TV & Radio
Posted on Tue, Sep. 20, 2005
Students: 'Transgeneration' positive
BY GLENN GARVIN
Every day of her childhood, Sara Giusti gazed into the bathroom mirror. ''I always expected to see a little boy looking back,'' Giusti recalls. ``But he was never there.''
One of Zack Hirschinger's first clues was his fascination with Bugs Bunny. ''Whenever he dressed up as a girl to fool Elmer Fudd, I was always excited,'' Hirschinger remembers, laughing. ``Bugs Bunny, the archetypal transgender superhero.''
Giusti, who now goes by the name Marc, and Hirschinger, who uses the name Paige, are both 21-year-old seniors at the University of Miami. And they're both transsexuals (or transgendered, to use a newly popular term) -- the genders of their brains do not match those of their bodies.
As members of spectrUM, a University of Miami organization of gays, lesbians and the transgendered, Giusti and Hirschinger got to see an advance copy of the first episode of Sundance's new show Transgeneration, a documentary series debuting tonight that follows the lives of four transsexual college students. They loved it.
''It's nice to see a positive portrayal of transgendered people,'' said Hirschinger. ' `Positive' isn't even the right word. Normal, that's the word I'm really looking for.
``On TV, we're usually sensationalized. On CSI or Law & Order, even if we have a positive portrayal, it's all wrapped up in the lewdness of a murder . . . Transgender is the last place where it's acceptable to turn it into a freak show. We're back where gays were in the early '90s.''
They both agreed that Transgeneration is an excellent account of the dilemmas from the mundane (which bathroom do you use in public buildings?) to the mortal (are you willing to take the risk of pumping opposite-sex hormones into a body that has the wrong genitals attached?).
''Any time I have to go to the bathroom on campus, I'm just like -- '' says Giusti, a journalism major from San Francisco. ``To women, I look like a guy, and they wonder what I'm doing in there. But it's really hard to break a habit you built up over 20 years.''
Though Giusti and Hirschinger both can point to plenty of hints of gender confusion going back to their earliest childhood, neither of them had ever heard of transsexualism or its underlying clinical term, gender dysphoria, until they were in college. Neither of them is very far along the road to a permanent surgical sex change. Hirschinger, who occasionally dresses as a woman, is just starting to look for a doctor to administer the female hormone estrogen, the first big step.
''There are a few people I've got to come out to before I do that, including my father, because once you're on the hormones, the changes are obvious -- I'll grow breasts,'' said Hirschinger, a film and creative writing major from Denver. ``But I've got to do something soon. My body is only going to get broader and hairier.''
Giusti isn't nearly ready to start taking the male hormone testosterone. ''I have ovaries,'' Giusti mused. 'If I start pushing testosterone into them, I'll have cancer by the time I'm 50. I have a body and I have to be responsible to it . . . Part of me is screaming `I want it, I want it,' and part of me is saying, 'You have to calm down and consider this rationally.' ''