Last night I watched the first episode of Love, TransAmerican Style, LOGO’s new reality show in which transgender actress and activist Calpurnia Addams must choose a beau from group of male suitors. Addams first came into the national spotlight in 1999 when American soldier Barry Winchell was murdered by a fellow GI after his relationship with Addams became known. The incident was made into the Showtime movie Soldier’s Girl.
All of the usual reality show conventions are used on Love, TransAmerican Style – the weekly culling of a contestant, the hidden cameras, and the group house where the competitors live and argue with other. The show even does a take on The Bachelor’s rose ceremony, in which Addams feeds a piece of chocolate to those that survive the elimination.
Most of the suitors are hotties with ripped bods, a couple of the others – not so much. The big twist is that one of them, Jim, is a pre-operative transgender man, a secret he reveals immediately to Addams, but not to the other men, some of whom immediately begin taunting Jim for his non-macho ways. The biggest yahoo of the group is a handsome young guy who displayed some homophobia when the men had to dance for Addams wearing slave costumes and g-strings. Hate him.
As much as I generally loathe reality shows, the series raises some fascinating issues. When Jim reveals himself as a transgender man, Addams muses to the camera about her own possible hypocrisy in being unattracted to another transgender person. After the g-string dance, Jim privately mentions his relief in finding a slave skirt among the costumes, as he doesn’t yet have the equipment to fill out a banana-thong.
The first man eliminated had bragged about his long history of exclusively dating transgender women, something none of the others appear to have done. But Addams wasn’t too pleased to learn that he’d also run his own “tranny porn” website and he did not get a piece of chocolate. As he was sent packing, he petulantly tossed out that he preferred pre-operative transgender women anyway, because “then you get the best of both worlds.” Asshole.
Next week Addams meets the parents of the men vying for her love. That should prove as interesting as the first show. But I can’t shake the vague feeling that this show is somewhat exploitive of transgender folk. None of contestants are being “fooled”, and this sort of visibility can certain make transgender people seem less “alien” to others. But still, I’m a little uncomfortable and I can’t say exactly why. What say you, T-people?