Trinidad

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday April 22, 2010

’Trinidad’ explores ’the spiritual capital for trannsexuals’
’Trinidad’ explores ’the spiritual capital for trannsexuals’  (Source:Surly Puppy Pictures)

Directors Jay Hodges and PJ Raval heard about a small Colorado town that was, as they told IndieWire in an interview two years ago, "filled with cowboys and transsexuals," "a place where people arrived men and left women"... and decided to make a movie about the place.

The movie is called Trinidad, after the town where Dr. Stanley Biber started performing sex-change surgeries in 1969. The film is set to receive a premiere on the Logo network on April 24, at 8:00 p.m. ET. (The Trinidad DVD will be released the same day through the film's website.)

The filmmakers arrived in time to talk to Dr. Berber before his death in 2006, and to meet the surgeon who would take over his practice, Dr. Marci Bowers herself a transsexual. In her interview, Bowers sets out a brief history of herself: formerly a husband and father with a gynecological practice in Seattle, Bowers found in Trinidad more than a place where Biber's expertise and Bowers' own feel for the "art" of "genital reassignment." Where some in the film talk about sexual reassignment in strictly physical terms, Bowers finds a spiritual aspect to the town, and to the procedure, telling an audience that, "We're not changing gender--we're just, simply, aligning the genitals with the gender."

Bowers' passion is for creating female genitalia that look, and function, like the real thing; indeed, with her attention to aesthetic and sexual sensitivity (she even creates clittorises for her patients), what Bowers creates is the real thing. (Warning: this film contains graphic, if clinical, imagery.)

The film also follows a pair of Bowers' patients, Sabrina Marcus and Laura Ellis. Sabrina used to be an engineer who worked on the space shuttle; she lost her home, her marriage, and her job during her 14-journey to transitioning. What she didn't lose was her connection to her children, who also appear in the film; as for the number of years she took to get where she was going, Sabrina reckons that the process calls for a lengthy period of time.

Laura, on the other hand, took much less time to transition. Her final surgery takes place in the course of the documentary, along with the rise of a dream that she and Sabrina share about establishing a "recovery house" for Dr. Bowers' postoperative patients. The renovation of the house in question, and the tensions that it involves, inform a good portion of the film; someone points out early on that transsexuals, like anyone else, are just people, and the film makes that point in the ongoing drama of the recovery house, and the hurt feelings that it entails, more effectively than at perhaps any other juncture.

Hodges and Raval don't focus on the transsexuals to the exclusion of the townsfolk. They take their camera to local businesses and to the street to hear what some of the town's 9,000 residents have to say, and encounter a range of opinions. Some people are accepting; some don't understand why a man would want to become a woman through surgery, or vice-versa, but are grateful for the economic benefit of the hospital; others dismiss sexual reassignment as contrary to God's wishes, and at one point a local "coalition" of churches attempts to put a stop to Bowers' work.

The film has moments of probing, surprising honesty, as when Sabrina admits to sometimes missing "Mark," her former, male incarnation, or when Laura's daughter talks about why she still calls Laura her "dad," even though she accepts Laura's transition to womanhood.

For many people, gender is pretty cut and dried; but nothing in human experience is ever as obvious or easy as the moralists among us might like to have it. For some, this film demonstrates, getting a body that matches the inner person can be a dream come true, even a life-saving boon. The point that various interviewees make is that having the right, surgically modified body can bring a profound peace, literally setting the world to rights for those who feel born into the wrong gender.

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Trinidad premieres on Logo April 24 at 8:00 p.m. ET. The Trinidad DVD will be released the same day through the film's website.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.