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Muscle is as muscle does

by Erin Blackwell

Scene from director T Cooper's "Man Made," playing Frameline 42. Photo: Frameline
Scene from director T Cooper's "Man Made," playing Frameline 42. Photo: Frameline  

Editor's Note: The B.A.R. apologizes for the original version of this article which was first posted on June 13. Due to editing lapses, offensive and inflammatory language was not flagged and discarded.. Please consider the edited version below.


"Man Made" is a slick, upbeat documentary about bodybuilders transitioning or transitioned to male. These men proudly proclaim their right to physically self-define. They're living in a gender more closely aligned with what they feel themselves to be. Weightlifting is the way out. "Man Made" plays Frameline, June 16, 1:15 p.m., at the Roxie.

Director T Cooper, himself trans, discovered the world's only all-transsexual bodybuilding contest in Atlanta, GA, shortly after moving to the city four years ago. He filmed contestants living their everyday lives before the event, the third and last of its kind. The Trans FitCon Bodybuilding Competition of 2016 was held three hours after the city's trans march, making it very much a community event. The website for the producing organization, the International Association of Trans Bodybuilders, seems not to have been updated for a year. This obsolescence is not part of the film, which focuseson the individuals' sense of self-fulfillment.

Dominic Chilko was 26 at the time of filming, freckled with an orange jawline beard and allover body tattoos including headphones below his clavicles. He's a rapper. Sometime before the contest, he decides to have a double mastectomy with a nipple graft. We see his breasts as the surgeon draws on them, then some graphic shots of the surgery, including the removal of blood-engorged breast tissue. His girlfriend nurses him through his post-op recovery, after which he's very excited to have a horizontal scar across his chest. Unfortunately, the procedure has impeded training.

Mason Caminiti, 40, is never not cut. A bodybuilder before he began transitioning, he follows an obsessive feeding regime that keeps him at 4% body fat. His wife, a blonde zaftig nurse, supports him all the way. He exudes the least drama, but he's already been through a suicide attempt and a three-year breakup from his now-wife. His age gives him an edge: he's figured himself out.

Kennie Story, 34, is assistant director of the fitness center at the University of Arkansas at Conway. Kennie's mother, who loves him, is scared for his safety, and a friend says Kennie was already beat up for being gay. This is the threat inherent to exhibiting a self that not everyone is ready to applaud.

Dominic's domestic drama overshadows his iron-pumping when he goes to meet his biological mother. Exuberantly embracing his newfound family of origin, he's ready to betray the woman who raised and still loves him. He doesn't seem to realize he can have both families. Biology is demonstrably not destiny, but Dominic isn't an intellectual. He breaks up with his girlfriend but stays positive. "I'm gonna show the guys," he says. "Don't give up. It's okay if you're not in tip-top shape. It's all about showing your scars. Or if you're pre-op, like I was last year, showing your chest and being proud of it. What matters is, you get up on that stage."

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