The beauties of 'Trantasia' come out
by Robert Julian
Director Jeremy Stanford's documentary Trantasia aims to be the flagship for a series of transsexual entertainment enterprises. Besides the current film, there are plans for a Las Vegas revue starring transsexuals and a reality series. Taking trannies out of the shack was one of the stated purposes of 2004's first World's Most Beautiful Transsexual Pageant, held in Las Vegas. Director Stanford brought a crew to film the event, as well as interview six of the contestants in depth, and Trantasia is the result of his efforts.
Lip-liner, estrogen injections, breast implants, and big hair are de rigueur for this extravaganza, but the path to the competition turns out to be more diverse than it might seem. Some participants are post-operative, some are pre-operative, and some have no intention of ever trading in their penis for a vagina. But all speak glowingly of their own fabulousness while detailing a life of relative misery and unhappiness when they remained trapped in the body of a man.
At the screening I attended at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater, the stars of the film and the director were in attendance for a Q&A session after the film. They spoke sincerely about wanting to make it easier for all transgender people to come out and make the transformation they must in order to be happy. Onscreen and off, the women described how hard the process was for them.
One of the stars, Cassandra Cass, lives and works in San Francisco. Some of the other women live and work in Chicago or Los Angeles. But all of them began life in conservative, lower-middle-class families, often in places like North Carolina or Utah. Their relatively humble beginnings, or simple discrimination, may explain the apparent lack of formal education most of them possess. Whatever the reason, they do not seem particularly enlightened on any subject beyond their struggle and attendant hair, makeup, and wardrobe complications. For the most part, they are blessed with loving and understanding families; a fact that makes their superficiality seem even less compelling. Only Maria, the Latina social worker and activist, seems centered and grounded in an understanding that is not single-issue.
A German contestant expresses disgust when some of the women flash their breasts in public and behave outrageously just to get attention. In a particularly cruel moment, another contestant disses Dr. Rene Richards, an accomplished transsexual surgeon and tennis pro, because he did not become a particularly pretty woman. One can only wonder how the women would react to the physical persona of travel writer Jan Morris, or if they even know her name.
From beginning to end, Trantasia remains a fascinating look at MTF transsexuals, despite its rather narrow perspective. Supporting interviews with family members in the cities and towns where the girls were once boys help add balance and perspective. But a larger worldview or a more compassionate understanding of the roots of discrimination would make the women better spokesmodels for their cause.