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Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Sir: Just a Normal Guy
Another evening, another film festival movie, this time a documentary charting 15 months in an FTM transition from a pre-hormone point where Jen was wondering how it would be to start using men's bathrooms and asking people to start calling her Jay, through the changes that testosterone made to his voice and appearance, through "top surgery," and what appears from the outside to be his living a "normal" heterosexual life.

Technically the film was unremarkable—basically it was an hour of people talking to camera in iffy lighting—but in the end I was glad of that since it provided no distractions from the basic narrative. Both Jay and his friends—his ex-husband and best friend, who was a total sweetie; his other (female) best friend, who was a college crush; his girlfriend, who continues to identify as lesbian despite the appearance of being half of a straight couple—were refreshingly open and honest and articulate. Jay wasn't afraid to indicate uncertainty or embarrassment or to admit that he wondered if becoming a man might just be another phase just as wife or dyke had been. His ex-husband, who still seemed to carry a bit of a torch for Jay, admitted that he was conscious of feeling odd about telling his friends that not only had his wife left him and become a lesbian but also she was now a guy. And his partner talked freely about her lesbian identity, the negative effect that the transition had had on their relationship, but also the partnership's many strengths. The sight of the scars from Jay's "top surgery" (breast removal/reconstruction) were hard to look at, but everything else was very easy to take and understand.

Early on in the process, Jay talked about feeling that he would always embrace a queer identity and the impossibility of ignoring how spending 29 years of a woman had affected his personality and behavior. By the end it seemed as though he wasn't so sure that he was queer—odd-queer maybe, but not necessarily sexual-politics queer. I have to think that Jay spent 29 years as a lesbian (albeit a straight-acting one for some of that time) was part of what made the movie so compelling. After all, who talks things out more than lesbians? (Speaking as a lesbian who doesn't really care to share, let me tell you: no one.)

I've always been mistaken for a boy. All through my life, whatever I wore, whether my hair was long or short. When I was a kid on holiday in Blackpool, I remember going to the bathroom with my grandma and someone saying, "Don't you think he's old enough to go to the gents now?" This has carried on throughout my life: Just a couple of years ago, I went home to visit my folks and someone who'd recently moved to our street saw me and said to my mam, "Has your grandson come to visit?" (People in my home town never address me directly, but that's another topic for another day.) In Spain, I've been asked several times if I'm "chica o chico" (they need to know for the purpose of adjectives!). I've never really understood why. True, I'm not at all girly, and I do dress more like a teen-age boy than a middle-aged woman, but I'm no big butch thing either. I'm slight, short (well, not tall), and my wrists are about the thickness of curtain rods. When I was young—5 to 9 or 10, perhaps—I used to spend a lot of time wishing, hoping, praying that I would be transformed into a boy. Then puberty hit and I never wanted that anymore. Girls rock!

Sir: Just a Normal Guy Extra: You can view one-third of the movie, available in various media formats, on the PlanetOut Web site (the guy in the photo is Jay's ex-husband Dave). Here's the movie's official site.