Born to Be (2019)

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There are probably many people like Dr Jess Ting in the world, just going about their work but, because of their empathy and dedication to making a difference, they change people’s lives.

New York is one of nine states in the US that mandates that gender-reassignment surgery be covered by health insurance. When Mount Sinai Hospital was looking for someone to learn how to perform the different surgeries needed by some transgender people in their affirmation of their gender, plastic surgeon Dr Jess Ting was the only one to volunteer. He now runs the hospital’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery and is overwhelmed by the demand.

This is a lovely, lovely documentary that immerses you in the world of Ting, his coworkers and the patients he works with. Their situations, histories and experiences are all different, as are the surgeries and procedures they need. Some are worn down by years of depression and abuse, some scarred by botched unskilled procedures but all are full of hope that they will finally have a body that fits.

It’s a brand new field of medicine and Ting is at the forefront of innovation to try and make the physical changes more functional, manageable and natural. Jordan are in for the first phalloplasty that they have performed and Ting worries that the scar from the skin taken from Jordan’s forearm will differentiate them from other men.

It’s not all easy though. As demand increases, waiting lists get longer and Ting begins to get overwhelmed with the workload. Insurance companies try to deny coverage, requiring hours of paperwork and advocacy. Patients are transformed by Ting’s work but return to a world that is prejudiced and narrow-minded.

It would have been so easy to be didactic and judgemental in approaching this topic but director Tania Cypriano lets her subjects tell the story. She immerses us in their world and lets us draw our own conclusions. It is ultimately a life-affirming and inspiring experience.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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