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Review: ‘Transvestite Wives’ on BBC America

Edited to add: “Transvestite Wives” will also be shown again on Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 6:00 PM, if you missed it the first time around.

Last night, I caught the premiere of BBC America’s “Transvestite Wives” episode in their BBC America Reveals series. From their website:

Transvestite Wives looks at three transvestite relationships, as seen through the eyes of their wives and partners.

In the Scottish Highlands, Sheila discovered seven years into her marriage that her husband Dennis was a transvestite. In Newark, 20-year-old Sam, is embracing her 40-year-old partner Chris’ tranny lifestyle; and in Barnsley, Robyn, who has struggled to be accepted for her weight problem, at last finds happiness with her cross-dresser husband Dean.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised from the title, but none of the relationships had the trans partner in full-time mode. The couples were shown in both same-sex and opposite sex modes, although in the case of Sam and Chris/Rachel, we saw only Rachel for the majority of the episode.

The first couple, Sheila and Dennis/Denise, were a typical middle-aged Scottish pair who had come together later in life and were portrayed as very much in love. They both agreed that they had grown closer after disclosure, and there was a very touching scene in which they drove out to a remote Loch for an afternoon of taking photos – of each other. Their major problems appeared to be their neighbors, who had tried to obtain a court order forcing them to move out of the neighborhood. There was a slightly disturbing scene towards the end where Denise encountered some younger, local women who freely told her that if they’d met her “in a dark alley”, they would have been terrified and run away. Presumably meeting her with her wife and a BBC camera crew next to a supermarket had emboldened them enough to talk to her in a civil fashion. I can only hope they were educated by the experience.

The second couple, Sam and Chris/Rachel, were obviously chosen as a contrast. Sam is a very attractive 20-year-old girl who “likes to be different” and who had worked for the much-older Chris for a while before he told her that he looked good in a skirt. She has embraced what she calls “the tranny scene” and enjoys dressing up in typical ‘drag queen’ attire for karaoke, while the less flamboyant Rachel (who takes at least ten years off hir age when dressed) stands back and admire the show. They were portrayed as having very few problems with their lives (mainly financial due to Chris’ acrimonious divorce), and at Chris’ 40th birthday party, he proposed to Sam in front of their many trans friends, and his very pregnant sister who was seeing him dressed for only the second time.

The last couple, Robyn and Dean/DeAnn, were the only ones where I could see a time where the trans partner might go fulltime in the future. Dean works in the engineering industry and told us that none of his colleagues knew of DeAnn. I’m guessing that’s not true anymore… 😉 Dean also helpfully showed us how to do “the tuck” (he was wearing underpants, but left little to the imagination!) Robyn found many similarities between her struggles to be accepted as a larger woman, and Dean and his friends’ struggles to be accepted simply as women. She runs hair and makeup groups for transwomen and said she enjoys their company more than that of genetic girls. The most touching part of their story was when they took a transsexual friend to Blackpool for the day – their friend’s first day out dressed during daylight hours. The success of their relationship was attributed to the fact that Robyn met DeAnn before she met Dean, and in fact Dean came out to most of hir family by appearing at their wedding reception in a wedding dress.

Would I recommend that you watch this? Yes, as long as you bear in mind that it shows a very small cross-section of the cross-dressing community in the UK. I am sure they chose the couples specifically for the strong bond between them and sense of support from the wives. The portrayal was positive – almost too much so, as there was no mention of the many, many others in the same situation where the wives or partners have trouble accepting the situation. Rose-colored glasses, anyone?

The BBC America web site does not indicate any future scheduled showings of this episode, unfortunately, but due to the frequency with which they repeat their other offerings, I am sure it will come around again. Also in this series is the forthcoming ‘My Secret Female Body’ which takes a look at the life of Danny, a female-to-male transsexual. (June 22, 10 p.m. ET, June 23, 1 a.m and 4 a.m. ET)

8 Responses

  1. I caught this, along with the show that aired before it “My Small Breasts and I”. Thank God for the BBC.

    I’m pleased that the transvestite crowd is getting a little press…and decent press at that. It was kind of a fluff piece, but I think the value here was in showing the rest of the world that “trannies” aren’t always psychotic furniture-wielding weirdos to be found exclusively on the set of the Jerry Springer show. Heck, I’d go so far as to say they’re mostly not. 🙂

    Sidenote 1: As noted in an article in the Montreal Gazette a few days ago, “tranny” is apparently a hate word. I’m not surprised…it’s definitely derogatory, especially if you’re non-trans and spouting off. But apparently that isn’t true in Britain; they were ripping the t-word off with amazing alacrity.

    Sidenote 2: “My Small Breasts and I” had some really interesting stuff too, from a TS perspective. A) It gave suggestions for how to get free breast implants and B) They talked at length about a therapeutic technique used to deal with Body Dysmorphic Disorder called Phototherapy. I have long thought that, as it pertains to the t-community, photos of ourselves serve the purpose of re-inforcing self-image…like a mirror when a mirror isn’t present. I had no idea real therapists were using this technique to help people overcome other kinds of self-esteem issues. Awesome stuff.

  2. Renee,

    I also noted the non-derogatory use of the word “tranny” throughout the show. It’s not the first time I’ve come across that type of language disparity between the US and the UK; in the brit_americans Livejournal community, there are frequent heated discussions on exactly which words are okay (and not okay) to use when referring to people with darker skin color, for example.

    I came in on the middle of “My Small Breasts and I”, right where they were getting out the suction equipment. I lasted for about ten seconds before I had to switch the channel. *shudder* Yes, my breasts are far too sensitive for me to stomach that, thankyouverymuch. 😉

  3. When it comes to words we in Britain speak it right as we spoke English first! But it does get very confusing, for example whatever your sexuality if you smoke in Britain you would go outside for a ‘fag’ (cigarette) in the US going for a ‘fag’ means something entirely different!

    I still remember when the hostages were released from Iran in 1977 (?) one of them said, “There are not words in the American Language to describe how I feel today.” Believe it or not I was young at the time and thought, “What does he mean? He’s speaking English?” I later got to learn that we are two countries separated by a common language!

    Back to the subject of the blog, many BBC programmes which are show on terrestrial TV can be watched for several days on the internet. I will try to remember to look out for the programme on BBC1 or BBC2 over here and see if it will be able to be watched on line.

  4. For those that might want to archive the show, after a bit of work:






    Both files are required. The AVI file uses the XVid codec, use the proper playback viewer. Assemble the RAR files

    with WinRAR or 7-zip or J-zip to result in the avi file.

  5. Thanks for those links, Georgie! Not everyone over here has BBC America available to them – these are very useful. (I fixed your first comment using the links in your second one. 🙂 )

  6. does anyone have the other show mentioned here “my small breasts” available and can share?

  7. […] “My Secret Female Body” on BBC America Posted on June 23, 2008 by Khyri Having reviewed “Transvestite Wives” earlier, I felt it was only fair to give a similar treatment to “My Secret Female Body”, […]

  8. […] male to female. But I knew they’d done previous respectful treatments of a young transman and three partners of transvestites, so I approached it with an open […]

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