Ting’s work is at the first ever medical center where “all transgender and gender non-binary people have access to quality gender affirming health and surgical care,” the synopsis continues. More are now in place. But, watching Ting forge a new pathway in medical science right before our eyes is, in a way, suspenseful, but also makes the audience constantly reevaluate embedded ideas of what goes through a transgender person’s mind to make them want to choose irreversible surgery as a way to make themselves finally feel whole. It isn’t easy and it obviously is designed to upend stereotypes, but when you see how each person approaches their needs it finally becomes clear how urgent this is for them,
It’s hard to say when the wall went up between people holding inflexible, even bigoted, heterosexual beliefs — and everybody else who just wants to be who they are. But, over time, like the old Village People song suggests, a lot of them drew together as a kind of family who recognized that love takes all forms.
In the feature-length documentary, “Born To Be,” director Tania Cypriano takes a bold step by revealing the groundbreaking plastic surgery work of Dr. Jess Ting at the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City. The film is one of the few to explore this subject in detail; from allowing the audience to follow a group of transgender and gender non-binary people during their preparation for gender reassignment surgery through post-op recovery and assimilation.
Along the way, assumptions about how and why this takes place are shattered, beginning with that term “gender reassignment surgery.” For these people, it is more like this is surgery to affirm what they have known all their lives, that they were born in the wrong body.
The film “gives voice to those who refuse to conform to gender norms and stereotypes,” a synopsis for the film reads. “The film addresses the nuances and complexities of gender, exploring key issues around the breadth of gender identity and expression among human beings.”
In a director statement, Cypriano explains, “lt’s important to note that while the stories we tell in this film are about people in the transgender community who choose to surgically transition, there are many trans people who do not seek surgery. Also, it is vital to remember that the transgender community is a diverse community and l tried to show this by following people of different ages, ethnicities, gender, and financial backgrounds. There are those who have familial support and those who don't; there are those who have partners and those who hope their transition will bring them to one. l hope viewers will learn from the film that while many trans people choose to have surgeries, these do not necessarily cure depression or erase trauma. The people we meet in the film are empowered by affirming their true gender, by embracing their true self.”
These are not mere patients, but flesh and blood human beings known as Garnet Rubio, Mahogany Phillips, Jordan Rubenstein, Cashmere, and Leiomy Maldonado, who share their flesh and blood hopes and dreams, and their flesh and blood battles to get to where they are. Most striking is that the procedures — explained in graphic detail but not shown — bring to each a sense of closure. Yet, despite intensive mental health services, hormone therapy, and medical consultation, some patients experience depression as is seen in the film, but it is the community of health professionals and those in the LGTBQ family whose support have been able to turn things around. Sometimes, tragically, nothing works, Ting explains.
Now that these procedures have largely become standardized, thanks in part to some advances made by doctors like Ting, more people are looking at this once taboo subject with different eyes. Unfortunately, some intransigent elements in society will never be changed and will work hard to oppose this kind of work based on their own personal beliefs. Ultimately, after watching this film, it becomes clear that love for others and oneself knows no bounds.
“Born To Be” is not rated, but it does contain nonsexual nudity in a medical setting, and some language. This film is available to screen through the Taos Center for the Arts’ Big Screen @ Home film series. Rental is $12. It is available to watch now through Dec. 9, 2020. Visit tcataos.org/big-screen/.
Taos News grade: A.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres in Taos and the Taos Community Auditorium remain closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Until they reopen, we will focus on movies available online.