Earlier this week, Lisa Ling hosted a segment of her show Our America called “Transgender Lives” where she learned about the experiences of several very different transgender Americans. The show aired on February 22 and has since received praise from both LGBT and mainstream outlets.
One of the episode’s most touching moments was with a 7-year-old named Hailey who has seen herself as a girl ever since she was able to communicate. She enjoys feminine clothing and toys, and informs her classmates at school that she is female. When asked by Ling why she didn’t like her former name Harry, Hailey answered simply and happily, “It’s just not me.” Hailey’s parents support her as much as possible, including her father Steve, whose Lutheran upbringing taught him traditional notions of sex and gender and who was initially upset at Hailey’s transgender status. Now, he only wants happiness for her. “For right now, right here, first grade’s pretty safe, but the future can be really scary. … Sometimes I sit there and I get really concerned. Who’s going to love my child, you know? Who’s going to fall in love with her?” he wonders, his voice breaking with emotion.
Ling also interviews other transgender men and women of various ages, exploring their struggles over time and in different circumstances. As a transgender adolescent boy, Landon talks about the discomfort he had when his body began changing during puberty and how he hates looking at pictures of himself as a little girl. He was able to meet one of the few pediatricians in the nation who work with transgender teenagers and was relieved to begin hormone therapy. Diel is a firefighter whose co-workers were initially not sure how to react at the news of her transition, but were supportive when they realized it made her happy. Tan is a transgender man who impressed other male athletes at his gym with his strength and dedication to staying in shape.
Finally there is Michelle, who was married with two children before coming out as transgender. Her partner Deb supported her throughout her transition even though she never identified as a lesbian. When asked why she stayed in the relationship, Deb explained, “I want to keep the people I love around me … I love the same person.” They have been together more than 20 years.
The entire episode is important for its focus on the personal stories and emotions of the individuals involved rather than technical definitions. Each individual experience is unique and compelling as they try to find happiness in their own ways, and anyone can relate to their sense of hope, regardless of gender.
Lisa Ling is a former field correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her series Our America is broadcasted by the Oprah Winfrey Network, and appears Tuesdays at 10 PM EST. A repeat of “Transgender Lives” will air again this Sunday, February 27.