TV Review: Frontline’s ‘Growing Up Trans’

Frontline Documentary Growing Up Trans Review

Leave it to “Frontline” to find the most thought-provoking angle to a story being given a heavy tilt toward celebrity treatment elsewhere. “Growing Up Trans” takes the sudden boom in coverage of the transgender community and filters it through a more complicated lens by focusing on children coming to grips with their own sexual nonconformity. The kids, remarkably open and honest, prove astonishingly good spokespeople, with the disclaimer that they are in some respects guinea pigs for a science and psychology that is still evolving, albeit rapidly.

The somewhat unsettling part about “Growing Up Trans” is hearing youngsters who in some cases have yet to enter puberty confronting weighty matters wrapped up in sexuality and adulthood. The researchers, moreover, freely acknowledge that some of the drugs being used to essentially block, or at least delay, the onset of puberty remain experimental in terms of potential side effects.

The kids’ parents respond in different ways, with some fully accepting their children, others having essentially resigned themselves to it, and a few resisting. Yet given the questions that linger about kids being, as one parent puts it, “tested and controlled and dosed,” their concern is almost palpable, and it’s difficult to judge anyone too harshly, with the adults expressing a desire to do what’s best for their kids while simultaneously fearing the unknown. “This generation of kids … they’re pioneers,” says Dr. Courtney Finlayson, a pediatric endocrinologist.

In her Diane Sawyer interview, Caitlyn Jenner spoke about feelings of being different at an early age, and that event has helped tilt the debate in a significant way. “Growing Up Trans” offers an opportunity to see kids today at that delicate threshold, and lets their testimonials powerfully deliver the message — still ridiculed in certain circles — that this is an innate part of who they are, not a learned one.

Featuring children in association with any controversial material requires delicacy, and filmmakers Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor exhibit considerable sensitivity. Given the prevailing image of transgender youth being abused, bullied and subject to inordinately high suicide rates — one of the kids, 13-year-old Kyle Catrambone, talks openly about having gotten “very, very close” to acting on those impulses — the documentary also shows these kids interacting with friends who are completely accepting and nurturing.

Frankly those scenes, as much as the medical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs, offer the greatest hope about the topic being far less taboo in the years to come. Because while the battle for LGBT rights has generally been a long, slow slog to win over hearts and minds, if the researchers here make inroads regarding the latter, it’s the kids, and their friends, who ultimately hold the key to the former.

TV Review: Frontline's 'Growing Up Trans'

(Documentary; PBS, Tue. June 30, 10 p.m.)


Produced by Mead Street Films and Frontline.


Executive producer, Raney Aronson-Rath; producers-writers-directors, Miri Navasky, Karen O’Connor. 90 MIN.

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  1. leefree says:

    For any family needing to create a dialogue with children about gender, sex and sexuality. There’s a great web series resource called “Sez Me” Find it @ I know about it because I’m a Transgendered adult who helps create it!

  2. rfbride1 says:

    Bravo to Helen Green, an inspirational observation indeed.

    May God bless those beautiful children who spoke so eloquently, the parents and doctors who brave new territory with their understanding that there are no absolutes in life, no direction of health, wealth and the pursuit of happiness in life.

    And sadness for the dark skinned father who could not bring himself to call his “son”, John because that was not the way he had been raised. The bigot with racial slurs is also acting upon the way he was raised. Man has free will….move on!

    I dremed last night I was taken by surprise to find that my local florist shop had none of the familiar flowers I sought; no roses, no daisies, no lilacs. Instead , there were flowers I had never seen before, lovley specimens from mountains in the South Pacific, blossoms from the jungles of the Amazon, flowers from African plains.

    “Where do these strange flowers come from?” I asked.

    “From God” he said. “From God.”

  3. Carol Green says:

    Tonight, I watched a film on the educational channel on Frontline called, “Growing Up Trans.” I don’t remember being so moved by a documentary before. A sudden empathy for the plight of trans kids surprised me as I listened to the children’s stories. A painful lump formed in my throat, my heart hurt, and I teared up and cried for them. The wonderful, and very articulate young men and women plainly, openly, emotionally, and intelligently explained their feelings inside as they suffered with their secrets growing into puberty. I’d never thought of any of this before. I’m so glad that trans families don’t have to live in the shadows anymore. I am so moved by the parents who are torn between their beliefs and prejudices but they love their transitioning kids so much they continue to try to work it out in their heads. The parents and kids in this Frontline expose’ are so strong, caring, loving, I must say, they all represent the best our civilization has to offer. Bravo!

    I taught third and fourth grade for 32 years. I don’t know why I’d never learned about children who were gender dysphoric or “trans.” Never knew about it at all. Even when I had a student who was gender dysphoric, I just thought it was curious, but I didn’t know anything about it. I left it to the school psychologist. It had never been addressed in my education classes in the teaching program in college in the 70’s.

    As a heterosexual woman and retired teacher, I empathize with LGTBQs and support marriage equality. I became sensitized to LGBTQ’s a while back. One of my old students, a lovely girl, grew up to be a lesbian and told her parents. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses and rejected her completely. Within months, she took her own life. Her death hit me hard. I snapped out of any bigoted thoughts I’d ever had and took on the cause of marriage equality.

    I am ending this review with a comment I wrote and uploaded on websites for the last two years in hopes of changing minds of people who were against gay marriage. In many ways it applies to the situation of people transitioning. I hope you like it:

    Paradigm Shift LesGayBiTransQue

    I was once a bigot. My religion, my parents, and my era taught me wrong. In the expanse of a long life, I woke up and changed my mind. In penance for my youthful zealotry, I am compelled to share this insight with other bigots so they will recognize blindness to be a necessary step toward their enlightenment. I was once blind. But now I see.

    The unenlightened mistakenly superimpose onto the Modern Age antiquated conventions of 100+ generations past, once forged by an emerging, but naïve, sometimes barbaric, culture of man. Today, this festering anachronism persecutes innocent LGTBQs who suffer daily bigotry, hatred, and death because of worn-out beliefs.

    The paradigm shift has unique sensations about it. When brainwashed bigots begin the course of illumination, they resist. Goodness willing, slowly over decades — through observation, empathy, compassion, soul-searching, reason, insight, understanding, re-evaluation, and release — the mind begins to open. The shoulders let go the heavy weight of prejudice. The heart lays bare its natural desire to love and treat everyone equally. And, the soul ascends briefly into Samadhi, Nirvana, Paradise, for a glimpse. Then comes awakening! A new perspective. Acceptance, appreciation, and celebration of our diverse humanity replace prejudice, animosity, and hatred. Cleansing of human character occurs within the evolution of the human mind.

    The present day paradigm shift will bring FREEDOM FOR ALL, not just the “chosen ones.” Thanks to the wisdom and courage of a majority of Supreme Court justices!

    Carol Green, Retired California Teacher, Heterosexual

    Open my eyes. Witness the suffering. Shed self-righteousness. Loose the chains that bind me. Open my mind. Ponder all possibilities. Open my heart. Live and let live. Fear not the uphill climb. Walk a mile in their shoes toward the light. Judge no one on the basis of whom she loves, but how she loves.

  4. Clint Demeritt says:

    “focusing on children coming to grips with their own sexual nonconformity.”

    It’s a bit of a misnomer to say these children struggle with their own “sexual” nonconformity, but rather they are struggling with their own “gender” nonconformity. Sexuality is more about who you find attractive where gender identity is about who you feel you are :)

  5. Emmett5 says:

    Puberty blocking drugs have been used in precocious puberty for years without observed side effects. It’s just that they haven’t been used in transgender kids before.

    Your article suggests that this is some experimental treatment. It’s not.

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