Both films were shot simultaneously for the months before during and after their sex change surgery. Each film is a powerful close-up look at the impact of gender transition on families, spouses, siblings and friends. In both stories the real journey is the universal search for identity that all people have to go through to find wholeness. Rene's Story Premiered on Showtime, Science has yet to identify the cause of this condition, that creates the unshakable lifetime conviction that one is of the wrong sex - a man caught in a woman's body or the reverse.
Transgendered people usually report an awareness of their gender-disconnect well before puberty and it becomes more acute and difficult to endure into adulthood.
In choosing subjects for "The Opposite Sex" we narrowed the lens by focusing on individuals who were in the advanced stages of transitioning and were within months of their sex change surgery. We filmed both stories for the months prior to surgery and followed our characters into the operating room to film their sex change surgery.
He cross-dressed in secret for 35 years until he finally told his wife, 12 year old daughter, mother, siblings, in-laws, business associates, clients and friends that he would spend the rest of his life as a woman. This is the story of Jim's arduous path to becoming a feminine heterosexual woman and the tragic effect that transition has had on his family. Jim dated girls since he was 12 but always fantasized he was the girl - a girl named Jamie.
When Jim began having sex at 13 he always fantasized that it was Jamie who was being made love to. Consumed by this humiliating secret, Jim tried to eradicate his compulsion by becoming a "real" man - a race car driver, a construction worker, a jock.
When Jim met Brenda, he felt sure by marrying her and fathering a child he would cure himself. That didn't work either. The marriage withered and sex all but stopped. Jim was rarely home and Brenda assumed he was having affairs. In fact his compulsion had become unmanageable and for a decade before coming out Jim was leaving work to cruise malls dressed as Jamie. It was the only way Jim could find peace. Jim contemplated suicide but realized that that would be even more destructive to his family than coming out.
The clearest victims of Jim's transformation are Brenda, his wife of 25 years, and Samantha, their year-old daughter. Despite the protests of her parents, Brenda stays with Jamie and finds it in her heart to understand the pain he has endured throughout his life. Brenda's biggest concern is shielding Samantha from emotional difficulties and the humiliation of her daddy in a dress. These are real people trapped by circumstances beyond their control.
Their feelings swing poignantly between free-floating anger and congenial humor. Jamie and Brenda clearly still love each other and are forced to deal with the pain and loss that has comes with Jamie's transformation. Jamie's personal journey is the other story thread of the film. Jamie doesn't want to just be female, she wants to be a "girly girl.
We hear many opinions on what it is to be a girl and how Jamie can become one. Gender and sexuality are explored this way throughout the film. Gary Alter, who will perform the sex change operation. The fascinating medical details are delicately covered and the surgery is clearly, though, tastefully presented.
Rene told her mother at age three that she was a boy. Her mom laughed, but Rene assured her that God had made a mistake and would give her a penis. Rene went to school as a boy, taped her breasts down, dated girls and was able to romance them with a strap-on plastic penis. This didn't come without a price and Rene's childhood was filled with rumor, fighting, brushes with the law and deep family strife.
In , year-old Rene with strapped down breasts and an altered I. As we meet our characters, Rene has just been outted in church by a disgruntled relative. Rene had been an assistant pastor and Wona's relationships with church families had been her whole social life. Trusting his fate to the church elders, Rene admitted he was transgendered. According to Rene, the pastor called their marriage a sinful lesbian relationship and shunned them. But the pastor tells a different story, claiming Rene lied to the church and threatened a law suit.
But whatever the truth, the shunning forces Wona to come to terms with what her marriage has been and what it is likely to be in the future.
She has no interest in being the wife of a transgendered spokesperson, which is what Rene is becoming. In addition, far from being excited about her husband's new penis and what that might mean for her, the unknown causes Wona more stress.
She realizes that at 28, she's never been intimate with a real penis. She wonders if she is even married at all, as California does not recognize same-sex marriages. Adding to her concerns are their two adopted children with no financial back up. Despite it all, she truly still loves Rene and can't imagine life without him. Wona is very much between a rock and a hard place.
This is the state of the marriage as Rene and Wona take a trip together across America to interview surgeons and research options for Rene's perfect penis. Along the way, they visit Rene's brother in Texas who has never accepted Rene as a brother. They visit Rene's family in Indiana, and he shows photographs of the sex change operation for generations of his extended family.
The scene breaks down into raucus humor but emotions ebb and flow quickly in this family and soon, Rene who has never felt understood, makes a heartfelt plea for acceptance stating he has never been whole and that surgery will help him find comfort. Rene's sister says she never really understood what being transgendered meant and tenders her total support for the first time.
Meeting several surgeons, Rene learns the various possibilities for female to male sex change surgery - none of the options are very good and he has to come to terms with what's possible. He'll never have a normal functioning penis.
He takes the disappointing news stoically. Back home in Anaheim, Wona and Rene become more and more estranged as the surgery date approaches. Rene drives to Dallas for his surgery and his mother and wife fly in. Rene offers up a soulful prayer in the pre-op waiting room which carries us over the graphic but tastefully presented surgery.
Rene's story touches universal issues of gender and sex, but his quest for wholeness is no different than the journey that every person takes in his own way.