, here are a few in return. Why do you sound so curiously like a right-wingnut when, speaking of her journey, you write “….the gender confusion of an obviously troubled young person.” Why do you insist on referring back to her previous identity, her attributes and achievements, when it’s obvious that’s not who she is. Why do some gay men have such a difficult time dealing with MTFs like Kimberly? Why don’t you say what’s really on your mind? Why? Why? Why?

  • Lukas P.

    @Penny L.: To whom was your commented directed? To Queerty? To a specific poster? Please specify in any post using the pronoun YOU. Queerty makes this exceptionally easy: click on the post # and click on REPLY.

    Thank you for your participation in this thread. Your comments on the topic have been quite educational.

  • GrrrlRomeo

    @Penny Sautereau-Fife @Penny Sautereau-Fife: Gender may not affect which sex one is sexually orientated towards, but gender most certainly has something to do with sexuality.

    Secondly, it’s an orientation, not a preference.

    Thirdly, I am attracted to the same sex, not so much same gender.

  • Penny Sautereau-Fife

    @grrlRomeo – No, Gender and sexuality are NOT related. Sexual orientation is who you like fucking/fall in love with. Gender is WHO YOU ARE. They are NOT the same damned thing. And if your orientation to you is all about the bodyparts and not the PERSON YOU ARE WITH, well then you’re a shallow putz and I pity anyone you end up dating.

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