“The plumbing works, and so does the electricity.”
– Kate Bornstein, transsexual actress, educator and activist,
by a TV talk show host if she could orgasm with “that vagina”
When I began working on the outline of Transamerica I didn’t
know much about people of transsexual experience. I read several memoirs:
Conundrum by Jan Morris, who as James Morris fathered five
children and documented the first expedition to climb Everest; Second
Serve by tennis champion Renée Richards; The Christine
Jorgenson Story, whose eponymous author was a transsexual pioneer;
My Story by nude Playboy model and Bond girl Caroline Cossey.
The trans community is necessarily self-protective; it wasn’t
easy, but I was finally able to meet and gain the trust of a number
of real live trans women. I met transsexual lesbian lovers; a selfless
transwoman surgeon still married to her wonderful, supportive wife;
a gorgeous, silky-voiced MTF blonde who spent her days lounging by the
pool at the Beverly Hills country club, hunting for a rich husband.
The stories they told me were hilarious, tragic, surprising, brave;
full of unexpected reversals and sudden, startling moments of grace.
I could write and direct nothing but transsexual movies the rest of
my life and barely scratch the surface of the raw material they gave
Stealth Transsexual: A transsexual secret
agent. You might be sitting next to one.
I was surprised by how often, when I went to meet a new contact at
a café or restaurant, I was unable to recognize her as anything
but a G.G. (see below). None of the transwomen I met looked or behaved
like men in dresses. We only spot the transpeople among us who do not
pass, or who are only part way through their transition. I wrote the
part of Bree, my main character, for a woman, and only a woman, to play.
I wanted to honor Bree’s destination, not mire her in what she
was leaving behind, or worse, turn her into a buffoon. I knew I’d
have to find a transformative actress, someone who could check her vanity
at the door and breathe life into the clay of my words. Felicity Huffman’s
work exceeded my wildest expectations. I’ve seen the movie a lot
of times, and her talent, courage, empathy and sense of humor never
fail to knock me out.
“Jesus made me this way for a reason, so I could suffer and be
reborn, the way he did.”
– Sabrina Claire Osborne
Transamerica is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. At heart
it’s an old fashioned movie about family, self-acceptance and
the longing to be loved. Bree and her son Toby are not the sorts of
characters you often meet in comedies. Their lives haven’t been
easy. They feel different, misunderstood and alone. But they’re
survivors. During their travels they confront various predicaments with
resilience and courage, and they never give up. At the end of the movie
their journey doesn’t end. It never will. The two of them just
set out on a new and different kind of trip.
Two Kinds of People:
1) People who think there are two kinds of people.
2) The other kind.
Some transsexual activists and educators assert that gender is not
an either/or proposition, but a continuum. The signs and signifiers
of gender are often more fluid than fixed, and always open to interpretation.
Is a woman who loves sports, shuns make-up and is an ace parallel parker
the same gender as, say, Paris Hilton? Is Prince the same gender as
Think of gender as a rowboat: some people perch carefully in the center,
others sit to one side or the other, still others lean out precariously
over the edge. And some people cannot keep from tipping the boat over
High Intensity Transsexual: Twenty people
out of every million. Someone motivated to undergo the cosmetic and
medical procedures necessary to change their sex.
Transgendered: Anyone who doesn’t sit
in the center of the boat.
Gender Dysphoria (aka Gender Identity Disorder,
or GID): A state in which one’s anatomy does not correspond to
SRS: Sexual Reassignment Surgery. The cure
for gender dysphoria.
MTF (Male to Female) Transsexual:
A Woman made by God with a little help, from Man. An MTF transsexual
is sometimes called a transwoman.
FTM (Female to Male) Transsexual:
A Man made by God with a little help, from Woman. An FTM transsexual
is sometimes called a transman.
Transpeople: Human beings who happen to be
Trannie: A word best used only if you are
Transvestite: Clothes make the woman.
Intersexual: A person with partially or fully
developed male and female sexual organs. The term “intersexual”
is preferred to “hermaphrodite.”
Transsensual: Sexual attraction to transpeople.
Passing: What happens when others take you
for what you truly are.
Being read: What happens when they do not.
G.G. (“genetic girl” or “genuine
girl”): A term used by women of trans experience in referring
to women of the other sort.
Genetically Gifted: For an MTF, being of small
stature, with small hands and feet, delicate features and a slender
frame. For an FTM, the opposite.
Proper pronouns: Respect and metaphysics dictate
the use of pronouns that correspond with the gender as which the referenced
person self-identifies. A male to female transsexual woman is always
“she,” never “he,” and vice versa.
Tucking: A temporary measure.
How to tuck: Stand with your legs apart. Push
the penis and testicles down and back, then bring the legs firmly together.
Hitch up your pantyhose and reinforced girdle to bind and moor all loose
objects to the pelvic hull.
Monthly nosebleeds: vicarious menstruation.
Baldness: a genetic defect that can sometimes
be corrected with estrogen therapy.
Baldness: a genetic gift that can sometimes
be acquired with testosterone therapy.
Sexuality: Who you desire and, according to
some, what you do about it. Sexuality is unrelated to gender identity.
Sex: Something easier to change than your
Normal: A concept largely irrelevant to anyone’s