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Filmmaker Johnny Bergmann explores the plight of a man who was born into the body of a woman in this introspective and often funny look at the existence of the modern transsexual.
Signs that everything wasn’t quite right came early and often for fAe. Though he was “born with girl parts,” a trip to the girls’ room on the first day of school was met with terrified screams. At age three, industrious little fAe dreamt of devising a synthetic penis, which he hoped would let him pee like a boy. Early on, fAe found some comfort in a lesbian identity but knew this was not his true self. Years of introspection led to the undeniable conclusion that fAe was a man mistakenly endowed with a woman’s body. His caring —but somewhat careless — brother notes that these biological errors simply occur sometimes, likening fAe’s condition to that of a boy from a recent magazine article he read—a boy born with fins for feet.
Unfazed, fAe undertakes a regimen of testosterone injections, leading up to a painful and irreversible double mastectomy (which he gleefully refers to as “getting my breasts chopped off”). With the support of friends and family, fAe completes his gender transformation, but difficulties arise along the way. Daily struggles pile up beside more serious ones: How does a recent graduate raise huge sums of money for an “optional” procedure? How can fAe’s mom learn to love a son when she had raised a daughter? Now more outwardly male, how does fAe reconcile the female traits he wants to retain? And, perhaps most daunting of all, how does fAe transform, not in New York or San Francisco, but in rural Pennsylvania?
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“Gender Redesigner is a provocative, honest, and engaging exploration of the FTM transitioning process. A documentary about gay life in America quickly transforms into another type of journey as the lead interviewer in the original film, fAe, begins efforts to transition to a male. Facing a series of challenges – financial, familial, and cultural/geographic – fAe’s personal strength and supportive network serve as clear resources in the transitioning process. Exploring complex links between biological sex, gender construction, sexual orientation/identity, and gender passing or blurring, Gender Redesigner is perfect for classroom use.”
C. Lee Harrington, PhD Professor of Sociology Affiliate, Women's Studies Program Department of Sociology & Gerontology Miami University
"Gender Redesigner tells a different kind of transgender story. Part road movie, part transformation narrative, this thoughtful documentary parts ways with the more common depiction of the city as gender queer utopia. Rather than offering the big city as ideal space for non-normative queerness, fAe returns to his Western Pennsylvania rural, farm home to begin his gender redesign. The film confounds easy “before/after;” “city/country” binary categories to suggest a livable in-between in which home and one’s self are always under construction. Featuring scenes that focus on aspects of transgender health with interviews with experts such as fAe’s “top surgery” surgeon as well as his closest friends and the process of “after care,” this transgender documentary offers a vision of gender redesign that is as much about place as it is about identity, always in motion.
Joy V. Fuqua, Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Queens College/City University of New York.
"GENDER REDESIGNER is a touching and personal documentary, an earnest work that hearkens to the tradition of queer road movies like TRANSAMERICA and PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT. fAe is funny, insightful, and inspiring, and the film’s real power comes from a concern for its trans subject that resists sensationalizing or glamorizing. Bergman has constructed a portrait of a queer protagonist just as he is - an average American young person trying to find his way in life. Young audiences in particular deserve the opportunity to experience this optimistic and endearing glimpse into fAe’s life."
Christian J. Gay, Ph.D., SUNY Purchase College, Visiting Assistant Professor, Cinema Studies
“Gender Redesigner offers a valuable challenge to the archetypal FTM narrative of masculinity achieved through suffering; in its place, we get fAe, an affable, charming protagonist driven not by torment but rather a desire to explore, mold, and "redesign" his own gender. The film resists medicalized, pathologized, or sensationalized visions of transgender bodies and identities to instead dwell in the broader realm of shared human confusions and struggles--a humane, endearing destigmatization that helps subvert dominant cultural visions. It's a film people will learn from and enjoy, whatever their backgrounds or identities.”
Whitney Strub, Professor, Temple University, author, Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right, forthcoming Columbia University Press.
Produced by Rainbow America in 2007