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Transformation Street review – three eloquent case studies discuss changing gender

Twenty-year-old Lucas with his mum, Karen
Twenty-year-old Lucas with his mum, Karen. Photograph: ITV

I don’t really understand the street bit of Transformation Street (ITV). Transformation, I get – it is about people who were born in the wrong bodies and are undergoing procedures to change their gender. Here, they are doing so at a private clinic in London, which is on a street, Wimpole Street, where there does seem to be another transgender clinic, although it is not mentioned here … Is that it? But Transformation Street suggests there is a street where everyone is at it, having gender reassignment surgery.

Or perhaps they just wanted to make it sound like Benefits Street, or Coronation Street, so people would watch, and it didn’t matter that the name of the programme didn’t really mean anything.

Anyway, here we are, at “one of the leading private clinics coping with the rising demand.” Coping with? Or cashing in on? Genital reconstruction costs upwards of 20 grand on Transformation Street. Christopher Inglefield, the surgeon, does seem pretty good at it, to be fair. A couple of the non-medical staff are playing a game at reception with pictures on an iPad. Is this vagina one created by Mr Inglefield, or by God? (Or is that the same thing? Discuss). It’s not easy, the game. Also probably best not to play at your workplace, especially if it happens to be the House of Commons.

Today, 20-year-old Lucas is in to talk about having his breasts removed. Lucas and his mum, Karen, are brilliant, like a poster mum and son for gender reassignment. He has clearly thought it through all his life – he was not, and could not be, happy living as a woman. Karen has some sadness about it: she is grieving for her daughter, but she can see that it is right for Lucas. “As much as it hurts me, at the end of the day, you are my child and I’m not prepared to lose you,” she says.

The fact that they are there together says a lot. I am not sure if I would want my mum to come along, or if she would want to come. I think we would both have to think and talk about it.

For 34-year-old Danni, a former male commando, it is a bit more tricky, as she has a wife. Sue initially says that gender is less important than losing Danni, but later it turns out they have separated. No one is pretending it is easy.

Then there is Wendy, who used to work on the railways. Waving at passing trains mostly, it looks like. But after coming out to her Network Rail bosses, they gave her a desk job. Waving at trains is no work for a lady, apparently. She is counting down to the big one, the 20 grand transformation.

So far so good. It is a fairly standard observational doc, more interesting because of the hot subject matter. It is certainly not the first documentary about the subject, or the most controversial – everyone here is an adult. But it is a good one, because they have got three interesting, eloquent case studies.

Some of the other services on offer are fun, such as Jodie’s makeup lessons. If Mr Inglefield is the architect and the builder, then Jodie is on painting and decorating. Quite a big job, sometimes.

Right, it is time for Inglefield to get his scrubs on and earn that 20 grand. And this is where it all goes wrong – no, not for Wendy, thankfully, but for me. There go the testicles, snip, snip; and already I am watching not just with my legs crossed but pretty much in the foetal position. Then he slices into her penis … “I don’t look at it as removing something, I look at it as creating something,” he says. Yeah, but in order to create something you have to remove something else, and there it is, very clearly being removed, Wendy’s penis.

I want to hear their stories, I want to understand, I want to know why, and how. But – call me a prude if you want – I’m struggling to watch the surgery on the 40in ultra-high definition, over a late supper …

Good choice of music in the theatre, though: Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

This is much easier to watch: something called a rusty-spotted cat, which, oddly, is in Big Cats (BBC1). Oddly, because it is tiny, it would fit in the palm of your hand. But it is wild, alert, ready, and leaping about in the rainforests of Sri Lanka, like a perfect little bonsai jaguar.

How cool would one of them be, on a lead, in the park. I want one Daddy, get me one now!

• This article was amended on 15 January 2018. An earlier version said the rusty-spotted cat was filmed in Central America. The cat was in Sri Lanka.

This article titled "Transformation Street review – three eloquent case studies discuss changing gender" was written by Sam Wollaston, for The Guardian on Friday 12 January 2018 05.59am

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