Scroll To Top

Trans reality,
sans melodrama

Trans reality,
sans melodrama


A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story, which debuted June 25 on Lifetime and will be rebroadcast June 30, is a surprisingly accurate representation of the transgender experience.

The Lifetime cable network is well known for its tear-jerking, melodramatic made-for-TV-movies and other like-minded offerings. I was never a fan of Lifetime's soapy dramas.

In light of my disappointment with Transamerica, a mainstream movie about a transgender woman, I did not expect much from Lifetime's foray into the forever-misrepresented trans world with A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story. After all, if Transamerica got it so wrong, what chance did Lifetime have?

The writers of Transamerica should bow down and worship this movie.

It's very rare to see anything in print, on TV, or at the movies that even comes close to real insight into my world. Different for Girls, a 1996 fictional feature film produced and filmed in the United Kingdom, was an exception. No cheap tricks, humane, and not stereotypical; a real glimpse at what transsexuals feel and experience.

A few years ago Law & Order: SVU did a good job demonstrating how screwed up the world's perspective concerning my community is. Sadly, that show portrayed how and why so many of us wind up dead like Gwen Araujo. But SVU blew it when explaining some of the science. As in Transamerica, the SVU writers were sensationalistic and stereotypical--in short, lazy.

Lifetime's TV movie, A Girl Like Me, got it right from the title on. This movie is based on the true story of Gwen "Eddie" Araujo's hate-crime murder. Araujo, a 17-year-old transsexual, was killed in October 2002 upon the discovery that she was biologically male. Her killers lured her to a party in order to expose her.

I closely followed the murder case when it was in the news. The press insisted, against her mother's wishes, on calling Gwen by her birth name, Eddie, and always referred to her as a he. How typical. The press just didn't get it; it seldom does. Lifetime "got it" on many levels, including the pronouns.

I suppose that Lifetime's intention was drama; in this kind of story there is nothing more dramatic than the sad truth. Lifetime could have done a hatchet job--who would know the difference?--but they stayed true to the events and the people in the story. Maybe the dramatist producers and writers were out sick that day, I don't know. What I do know is that the writers nailed it.

The movie was laid out in flashbacks--normally a cheesy storytelling method--but even that worked well here. The courtroom scenes walked us through the linear proceedings of the trial. After each scene the action flashed back to the events leading up to the courtroom dialogue, eventually leading to the murder.

The defense attorney embodied the hostility, blame, and misunderstanding that many people harbor toward transsexuals. This lawyer really did say and do what was depicted in the movie. He tried the gay-rage-blame-the-victim defense, resulting in a lesser conviction with no hate-crime enhancements. Pity.

The movie used early-life flashbacks that showed true-to-life indicators of transsexualism in Gwen's childhood--something every transsexual can relate to--serving as an object lesson in how to recognize the early signs of transsexualism. When we transsexuals show our colors as children, few non-transgender people mark it in their memories, but we never forget it.

The character of Gwen's mother does a great job expressing her initial confusion as well as the eventual evolution of thought it takes for a parent to come to terms with and accept a transgender child. The flashbacks of Gwen's mother speaking to a professional gender therapist gave voice to some of the basic facts about transsexualism that the media so often can't seem to address. And they were addressed accurately, concisely, and in terms most people can grasp.

Gwen's internal transition--her pain, her desires, her longings, and her commitment to her personal truth--were all too familiar and real. I never knew Gwen personally, yet I knew her intimately long before this movie appeared. I did not get to know Gwen by following her case in the news either: Almost all transsexual people feel what she felt and can relate to her struggle.

The fact that this movie wrenched my guts is a sure sign of its authenticity. Movies never make me cry, but I cried. Gwen's story was almost unwatchable for me because it hit far too close to home. In Gwen I revisited myself. Good fiction should invoke real emotions. The forgotten pain I suffered in childhood, and in transition, came rushing back.

So, if you want to know what it's like to be a real transsexual, forget the documentaries and catch this movie in reruns. Even if you don't care, watch it anyway. It may not be the best movie Lifetime has made, but from the perspective of one who knows, it is the most realistic thing you will see on Melodrama Central TV Network.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories Editors