The latest television exploration of what it means to be transgender will be shown in two one-hour specials tonight and tomorrow on HLN, the CNN sister channel that serves as the home of Dr. Drew Pinsky.
“I proudly wear my ‘Trans Ally’ button during the show,” Pinsky tells The Advocate in an interview following the taping of Transgender in America. “The audience was all transgender, and we had one transgender individual on my panel, but the rest of my straight cis (nontrans) panel expressed fear about misstepping, and their fear of misstepping created missteps, and that created conflict, and that created interesting conversation.”
Pinsky says "community leaders" helped organize both the audience and the topics of discussion.
The first hour's guests include actor Ian Harvie of Transparent; Dr. Marci Bowers, the San Francisco ob-gyn and gender-affirming surgeon who is herself transgender; and Jessica Taylor, a trans pilot. Also featured is trans actress Yasmin Lee, who appeared in the hit film The Hangover 2; 13-year-old trans girl Zoey Luna; and a married couple of 28 years, who a press release awkwardly describes as staying together "after the husband transitioned to a woman."
The show’s producers wouldn’t comment on whether this two-part special was a reaction or response to last month’s controversial episode featuring a tense exchange between a right-wing columnist and a transgender woman, and they would not allow Pinsky to answer questions about that July 16 show in an interview with The Advocate.
So why now? Caitlyn Jenner is one reason, Pinsky tells The Advocate. “We’ve been covering her story, and we kept tiptoeing by bits and pieces into the topic of transgender issues, and my executive producers looked at me and said, ‘We ought to do a dedicated show to this. In fact, we can’t do it all in one show. We’d better do it in two shows.'”
Pinsky tells The Advocate even two hours was not enough.
The first one, to be shown tonight, focuses on the transgender experience, with an audience consisting of trans people; the second is entirely devoted to trans women of color.
So far in 2015, an unprecedented epidemic of hate has claimed the lives of 19 transgender women, all murdered, most of them trans women of color. And in 39 states, gender identity or expression is not protected by law.
The challenges trans people face every day played out in real time in Dr. Drew’s Hollywood studio.
In a clip provided by HLN, an African-American panelist challenges a Caucasian trans woman on her assertion that they face a similar prejudice.
“No, I don’t think it’s the same, because I was born black and you feel like you were born a certain way,” says the cisgender (nontrans) woman.
The trans woman responds, “No, I don’t ‘feel like,’ I know I was,” as the audience applauds.
It may disturb some viewers that at least two of the trans women featured in the advance clip are shown side by side with their “before” photos.
“The reason I did not come out or transition in India,” says one trans woman, shown in a split screen with a pre-transition photo, “was because my family would be there and that would mean that they would have me killed.”
So who is this “Dr. Drew?" anyway? He got his start on TV in 2008 with a reality show called Celebrity Rehab that lasted five seasons. And yes, he really is a doctor, with an MD from the University of Southern California, who just happens to have a top-rated podcast, has written best-selling books, hosts a radio show and his cable talk show. What started in 2010 as Dr. Drew on Call has been rebranded on the rebranded HLN as The New Dr. Drew.
Pinsky is just shy of 57 and lives in Pasadena, Calif. He’s been married to his wife, Susan, for 24 years, and they are parents to triplets, according to his official bio.
As mentioned above, this isn't Pinsky's first show about the trans experience. Last month, Dr. Drew hosted a roundtable discussion of Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY award in which one panelist, trans reporter Zoey Tur, got into a tense exchange with Breitbart editor at large Ben Shapiro.
During the episode, Shapiro misgendered Tur, calling her “sir,” and she responded by placing her left hand behind Shapiro's neck. "You cut that out now," she said. "Or you'll go home in an ambulance."
That single moment made headlines around the world and the video went viral.
Although Shapiro later filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Department claiming he was a victim of battery, nothing has happened since. The show’s producers say they’ve invited both Tur and Shapiro to return as guests. Tur told The Advocate she has no intention of accepting the invitation; Shapiro appeared on a podcast with Pinsky and comedian Adam Corolla in which they discussed the incident.
Even if Tur and Shapiro do not reappear, Pinsky tells The Advocate he hopes to do more on this topic of trans, and knows there is more to say about the violence that has befallen so many.
“If I were at all criticizing our show,” he says, “I would say that we went with the intent to really get deep into [the murders of trans women of color], and because we needed to do more of the individual stories, we didn’t get as deep into that as I would have liked to.”
“I’m a Christian and no, Dr. Drew, I’m not transgender,” says one member of the audience who was one of those individual stories. “But I am the proud mother of a beautiful transgender woman.” The audience erupts into applause as her daughter beams a bright smile.
You can see Transgender in America on Dr. Drew on HLN tonight, and tomorrow at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Watch a preview clip below.