As a transgender man and best-selling author, journalist, television-writer, and activist, I have been telling stories in both the mainstream and indie realms for 20 years. Now, in the documentary Man Made, I intend to share an in-depth, authentic look into the female-to-male (FTM) transgender experience via a new lens.
Set against the backdrop of bodybuilding competition, this film examines what it takes to mold yourself into the person you always hoped you could be. But the strength on display in Man Made transcends the physical. Beyond the swagger involved in being able to strike poses on stage—in bodies that are different from anything they believed they could have—most of these subjects, like many transpeople who aren't bodybuilders, have weathered unspeakable hardships.
They have survived suicide attempts; mental and physical abuse; depression and anxiety; drug and alcohol addiction; being kicked out of family homes; prayed over by preachers and doused in holy water; cheated on by partners; and warned never to come back to their native country under threat of being killed. Some of my subjects have never told their families who or what they are. One figured out he was a man after serving in the military (as a female), while another's life was actually saved from bulimia by the sport of bodybuilding. Still another has a 5-year-old son who calls him "Mama," despite his "mom's" facial hair and deep voice. And one didn't have a name for what he felt until he walked into the bodybuilding competition for the first time.
While the transgender community is certainly having its cultural and political moment, visibility has, unfortunately, ushered in some backlash in the form of increased violence and unprecedented legislation of discriminatory policies—bathroom bills, for one. Behind the feel-good awards and splashy, media-driven story-lines, there are real lives being lived. It is this critical juncture of the political and personal revolution that makes Man Made so timely, and its messages of inclusion, acceptance, healing, hope, and humanity so vital. Like the subjects of this film, I know what's involved in making the life-altering decision to turn yourself into the person you know you are. And to build the body you want.
The FTM transition is very different culturally, socially, and politically from what we typically see in film, TV and other media, where male-to-female transitions have thus far dominated the narrative. Man Made will offer an extraordinary window into an unseen subculture that speaks to much larger, and very current issues about sex, gender, and masculinity specifically. How we as a society define it. And how it's being re-defined before our eyes.
This is both a riveting competition film and a unique social justice narrative—as well as a much larger examination of how we all choose to define and reshape ourselves, figuratively and literally.
For the men of Man Made, it's not about winning—it's about survival.
BEHIND THE SCENES
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