VH1's "TRANSform Me" Highlights Trans Identity for the Non-Trans Community

Last night VH1 premiered its new makeover reality show “TRANSform Me,” starring three transgender women, Laverne Cox, Jamie Clayton, and Nina Poon.  Each episode follows the trio as they aid women across the country to realize their inner selves, with the help of their “glambulance.”

While “TRANSform Me” does present only a certain type of transgender woman and glorifies only a certain kind of femininity, it seems to remain genuine to each of the women’s identities and excels at discussing transgender identity and experiences in a very accessible way.  The most praise-worthy aspect of this show is not so much its frank discussion of gender identity, but the way it relates the experiences of transwomen to those of cisgender* women, demonstrating the universality of the desire to match one’s outward self-presentation with one’s inner identity.

As Laverne Cox begins to consult with the subject of their first transformation, Nicole (a 25-year-old who recently lost 60 pounds but still wears her old clothing), she explains, “We all basically felt differently inside than we were on the outside, and we took steps to change that.  That’s exactly what you did when you lost weight, right? ...So we’re going to use what we’ve learned transforming ourselves to transform you.”

(L to R) Laverne Cox, Jamie Clayton, and Nina Poon

On the show, Cox, Clayton, and Poon also break down the fundamentals of trans identity for those who have never considered issues of gender identity before.  When Nicole asks Laverne Cox the naïve but typical question “You used to be man?”, Cox laughs and then gives the nuanced answer, “Sort of.  We’re transgender, so we always felt like we were little girls inside, but when we were born what was on the outside suggested differently.”

As the three strive to bring out Nicole’s “inner goddess,” they also succeed in showing the audience their own.  Even if that might not be the way every woman would describe her process of self-actualization, we can all agree with Jamie’s closing sentiment, “We know how intense it is to finally see yourself realized the way that you’ve always pictured.”

GLAAD commends VH1 for their thoughtful production of this show and looks forward to more inclusive and educational episodes of “TRANSform Me” each week.  Visit their fan page, where they link to the Audre Lorde Project, GLAAD, and additional resources about transgender identity.

GLAAD has worked closely with the show to ensure accurate terminology is used throughout all episodes.  We also provided advice on how the three stars can effectively speak to the national media about the the importance of this groundbreakng program.

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* In her book, Transgender History, Susan Stryker defines cisgender as preferred over nontransgender. The prefix cis means “on the same side as” (that is, the opposite of trans). The idea behind the term is to resist the way that “woman” or “man” can mean “nontransgender woman” or “nontransgender man” by default.  “Cisgender” names the usually unstated assumption of nontransgender status contained in the words “man” and "woman.”