It’s been a long, long while since I shared with you one of the far-too-many links I’ve bookmarked to my web browser. And I’ve been meaning to start sharing them with you here. But then I realized that the “Watch Later” list on my YouTube account also has its own big boatload of interesting links… including the video I’m sharing with you in this post.
What you’re about to view has two things I’ve found myself becoming fascinated with, one of them being old TV and radio broadcasts from long, long ago. Accounts that
dodge copyright laws post such vintage material seem to be as common a thing on YouTube as movie trailers, how-to advice, and outrageous memes (or is it just me who thinks that?). I don’t take a “let’s wear a deep dent into the couch by watching reruns all day” attitude toward watching all this old stuff. Rather, it’s a desire to “sketch in the details” from eras when I wasn’t as mature as I am now, or from times I’m only aware of through still photos and history books. (Brace yourself, for this may be a blog topic in and of itself sometime soon.)
The other fascinating tie-in this video has is with the LGBT community, and the trans community in particular. We’ve come a long, long way since the days of living in invisibility and fear, and that’s a truly beautiful thing. But there’s still a need to appreciate those who dared to shine bright in those uneasy times. Understanding their lives and struggles can help us today as we deal with those who still fear change and scornfully brand anyone — trans or otherwise — who they think deviate from what they believe their god has established.
So, let’s go to the (old) videotape and present to you an October 1974 edition of Moore on Sunday, a public affairs/newsmagazine/documentary show that aired on WCCO-TV in the Twin Cities. A few words of caution, however: At least one relatively outdated term is liberally used; a couple of “dead names” are disclosed; and if my auditory memory is correct, one psychologist misgenders a patient in apparently general terms. Oh, and the video is almost 24 minutes long. But please don’t let all that dissuade you from hitting “play.” I’ll talk up what and who are featured after the video ends (and there’s gonna be quite a bit to unpack).
So, whatcha think? I do agree that some of this report hasn’t aged well, and I’m not talking the cheesy graphics they called “state of the art” in the mid-1970s. There is, for one, the frequent use of the word “transsexual.” That word is considered too encompassing and off-putting by those in the broad transgender community today… including those the word would technically apply to, since they’ve actually undergone the surgical procedures that we now refer to as “gender confirmation surgery”… which, technically speaking, this report is about.
When one automatically applies the word “transsexual” to someone assigned one gender at birth but living as another now, it not-so-politely hides one of two questions: “So, did you have it?” or “So, when are you gonna have it?” “It,” of course, being the gender confirmation surgery for… uh, down there. When they ask about “it,” it also makes plain that they only see, and will only judge, a trans person by what’s down there.
But you don’t seem to get very much dismissive judgement from this report about its subjects. Or, at least you don’t from the reporter and his narration. Okay, Dave Moore does use “transsexual” and not “transgender” throughout the report, which, again, is predominantly about gender confirmation surgeries (okay, I get that). But he and the experts interviewed do touch on what’s required before the surgery, namely the use of hormones and presenting full-time; what may or may not happen afterwards, including the success rate and the patients’ lack of regret; and the cost of the procedures and the odds that insurance companies will pay for it, listing a few of them by name.
(Side note: A surgery that cost $3500-$7000 in 1974 would run at least $18,000-$37,000 today, depending on the procedures and who’s adding up the bill. And depending on the company, these days insurers may be a little more willing to cover that cost, though some may require a proof of need beforehand.)
The report takes a broad approach to gender confirmation surgeries. There’s a clear refraining from the screaming sensationalism some ratings-grabbing tabloid journalists and daytime talk show hosts of the future would take to it. As well, there’s no twinkle of humor Dave Moore would apply to more humorous Moore on Sunday segments (such as, say, this essay on a day at the ballpark), or in the rip-the-seriousness-to-shreds approach of another show he was famous for at WCCO, The Bedtime Nooz. (Moore did some side work as a stage actor, but he was above all a serious journalist.) Nope, people who undergo or are affected by a gender transition take it seriously, and give Moore credit for recognizing this.
(Another side note: Though “dead names” are used only a couple of times in passing, Moore’s narration identifies the patients as the gender they see themselves as. A daring approach for 1974, or so it seems from here in 2021.)
Ah, yes, don’t forget the people who undergo a gender transition. More than the dry talk about procedures and statistics and insurance, what I take away from this report is how the patients are shown in a positive light, especially the two whose identities are not obscured:
- There’s Elaine, the farmer from way up in Roseau, who had to withstand the dismissive gossip of the townsfolk (small towns gonna small town) and the disdain of her mother, who insists she still had a son despite what the “backwoods country doctor” said at her birth. But at least Elaine appeared to receive a little more begrudging acceptance, her LSD-blaming mother notwithstanding, and appears quite well-adjusted and content plowing the family farm.
- And there’s Karen, who was lucky enough to not only afford her GCS but also have a supportive mother. Mom appeared to be shocked at first, but she would notice the positive change in Karen’s disposition post-surgery and is clearly accepting of the woman her child has become. Karen, for her part, is clearly content of who she is, and has the line of the entire report when she says that, “Now that my body matches my mind, I no longer consider myself a transsexual. I’m just a woman now.”
It’s been 47 years since this report aired, and odds are likely that the subjects have since passed on, or are at least enjoying retirement. But wherever Elaine and Karen and their trans contemporaries may be right now, I can’t help but think of how they may think of 21st century society’s general acceptance toward trans people of all stripes, and of how openly our community lives. Yes, we are still facing dangerous disdain from the unsympathetic [*deep sigh*], but we dare to stand tall and stand up and dare to be our true selves, knowing we are comfortable in our own skin and our true identities… just as Elaine and Karen were shown as being their own true selves in 1974.
Here’s hoping that after seeing this report, you have an appreciation for not only good journalism, but also a positive appreciation for what trans people go through and how we are everyday people, then and now.