Review – “BBC America Reveals: Sex Change Soldier”

I was a little apprehensive going into the latest episode of “BBC America Reveals” – titling it “Sex Change Soldier” made it sound like a tawdry tabloid exposé rather than a serious documentary on one person’s journey from 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 mind.

Captain Ian HamiltonThe format was a little different in that the female documentary-maker (unnamed, and unseen) gave a narration that showed she became a true friend to Jan Hamilton during the filming. Apart from a few interactions that Jan has with people in her life, we don’t get to see or hear from others during the hour-long show. From the start, when we see footage of “Captain Ian Hamilton” of the Elite Parachute Regiment hiking through the jungle, Jan is on-camera almost all the time.

We are introduced to Jan, who tells us that she is a 42-year-old woman trapped in a man’s body. The narrator informs us that Jan will be the first officer in the (presumably British) armed forces to “undergo a sex change” – transition. She continues on to say that during the making of the documentary, she came to fully understand the price that Jan must pay to go through this.

Jan takes us through her daily routine of voice exercises, putting on makeup, tucking, and – after she shows us her thinning hair – putting on her wig. “I’m still Ian when I wake up.” Each morning she jogs four miles, in an effort go from 224 lbs and 14″ biceps, down to 154 lbs. Despite only having dressed in public for four months, Jan is ready to go to Thailand for FFS, “to have my face rebuilt to make me look like a woman”.

Jan Hamilton“I hid behind this big wall of being a paratrooper … I hated myself and I hated the world and I hated being in the world.” Jan had an overpowering sense of the wrong person, the wrong body.

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Review: “My Secret Female Body” on BBC America

Having reviewed “Transvestite Wives” earlier, I felt it was only fair to give a similar treatment to “My Secret Female Body”, another in the ‘Reveals’ series that premiered on BBC America on June 22, 2008.

This documentary focused on a twenty two year old transman, Danny. From the BBC America web site:

Born as Katie, Danny has been living as a man for four years and has had male hormone injections every two weeks for a year. Now, at 22, Danny undergoes a dramatic surgical transformation, which physically changes his body from female to male. This documentary sees Danny embark on the first stage of this irreversible procedure – a double mastectomy, followed by complicated penis surgery.

Like “Transvestite Wives”, Danny has an amazingly supportive girlfriend who loves him in his pre-op body, and is fully behind him in his decision to undergo SRS. We also get to hear from Danny’s mother (“I had a wonderful daughter, and now I have a wonderful and happier son”), sister and best friend who talk frankly about their initial misgivings and current acceptance. There’s very little discussion of social intolerance – just a couple of anecdotes about altercations “down the pub”.

Much of the focus is on the physical transformation. We see Danny’s doctor administering his testosterone shot, and discussing the bodily changes these have already brought about. We’re also there for Danny’s first consultation with the plastic surgeon who will be doing his top surgery. A note to sensitive viewers – although BBC America did blur out some visuals, probably to bring the show into line with American censorship guidelines, there’s still plenty of detail to the scenes in the operating theater and the descriptions used by the doctor made me squirm just a little.

When the surgical results are not as perfect as they could have been, the viewer is spared none of Danny’s anguish and emotional turmoil. At the end of the hour, we are left with the impression that there is no fairytale ending for Danny and his girlfriend – and yet Danny’s life is clearly a happier one even though he faces more procedures in the future. Just from watching his face as he listens to his friend discuss how his new phallus was fashioned from forearm grafts, we can tell what’s on the horizon for Danny…

This documentary is highly recommended for any FtM pre-op transsexual who is considering the next step. It doesn’t sugar-coat anything, but still manages to convery a message of hope.

For those of you with access to BBC America, this will be shown again as follows:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 at 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM
Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 1:00 AM
Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 5:00 PM

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