Last night, at the urging of some smart friends, I attended a showing of the film Switch: A Community in Transition at the San Francisco LGBT Center. Like my friend Mike, I have a visceral aversion to the Center; but this event made it worth violating my casual boycott of the space.
Filmmaker Brooks Nelson wanted to give the community of people that surrounds him a chance to express what his female-to-male transition meant in their lives. He's a lucky guy: he works for an employer who actively seeks diversity among workers; his church (UCC) affirms that God loves all humankind; his community of friends -- trans, lesbian and straight -- are honest, brave and thoughtful adults; and his family, above all his longtime woman partner, love him well enough to roll through changes that arise from his necessities. Everyone should be so lucky -- or maybe special people make a good deal out of their luck.
Transition is certainly different for every transperson. And transition can be hard on the people around the individual passing through it. One of the points the film makes is that, under good circumstances, the friends and associates of the transitioning person may do more of the direct talking, explaining, and deflecting of emotional reactions than the transperson him/herself. Those of us who seek to be allies therefore probably can help by ensuring there are many resources available to help the friends of transfolks talk about stuff they might not be able to verbalize.
Though Brooks is white, his community includes folks who are visibly African-American, of various Asian backgrounds, and likely of mixed races. Everyone brings the circumstances of their racial communities to these matters; for some folks, gender issues are simply too dangerous to put front and center or nothing close to the primary emergency in their lives.
Watching Switch, I was struck that I was seeing a narrow age band of people. Like Brooks, the people in his life are mostly in mid-life. This film doesn't catch the more volatile experiences of young transfolk who may enjoy more acceptance from some age peers, but also, being less established in their economic circumstances and identities, are sometimes very vulnerable. Brooks' friends, especially his lesbian peer group, are able to be extremely articulate about gender in a way that speaks favorably for the residue of parts of the lesbian feminism of the 1980s.
During the short panel discussion after the film, the older guy who staffs the Center in the evenings added another age perspective . He transitioned in 1970 -- the whole point of his transition was to stop talking about identity and simply live his life. He seemed to find the film's exploration of these issues foreign -- but he's been at the Center for five years now and is used to the endless talking in the LGBT community.