Film review: Trans documents transition journeys of five people

By Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives TV & Movie Critic

SAN FRANCISCO — Trans is a 2012 documentary that follows the transition stories of five people as they make the journey to become their true selves. Only four of them will survive their trial. The film addresses many of the challenges facing transgender men and women along the way.

The movie opens with Danann Tyler, a very sweet 8-year-old girl who was born into the wrong body. Born a boy, she started insisting at the age of 2 that she was a girl,  and  her parents didn’t know what to think at first. Sarah, the mom, and Bill, the dad, are very regular people — dad’s a cop and mom’s a yoga instructor.

The next story is that of Dr. Christine McGinn. She spent her youth being a guy’s guy. She always felt there was something different about her, but proceeded with the life she had planned. She went to college and medical school, and was a Naval officer.

Next is Cris Salamanca, the first transgender man to join the film. When we’re introduced to Cris, he is a 20-something lesbian in a relationship with a woman. His story begins with him telling his girlfriend that he realized that he is not a lesbian, that he was, in fact, a transgender man.

Justin/Chloe Murphy is the only character who shares both her former and changed names. She is a teenager in Clovis, a very conservative farming community in central California. She has the same struggles as any teenager, but with the added burden of knowing she’s in the wrong body.

Erica Fields and Pam Patrick are both middle-age trans women. They began their transitions about the same time and completed them the same day. Both have been married and have children. They both have issues with their families; one will gain their affections, the other will lose.

Born a boy, Danann Tyler insisted at the age of 2 that she was a girl. (Photo:
Born a boy, Danann Tyler insisted at the age of 2 that she was a girl. (Photo:

This is for the most part a positive documentary, but there are definitely dark moments, too. Danann’s parents have the reactions you could expect from anyone with a young child, but having an extremely depressed 4-year-old talking about self-harm was enough to drive them to a therapist. Chloe’s struggles with her inner self are heartbreaking.

The stories here are bound to appeal to most everyone in the trans community. There are stories of success and the closeness of family, and the support and love we all should receive in the difficult time called transition.

Christine McGinn’s story is central to the film. By the time her hitch in the Navy was ending, she realized who she was and started the process of transition. After two failed marriages while still a man, Christine finally found her true love, Lisa Bortz. They would enlarge their family with two children, and Christine and would put her medical degree to use in the service of other transgender men and women. Christine and Lisa founded The Papillon Center in New Hope, PA. They provide surgical and support services to trans men and women.

The main characters are all white and except for Cris, male-to-female. This is offset by supporting parts provided by Masen Davis, Yavante M. Thomas-Guess, Xander Karsten, Cecilia Chung and Moesha Weir.

Trans tells stories of struggle, triumph and tragedy. It is a hopeful and informative narrative, and I encourage everyone, transgender or not, to see this film.


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