TRANSform Me: Television Tackles Gender Identity With Makeovers, Yay


VH1’s upcoming TRANSform Me features three transwomen who do what TV execs apparently think all LGBTQ people do best — makeovers!

VH1’s description of the show reads, in part,

TRANSform Me is a makeover show in which a team of three transgender women, led by the inimitable Laverne Cox (I Want To Work For Diddy), rescues women from personal style purgatory. Laverne and her ultra-glam partners in crime have undergone the ultimate transformation, so they’re the perfect women for the job.
They’ll travel the country in their tricked out fashion ambulance, siren blaring, and swoop into scenes of fashion disaster. They’ll not only make women look better but feel a whole lot better about themselves. It’s about discovering one’s inner personal style. […] The subject expects to be made over for a reality show—but she doesn’t know it’s going to be by three transgender women.

The show doesn’t premier til March 15, but bloggers are already intrigued — and concerned. Jill at Feministe notes the similarity to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and writes,

I haven’t seen TRANSform Me, but I do worry that the trans women will be punchlines or caricatures. I worry that VH1 set it up so that the trans element of the show is a “gotcha!” moment – “You thought you were getting a make-over, but really you’re getting it from transgender chicks OMG!” I worry that “trans” will get a lot more attention than “women.”

However, she’s also hopeful, saying, “I fall pretty firmly on the side of ‘it’s better to have marginalized groups imperfectly represented than not represented at all.'” And Alisa of PostBourgie has a different take. She quotes Cox, who says,

TRANSform Me is a show about everyone who’s ever felt that the person they are on the inside isn’t quite reflected in who is seen on the outside. Transgender folks are in many ways the ultimate example of this. We’ve taken extraordinary steps to bring who we are on the inside…out, and we’re committed to helping other women do the same thing. If we can do it, anyone can!

Alisa says Cox’s words made her, a straight, cis-gendered woman, think about “what is takes to construct a female identity.” She lists a variety of provocative questions:

How do they – drag queens and transgendered women alike – decide what kind of woman they’re going to be? In the case of drag-queens how much of their female persona has analogues to their male persona? For those who are transgendered, how does the portion of their lives lived and being interacted with as men inform the identity of women they become? For both, how does female gender as it is performed in society impact what they think they should look, sound and act like as women?

Alisa notes that performing gender is something cis-gender people do too — and perhaps TRANSwoman really will explore the ways in which we all create our own images. While the worst thing about makeover shows is often their “dress-for-your-shape” skinny-normativity, the best thing about them is their optimism, the message that everyone can look and feel beautiful. And perhaps people who have experience in “constructing identity” are ideal bearers of this message. Still, I share Jill’s concern. Mainstream media frequently tell us that gay people — and now transpeople as well — exist to give straight people advice. It would be nice to see a show about transwomen living their own lives, instead of helping others improve theirs.

TRANSform Me [VH1]
TRANSform Me [Feministe]
TRANSform Me And Performing Gender [PostBourgie]

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