It seems that 2015 is starting off as a year of transitions.
Speculation over the gender transition of 1976 U.S. Olympic star Bruce Jenner has gone from tabloid fodder to headlines in mainstream media.
Now six male-to-female transgender people from the Kansas City area will get their moments in the spotlight when, beginning April 2, the Discovery Life Channel airs the first of a five-part “docu-series” called “New Girls on the Block.”
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The five episodes were shot in Kansas City in late December and early January with the help of Caroline Gibbs, a psychotherapist at the Kansas City-based Transgender Institute, who will be taking part as a paid cast member and co-executive producer.
A Discovery Life Channel spokeswoman said the show does not plan to release the full names of the six transgender cast members, but their first names and ages are Robyn, 27; Chloe, 27; AiYana, 27; Kassidy, 30; Jaimie, 35; and Macy, 49. All live in the Kansas City area. The subjects also include Sharon, 56, who is married to Macy, and Andrew, 25, who is Robyn’s boyfriend.
Gibbs said all were clients of hers at the institute when she pitched the idea of a transgender series to a television producer two years ago.
“I said, ‘Look, I’ve got these gals,’” Gibbs said by telephone. “‘They are all male to female. They have all grown these backbones of steel. They are strong and brave and beautiful and funny. They are everything you would want in a TV show.’”
Gibbs said that as a therapist, she had no ethical qualms about presenting the idea to television. She said that she and the women, all of whom are paid, spoke about the pros and cons of being on television.
“They essentially said that they felt they would be getting more than they would be giving up,” Gibbs said. “Getting had to do with being advocates for everyone who is trans. They said, ‘If we can help someone’s life be better by our example, we want to be out there.’”
Both Robyn, of Kansas City, and Macy, of Overland Park, also spoke by phone. Both women began their gender transitions in the later months of 2011. But Robyn said her own sense of gender dysphoria — not being born in the right body — existed nearly all her life.
“Honestly, there really is not a specific age I can think of,” Robyn said. “It’s as far back as I can remember. It’s not something where I woke up and said, ‘Gosh, I want to be a girl today.’ It was always there in my head, in the back of my head, surrounding all my thoughts.”
In its media materials, the Discovery Life Channel describes “New Girls on the Block” as a series that embeds itself with a real group of friends. The show asserts that it “offers a transformative look at these women’s lives as they navigate their daily struggles and successes.”
Among the story lines is one about Jaimie, who after leaving the military faces opposition to her participation in a competitive triathlon for women. Other story threads include Kassidy and Chloe going on a double date; Macy and Sharon, the married couple, trying to figure out what Macy’s transition means to their marriage; and Robyn and Andrew, best friends who fell in love, at odds over a possible engagement.
Transitioning from one gender to another is both a life- and body-altering decision. The psychological conflict that often precedes the decision to make the transition has been linked to high rates of suicide and depression.
Robyn said one of her reasons for being on the show is to offer hope to others. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “There is always help out there.”
Also, she and Macy said, they want to provide a lens into the real lives of transgender individuals. Macy, for example, has been married for nine years.
“We are still taking our relationship day-by-day,” she said. The couple do not have children.
She added, “What I hope for is that people will see us as people. There seems to be this big cloud of mystery with trans people. I hope this (show) will lift that cloud. It is a human story. … Hopefully someone will be able to identify with us, whether they are trans or not.”
For her part, Gibbs said her mission “is to normalize this population.”
“So one year from now, five years from now, nobody even thinks of this as something weird or unusual.”
Macy said she thinks that acceptance of transgender people is growing, albeit very gradually.
“It’s not where it needs to be,” Macy said. “When trans people can live their lives without fear for their safety, without fear of discrimination, then we will have arrived. We’re not quite there yet.”