Bil Browning

Mental: Prime time goes trans-friendly

Filed By Bil Browning | July 27, 2009 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Mental, prime time tv, television shows, The Listener, trans-friendly, transgender news

A few days ago, Waymon blogged about an episode of The Listener that featured a young trans guy as the main plotline. Today, Projector Boi Polloi sends in this episode of Mental (or as he calls it, "the psychiatric version of House MD). This time the plot follows a child "brought in with what appeared to be Body Dysmorphic Disorder, but come to find out, the teen girl was actually a boy who experienced a botched circumcision and was force feminized."

Here's the Mental episode and I've included the full episode of The Listener after the jump.

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I've loved the show from it's first episode, but when this aired, it threw my partner and I for a loop!

I think it was very respectfully done, especially the ending.

Oh, and the other LGBT tidbit about this show is the female psychiatrist (shown above) is also a lesbian, so it's been a very LGBT friendly show since day one.

Thanks for posting about it! :)

Well, I just sat here and watched both of them back to back while I practiced guitar. I may have to start watching both shows.
I am impressed.

Angela Brightfeather | July 28, 2009 12:22 AM

Thanks for posting these shows. With all due respect, they hit a little to close to home for me, so while I think they were well done, I also feel like I'm experiencing a little PTSD after watching them.

Due to being Transgender myself and since expressing it for the first time at 4 years old, and now at 63 years old, seeing this type of frank and honest presentation of Transgender people is like a rerun of many support group meetings I have attended over those many years.

For "old timers" like myself, it really hurts to know that you can't go back and act as bravely as these people in both episodes, even though you wish you had been that brave. But back then, there weren't any nice supportive and understanding people like those who helped in these shows. It was a sure thing that you would be sent to the psych hospital by your own parents and treated to the best drugs available at that time and a heavy dose of EST to help you mend your ways. Taking estogen and testosterone was unheard of and the only source was directly from animals and not synthesized in a lab, so even if prescibed, it was remarkably espensive.

I imagine that there are older gays and lesbians who might watch these shows and might compare the present situation with Trans youth of today, to the earlier days of the GLB community and the abuse that happened to them back then. Perhaps the fact that it is the way it is right now for Trans youth, is another reason why many who have the perspective to know the history, still say that the Transgender community is 20 years behind the Gay and Lesbian communities in having people understand their situation.

And the only reason why we stand together and fight for our rights now, is because we understand what we have had to go through and still have to go through to be able to live our lives as we need to and were meant to.

In both of these shows, the message is very clear for those who might question what we have in common as GLBT people and why we cannot leave anyone behind when it comes to social changes, legislation and human rights issues. The basic social feeling and destructive tendency in dealing with all GLBT people has been to submit us all to homophobia. It is the common enemy and the fears and prejudices it applies to our lives is very clear in these shows, the attitude of the parents and all to often in society in general.

But as these shows also show, things are changing and many people are beginning to understand the terror and fear felt by many Trans people and they are responding to it as human beings and in humanitarian ways.

These shows also help to educate many people to the fact that things like hate crimes and ENDA are most definitely matters of life and death for many Transgender people.

I hardly see how the Mental episode (simple a re-hashing of the David Reimer case) is "trans-friendly." We really don't need another representation of trans people as "botched," mutilated, or pathologic, nor do we need to perpetuate our culture's obsession with trans people's genitalia.

While fiction based on reality is not inherently illegitimate, twisting the facts crosses the line from creative license to deceit. And that's exactly what this show does. The episode in question is based on the real-life story of David Reimer, but rewrites the events of the case in a way which is tremendously deceptive. In reality, David Reimer always knew that he wasn't a girl -- even when his parents were lying to him and his psychologist was forcing him to engage in explicit sexual roleplay with his twin brother, the incongruity between his innate gender identity and the gender role they were trying to force him into was absolutely inescapable. In the TV version, David's analogue has been misdiagnosed as having Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and no one realizes that he isn't a girl until the super-brilliant psychic hero psychologist figures it out.

Excuse me? As a trans girl, I don't need a man with a license to validate my identity, and I certainly don't find it amusing when the tragic history of a horrifically abused young man is used to falsely justify the idea that only a man with a license is qualified to decide someone's "real" gender. And you know what? It was a man with a license who put David in that situation in the first place.

Angela Brightfeather | July 28, 2009 2:30 PM

Some Transgender people can pound away at the moral implications of these shows and how they do not agree with the storyline because it is actually based on the David Reimer case and varies from the original story in some signifigant ways. But for me, getting people to think along any sympathetic and/or humanitatian lines regarding the validity of Trans people and expecially youth, is a positive step forward.

Certainly those who may complain the most about valid story lines, I would assume, are doing more than their fair share to change the minds of people and help to educate them about the right for all of us to express who we are. But all to often, it seems those people are the ones who prefer to reamin anonymous regarding their being transgender or gender diverse and hardly lift a finger to change others and the way they think.

I wish that things would change overnight and that the respect and the rights that we have as Transgender people had occurred with a snap of the fingers, but it just hasn't happened that way. When I compare the sensationalistic TV shows of the past, hosted by Phil Donohue and Maury Povich, with these presentations, I see a lot of progress in helping to educate others about what our lives are really like, the difficulties that we have to overcome and the forces that drive many of us to self destruction due to prejudices and discrimination.

I have always felt that the progress we have made over the years has been due to the basic fact that the vast majority of people, deep down, can change and that they would rather be accepting and understanding if educated about problems, rather than bitter and hateful.

But holding shows like this to a storyline that limits them to the exact truth of what happened between David Riemer and Dr. John Money almost 30 years ago, has little relevancy on the truth of what is still happening today.

Our story as a minority may be told in many of the same ways over the years, with many of the actual facts being slightly distorted. But I still feel that the creative license applied to these shows helps people today to closer associate with the realities of today and I would rather see that than some kind of history lesson that may be more accurate, but that people have a harder time relating to.

"As a trans girl, I don't need a man with a license to validate my identity,".

Get over it! While I applaud your sense of self worth and independence, I saw the two people, one female and one male, working together in the first show to help come up with solutions. Both made signifigant input and both showed compassion and integrity in dealing with the problem, compared to what would have happened 15 years ago. What I did not appreciate was the sideline story with the doctor's girlfriend, since I thought it had little to do with the plot and stole time away from going into more details about the main character's life. What I also did not see was gasps coming from people's mouths, except from the boyfriend, which I fully expected anyway. In the second show, I also saw in the Mother's role, the apparent loss that she felt of her daughter. This is still being played out daily in many families having Transgender youth in them.

Overall, not perfect, but acceptable and understandable presentations that progress the understanding of Transgender people's lives and challenges to simply be themselves.

twinkie1cat | July 28, 2009 2:36 PM

That was an incredible episode. I would like to see more, especially a XXY and someone who has been through reparative therapy.

The show is very diversity friendly. I would not call it a psychatric version of House, however, The doctor has a few issues but House needs serious help. This one seems more like some of the folks on ER.

Wow...I'm trans myself, and will never understand why the other trans people on Bilerico are so angry. Don't get me wrong...I KNOW it's a hard life. But isn't it just making it harder by being angry all of the time. Sheeeesh.

Thanks for the post. I thought both of the tv shows were cool. Still not perfect, but tv never is.

Thanks, Bill, for posting these. I really enjoyed the Mental episode. Although fictionalized, this retelling of the David Reimer case affirmed an important message about the resilience and validity of our innate experienced gender identities. More important, the episode reminded us of the horror, the devastation, inflicted by medical professionals who play God in forcing children to hide their true selves in dark closets.

David Reimer was born male in Canada in the mid 1960s. He was tragically injured in a botched circumcision procedure that irreparably damaged his penis. On the advice of Dr. John Money at John Hopkins Medical Center, David's parents were persuaded to have him castrated, anatomically reassigned and raised as a girl. Although David did not identify as a girl and was distressed by his ascribed role, Money continued to claim the opposite in published literature: that he had successfully converted the gender identity of his patient in support of this theories of malleable childhood gender identity.

David became suicidal in his assigned role in his mid-teens and was told the truth by his parents. He reclaimed his masculine identity and expression and some years later transitioned surgically to the extent possible. David married and was a stepfather to three children. However the emotional toll for David and his family were irreparable. David's twin brother died of suicide in his teens and David eventually followed in 2002. John Money never published an admission of the truth, that his attempts to change David's gender identity had failed. To my knowledge, he never offered the courtesy of an apology to David's family for the harm he had caused.

The tragedy of David's story was brought to light by biologist Dr. Milton Diamond, a strong advocate for the transcommunity today, and was featured in a book, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as A Girl, by John Colapinto. David Reimer was not transsexual, in our community sense of the word, but the cruel experiment inflicted on him validated what transsexual women and men most commonly experience-- that our inner gender identities precede our earliest memories and remain resilient throughout our lives in spite of the harshest punishment from an intolerant society. We in the transcommunity owe David a debt of gratitude for his courage in living his truth and sharing his story.

I am encouraged that Fox Entertainment chose to retell this story in a sensitive respectful way.

The Baron Cimitiere The Baron Cimitiere | July 30, 2009 2:06 PM

Taylor and I watch this show (Mental) each week. It's our new favorite. We saw the preview for this ep at the end of the previous week, and I called it right then as a Trans issue ep.

To be honest, I meant to call it as an intersex episode and corrected myself as the episode started and we were discussing it.

I slapped myself as it came out that my mistake was right on the money.

As for the content of the episode itself. I think it was handled well. I'll be honest though, I'm getting a little tired with the "accidentally cut off to much during a circumcision" angle. I've seen it on Law and Order:SVU, another show and I can't remember which though it may have been another law and order and now Mental.

Yes, accidents happen. It's horrible. But find another way to deal with the subject of Gender Identity. Maybe they should focus on a person who is actually trans, rather than a person who is forced to be trans by their parents.

While the subject matter is being handled better each time, I honestly think that it's time to focus on the real issue rather than on a contrived variation of it.

But that's just my take on it. I'm sure people will disagree :)

Just a reminder, hulu doesn't work for people outside the US.