The poignant documentary Born To Be introduces audiences to unassuming hero and champion of the Trans Community Dr. Jess Ting. A plastic surgeon, Dr. Ting, accepted the assignment in 2016 to lead New York City’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital after a list of other doctors passed on the chance. Director Tania Cypriano’s elegant film documents Ting, his department, and the miraculous impact it has had on a community that continues to be sidelined. We are taken into the trenches with doctors, staff, patients, and hospital management to see patients’ internal struggles, the battles with insurance companies, and the ultimate redemption of a person finally feeling whole.
Born To Be hits the ground running with a series of consultation meetings between Dr. Ting and new patients. All of them seek to make their bodies match their gender identity and consider vaginoplasty, breast removal, phalloplasty, facial feminization, etc. Some are excited, some reverent, some emotional, but all are relieved to be at this stage. It was only in 2015 that New York State became the 9th state in the country to require insurance companies to cover gender-affirming surgery, and both the demand and learning curve are taxing.
“…Dr. Ting, accepted the assignment in 2016 to lead New York City’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital…”
Along the way, we meet a host of patients with Dr. Ting, but Cypriano’s camera settles on a few key people to tell their stories; Devon, a trans female from Texas, whose family is endlessly supportive but who cannot save her from bouts of depression. Mahogany, an aging trans female with no family whose effervescent personality has her holding dance parties in her exam room. Shawn, a brooding trans male and phalloplasty patient with a palpable need for closure. Then there is the stunning Cashmere, an old school queen from back in the day who has been tucking all her life and finally getting the surgery she needs. Each of the subjects conveys authentic moments of humanity in their seemingly endless pursuit to feel at home in the body they have and to fit in.
Ting’s department doubles in size during the doc, and it is clear that there is a need, but why? At one point, Dr. Ting muses that no one really knows where gender identity is formed, but there is a very real consequence for the percentage of people who aren’t at home in their bodies. Rejection, depression, and suicide are all common in the trans community. Phalloplasty patient Shawn explains, “You are fighting every day, to be who you are, to be respected, and to be comfortable in your own skin. So you are letting someone experiment with your body in hopes that you achieve what it is that you want.”
Born To Be humanizes what it is to be trans and makes the struggle something you can feel. Tania Cypriano’s work is heartbreaking, uplifting, and ultimately affirms that we are headed in the right direction, however, slow the progress might be. This documentary is a must-see for anyone with the slightest curiosity of the trans community and their supporters.
"…humanizes what it is to be trans and makes the struggle something you can feel."